Orlando, Fla. —
Trying to advance the philosophy that any publicity is good publicity is probably an effort wasted on a losing team less than 10 minutes removed from a disappointing defeat where victory had been oh so close to fruition.
Such was the case as Indiana State’s men’s basketball players filed out of the HP Fieldhouse locker room after the Sycamores lost to Minnesota 76-69 in the semifinals of the Old Spice Classic Friday.
But even in their discouraged state, the Sycamores knew deep down something positive had been done, despite their clear disappointment in not being able to close the deal.
ISU lost the battle at the last against the Golden Gophers on Friday — ISU led as late as the 2:29 mark — but the Sycamores might have made significant strides toward winning the eye test war as far as national perception is concerned.
The evidence was clear during and after ISU’s game. Now that I’m immersed in the real time world of Twitter, I saw the good vibes the Sycamores put were putting forth. Even after the loss, national commentators were kind.
“Minnesota pulled away as Indiana State faded. Still think Sycamores can chase a bid,” said ESPN college basketball analyst Andy Katz on his @ESPNAndyKatz feed.
During the game, Katz tweeted that he thought the Sycamores were “no fluke” and that ISU should be remembered in March.
Similar plaudits came from other national followers. Of course, they don’t have a vote on the NCAA Tournament selection committee, but they don’t hurt when it comes to framing the conversation.
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith doesn’t have a vote either, but he came away from the Gophers’ close call as a believer, too. And he can speak from experience from where the position in which the Sycamores sit.
It’s easily forgotten that Smith is a former Missouri Valley Conference coach, making his bones at Tulsa when the Golden Hurricane were still in the MVC from 1991-95.
He knows how exceedingly rare it is for a team in Indiana State’s position to play on the flagship ESPN network during the regular season. He knows how hard it is for a mid-major to get games against quality competition. He knows how much it means to make a good show on a national stage, even if the final reward didn’t come.
“You can’t place a value on what this means to recruiting, to the fanbase, to alumni, and for the players to have this type of thing to be measured by,” Smith said.
Smith noted that even in a loss confidence can be gained from it, even if the players don’t realize it in the moment.
“You know what? We can compete with those Big Ten schools. We can compete with a Big East school. We can compete with the big boys,” Smith said. “We’re [Minnesota] not rated very high, but we’re going to be a pretty good team in the end and so is Indiana State.”
The Sycamores were convinced of that before the game, and despite the loss, their belief in themselves was not shaken.
“We feel like we have great players and a great coaching staff, and with the fan support that we have, everyone should know that when you play us, you’re going to get a game. We’re here to stay,” ISU forward Carl Richard said.
Smith added his own praise to what the Sycamores got in the Twitter universe and other social media.
“Greg Lansing has done a great job with his guys. His guys play with confidence and he plays a system that uses his players extremely well,” Smith said.
“If there are better teams in the Valley … Indiana State was third and won the Tournament [last year]? If there’s better teams [in the MVC], they will probably deserve multiple teams [in the NCAA Tournament] when all is said and done,” Smith added.
Win or lose, teams and mid-major conferences can’t buy publicity like that.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (812) 231-4272. Please follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.