TERRE HAUTE —
Want to take a ride on the circle of life? Take this one for a spin.
Indiana State men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing originally came to Terre Haute in 1996 when he was hired as an assistant by then-ISU coach Sherman Dillard.
Lansing — a Harlan, Iowa, native — left Royce Waltman’s ISU staff in 1999 and took an assistant coaching job at Iowa, where he stayed from 1999-2006.
Lansing then came back to ISU in 2006 and was an assistant under two different ISU coaches before ascending to head coach himself in 2010.
Now it all comes full circle for two coaches, two schools and one postseason tournament.
ISU will play at Iowa in the National Invitational Tournament at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The Sycamores — who are making their first NIT appearance since 1978 — are seeded sixth in the Virginia Quadrant of the NIT.
Besides the return to his home state to play the team he once helped coach and of which he still considers himself a fan, Lansing will also match wits with his original ISU boss — Dillard — who is an assistant coach on Fran McCaffrey’s Hawkeyes’ staff.
“Isn’t it funny? It all comes full circle I guess. Coach Dillard gave me an opportunity here. I’m happy for him to be in Iowa City. I’m sure he’s enjoying it. It’ll be funny seeing him again,” Lansing said.
Lansing also had a chuckle when he saw who ISU was paired up against, but the smile on his face didn’t last long when he began to consider the players in the black-and-gold jerseys.
“I just laughed. It put a big smile on my face. Seven of the best years of my life were in Iowa City. It’s a wonderful university, it has tremendous fans, it’s great place to live and I still have a lot of friends there,” said Lansing, who received an email that ISU was in the NIT field at about 8:55 p.m.
“But the happiness wore off when I began to think about who we’re playing,” he added.
Iowa (21-12) won seven of its last 10 games before a narrow 59-56 defeat at the hands of Michigan State in a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal.
The Hawkeyes were 9-9 in the Big Ten and are led by swingman Roy Devyn Marble (14.1 points) and forward Aaron White (13.2 ppg), but one of the Hawkeyes’ most daunting characteristics is how well the team shares the ball.
Iowa led the Big Ten with 15.2 assists per game. That statistic contributed greatly to Iowa’s ranking seventh in the nation in total free throw attempts. Iowa is also the 10th-best rebounding team in the country, averaging 39.4 per game.
“They’re very well coached. As a Hawkeye fan, I’m happy as heck Fran McCaffrey is there. They play so hard. They rely on rebounding and getting extra possessions off the glass. It’s the sign of a well-coached team that they share the ball so well,” Lansing said.
Iowa’s weakness is 3-point shooting. The Hawkeyes converted just 30 percent of their 3-point attempts, which puts them in the bottom 50 in the nation in that category.
The Hawkeyes were 16-2 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season. Iowa’s only losses at home were to Big Ten powerhouses Indiana and Michigan State. Iowa lost by four on the road to the Hoosiers and by three to the Spartans.
ISU (18-14) was the only Missouri Valley Conference team chosen for the NIT and likely got in the field based on its quality wins over Mississippi, Miami, Wichita State and Creighton.
ISU also helped itself by advancing to the MVC Tournament’s semifinal round, something ISU’s MVC NIT rivals Northern Iowa and Evansville failed to do.
The Sycamores did not play well down the stretch as they lost six of their last eight games.
ISU is well-rested and hasn’t played since March 9 when it lost a 64-43 MVC Tournament semifinal game against Creighton.
“They’ve been playing better than us, but it’s better to be in the field and have the chance,” Lansing said.
The 32-team NIT is split into four quadrants. Virginia, Kentucky, Southern Mississippi and Alabama are the No. 1 seeds in each quadrant. Games are played at home sites through the quarterfinals. Semifinals and the championship game are played at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
If ISU were to win on Wednesday, it would play the winner of the Massachusetts-Stony Brook game, also played Wednesday. ISU would play UMass on the road and would host Stony Brook should the Sycamores advance. That game date is to be announced.
ISU was 1-1 in its last NIT trip in 1978, when Larry Bird was a junior. The 1978 Sycamores defeated Illinois State 73-71 and lost 57-56 at Rutgers. ISU also lost 78-77 to Houston in 1977.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be picked. ISU hasn’t been there in a long time, and it took No. 33 [Bird] to get us there the last time. It’s a big-time tournament,” Lansing said.