TERRE HAUTE —
Success in the National Invitation Tournament is often predicated on how a team approaches it.
Is the NIT a validation of a season that was more successful than expected? Or is it a disappointing consolation prize in season that had NCAA Tournament promise?
Indiana State’s men’s basketball team is hoping to take the former approach as it plays its first NIT game in 35 years as it travels to play Iowa at 7 p.m. today.
By the time the Sycamores takes the Carver-Hawkeye Arena floor tonight, it will have been 11 days since they last played. It seems an eternity, but the break away from basketball might have been just what they needed.
The Sycamores seemed happy to be in the NIT field and that’s often half the battle for teams.
“Obviously, [the NIT] wasn’t our goal to start the year, but it’s good we got invited. Most people wouldn’t have thought we’d be invited at the beginning of the year. It’s a nice opportunity for us. There’s high-powered teams and good conferences involved. It’ll be a fun thing to do,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.
ISU lost seven of its last nine games, but its strong first two-thirds of the season helped get the Sycamores in the NIT field.
The team is hoping the lag between the sobering end to the MVC Tournament and the NIT provides a fresh start.
“The end of the season was a grind and things weren’t going the right way. It was nice to get away for a few days, re-group and come back strong. It’s like a new season,” ISU forward R.J. Mahurin said.
ISU coach Greg Lansing — who returns to Iowa where he was an assistant from 1999-2006 — dismissed the idea of a hangover effect the Hawkeyes might have due to disappointment over not making the NCAA Tournament. Iowa (21-12) has won seven of its last 10 games.
“One thing against us is Iowa just played in their conference tournament. They’re playing as well as they’ve played all year. They’ve been building toward this and we’ve stubbed our toe a bit. I don’t know how well we’ll play, but I know we’ll play hard,” Lansing said.
Rebounding was an emphasis of practice Tuesday before the team left for Iowa City and for good reason. The Hawkeyes are 10th in the nation in rebounding. Considering that neither team shoots well from 3-point range, rebounding proves doubly important in what’s likely to be a grind of a game.
The Hawkeyes don’t rely on one or two rebounders, but rather, have a deep front line, even by Big Ten standards; much less what’s the norm for the guard-based Missouri Valley Conference. Forward Adrian White (5.9 rpg), forward Melshan Basabe (5.1 rpg) and center Adam Woodbury (4.7 rpg) are formidable big men, but Iowa’s guards rebound as well.
“They’re big and they’re relentless. They crash all the time. We have to do a better job getting down and using our rear ends to kind of get into their legs so they can’t right to the rim,” Mahurin said. “If the guards can come down and double-team, we can hopefully keep them off the glass.”
ISU starting center Justin Gant did not practice Tuesday. He was struck in the face during Monday’s practice.
ISU hasn’t played Big Ten competition since a 2011 loss to Minnesota in the Old Spice Classic. ISU last defeated a Big Ten team in 2006 when Purdue was downed at Hulman Center.
“We’re highly motivated. None of us have ever played in Madison Square Garden. You can’t look that far ahead yet, but we’re excited about the chance we have. It’s a good tournament,” Odum said.
ISU could play Iowa again next season as both schools are participants in the Great Alaska Shootout. ISU has only played Iowa once … a 39-37 loss in 1940.
The winner of tonight’s game will play the winner of tonight’s Massachusetts-Stony Brook contest. If ISU and UMass win, the game would be at UMass. If ISU and Stony Brook are victorious, the game would be in Hulman Center. Game dates will be determined later.
TERRE HAUTE —
Success in the National Invitation Tournament is often predicated on how a team approaches it.
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