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Indiana State University

November 27, 2013

ISU wants to take Hawaii spirit to Alaska

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — Since Greg Lansing took over as Indiana State’s men’s basketball coach, the Sycamores have seen their frequent flier and hotel points skyrocket.

After a decade or so prior in which the Sycamores mostly stayed in the Midwest to play tournaments, if they played them at all, holiday trips to Florida and Hawaii were on the docket during the last two seasons.

This year the weather changed, as ISU will take part in the Great Alaska Shootout starting at 11:30 p.m. tonight against Tulsa, but the Sycamores are hoping nothing else from their tournament experiences of recent years does.

ISU went 2-1 in both the Old Spice Classic and Diamond Head Classic in the last two years, but it was the Diamond Head Classic trip last season in Honolulu that really stuck out.

ISU defeated Mississippi and Miami — eventual NCAA Tournament teams both — and narrowly lost to San Diego State in a performance that put them in the conversation for NCAA Tournament status themselves.

A large portion of ISU’s current roster took part in both tournaments. They know the drill when it comes to bringing their best game to an exotic locale.

“I think the big thing with us last year is that we were locked in and ready to go. We didn’t make any excuses after having to play early after a long day of travel,” ISU guard Lucas Eitel said. “Looking at that, there’s no excuses for this game. Let’s lock in, let’s play. Everyone had the same travel as us. It’s us and them. Let’s lock in and do it.”

ISU arrived in Anchorage at around 9:30 p.m. local time Monday — Anchorage is four hours behind Terre Haute, so 1:30 a.m. Eastern. Included was a six-hour flight to Anchorage from Minneapolis.

The Sycamores had little time to get comfy. Practice was at Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena at 9 a.m. local time. After an hour on the floor, practice switched to Bartlett High School, alma mater of the Miami Heat’s Mario Chalmers.

“We had a tough turnaround with a 9 a.m. practice, but the guys were really good this morning. I think they’re ready to go,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.

It’s a business trip for ISU, but it’s also a life experience. Many of the current Sycamores will not get another chance to experience Alaska and its natural beauty again. What the Sycamores derived from their Florida and Hawaii trips was the ability to smell the roses, but not let the fragance distract from the mission at hand.

“The sign of a team being mature is being able to enjoy the trip, but when it comes time for business, you’re all business,” Eitel said “The biggest part of this team is a bunch of fun guys enjoying each other. I think we can enjoy a lot and win. I don’t think you have to be serious all of the time to win.”

To beat winless Tulsa, the Sycamores will need to be disciplined and careful with the ball.

“They’re extremely fast and tremendous in transition. In the half-court, they just want to put their head down and attack off penetration,” Lansing said.

“We’ll have to do a great job of getting back [on defense] and make them score against a set defense. They apply a lot of pressure, so we have to take care of the ball and not fuel their transition.”

Tulsa — a Missouri Valley Conference member until the mid 1990s — has been on a sort of MVC reunion tour to start the season. Tulsa played at Missouri State (96-93 loss), hosted Wichita State (77-54 loss) and played at recent MVC member Creighton (82-72 loss). Tulsa’s other loss was to crosstown rival Oral Roberts.

The Golden Hurricane were in each of those games. ISU can’t be deceived by their 0-4 record.

“We have to be prepared for how fast they are. They’ve had a rough start, but they’ve been in every game. We have to respect how good a team they are,” ISU guard Dawon Cummings said.

There are familiar faces and names associated with Tulsa’s current team. Head coach Danny Manning is a College Basketball Hall of Famer, having led Kansas to the 1988 NCAA championship.

One of Manning’s assistants, Steve Woodberry, is a former KU star in his own right and helped recruit MVC Player of the Year Kyle Weems to Missouri State when Woodberry was on Barry Hinson and Cuonzo Martin’s staffs with the Bears.

Finally, Tulsa guard Pat Swilling Jr. is the son of former New Orleans Saints standout linebacker Pat Swilling.

If the Sycamores get past Tulsa, there’s plenty of road blocks to come.

TCU, a possible second-round opponent, won at Washington State on its way to Alaska. On the other side of the bracket, Pepperdine, from the respected West Coast Conference, is 4-1. Green Bay is 2-1 and lost by three to No. 10 Wisconsin. Denver is 0-2, but losses were to California and Stanford.

Harvard (4-1) is considered a potential tournament favorite. Its only loss was an eight-point setback at Colorado. The Crimson knocked New Mexico out of the NCAA Tournament last season.

ISU would like to avoid playing Division II host Alaska-Anchorage as it would prevent any possible RPI gain. The Seawolves are 5-1 and are a possible second-round opponent.

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