TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State’s men’s basketball team has only played Illinois once in school history.
The game was when Illinois was at the peak of its basketball powers — one year after its 1989 Final Four appearance. The 1989-90 Sycamores were summarily bounced 93-59 in Champaign, Ill.
The Sycamores and Fighting Illini will finally come together again during the 2014-15 season. Only it won’t be in Champaign and it won’t be in Terre Haute either.
It’ll be in Las Vegas.
ISU, Illinois and six other schools comprise the field for the 2013 Las Vegas Invitational. It will take place in November at the Orleans Hotel and Casino. Specific dates have yet to be announced, but the most recent edition of the tournament commenced over Thanksgiving.
After a Vegas trip next season, ISU will continue on its magical mystery tour of college basketball’s exotic sites in 2015-16 when the Sycamores are slated to play in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The tournament typically takes place in November in the week or weekend before Thanksgiving. The tournament takes place on the island of St. Thomas. Specific dates and participating teams have yet to be determined. Hofstra is the only other known participant.
ISU’s Vegas and Virgin Islands’ trips continue a pattern Lansing established when he became ISU’s head coach in 2010.
Starting with the 2011-12 season, ISU has been committed to playing in multi-team event (MTE) tournaments. The Missouri Valley Conference stresses participation in such events and ISU has eagerly picked up the mantle.
ISU played in the Old Spice Classic at Disney World in Florida in 2011. ISU had a fruitful trip to Hawaii in 2012 when it placed third in the Diamond Head Classic. ISU most recently participated in the Great Alaska Shootout in November.
“When I started out, Doug Elgin [MVC commissioner] wanted every team to be in a MTE. We were only supposed to play a couple of schools with RPI averages over 250. I’ve always wanted to play in the good tournaments,” Lansing said. “We’ve been fortunate that the name Indiana State is something ESPN and tournament directors want.”
The game with Illinois reunites two programs that are close in proximity — Terre Haute and Champaign are separated by a 90-minute drive — but that are largely unfamiliar with one another.
Lansing did not confirm that Illinois was the opponent, but barring any last-minute pull-outs it is a certainty, especially considering one of the other benefits of participation in the Las Vegas Invitational — two additional home games.
The Invitational format calls for two games at campus sites and two games at Orleans Arena. ISU is part of the Host Group, which includes Illinois, Memphis and Baylor.
As a host school, ISU will play Brown and Eastern Washington at Hulman Center before the Vegas Invitational. ISU then “advances” to its group in Vegas, regardless of results in its two home games. The Sycamores will play Illinois and then play the winner of Memphis-Baylor. Brown and Eastern Washington are part of a Visiting Group and will play Prairie View and Stephen F. Austin in Las Vegas.
In other words, ISU gets two home games and then two quality opponents on a neutral floor.
“We get two home games and play two BCS level teams over Thanskgiving. Then we go to the Virgin Islands in the Paradise Jam. They’re not all going to be Alaska,” said Lansing, who noted that the November tournament in Anchorage, Ala. was well-organized, even if ISU didn’t play well. “These are good tournaments to be in.”
ISU’s 2014-15 home slate is far beefier than the current season in which ISU will have hosted just four nonconference games.
With Brown and Eastern Washington coming to Terre Haute, ISU currently has six home nonconference games on-tap next season. Saint Louis, Missouri-Kansas City and Eastern Illinois will all return games in home-and-home series that began on the road for ISU this season.
Butler will also visit Hulman Center. The Bulldogs are returning 2012’s BracketBuster game at Hinkle Fieldhouse three seasons after the original contest. BracketBuster games are supposed to be returned within two years. Partly because of the delay, ISU and Butler agreed to an additional home-and-home series. Butler will play in Terre Haute in two of the three seasons from 2014-17.
ISU is contracted to play Ball State, Iona (another BracketBuster return game) and Purdue on the road.
All contests are subject to change.