News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 17, 2013

Rest is over; NIT wait is on for ISU basketball

Pairings are 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU

Todd Golden
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The concept of the season in college basketball has been turned on its head since the NCAA changed rules governing player-coach interaction prior to the 2012-13 season.

In the past, coaches would get a bit of individual workout time between the end of one season and the beginning of October practice for the next, but formal contact was forbidden.

Now? Coaches and players can work together in short increments throughout most of the old offseason. When it comes to Indiana State’s 2012-13 season, the time spent together has been even more frequent.

Because of ISU’s August 2012 Bahamas trip, the Sycamores were able to practice for two weeks prior to the trip.

Coach Greg Lansing wouldn’t trade the time he’s had with the Sycamores, but the unintended side effect is that the team has spent nine months together with little in the way of a break.

After ISU was eliminated in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on March 9, Lansing did what he could to give the Sycamores a much-needed break. Lansing gave the team five days off. Practice only resumed last Friday.

“I’m hoping [the rest] is very beneficial. We lost our legs and our bodies got beat down. We got broken down physically and mentally. We haven’t had a break and you get fatigued,” said Lansing, who said throughout ISU’s late-February struggles that fatigue was adversely affecting the team.

ISU has returned to practice with the hope of being chosen for the National Invitation Tournament. Pairings are to be announced at 9 p.m. tonight and will be broadcast on ESPNU.

Lansing is hoping the rest he gave the Sycamores will be helpful if ISU was to get a NIT bid. It’s not just physical rest either. In the course of a long season, it’s natural that players and coaches need a break from each other too.

“I think that can happen. I think the players are always going to be together. Our chemistry is great, but they might be tired of hearing the coach say the same thing all the time. It doesn’t make them bad kids or teammates, it just happens,” Lansing said.

Lansing noted that the season was particularly hard on ISU’s six first-year players as well as young veterans like Justin Gant and Jake Kitchell, who saw their minutes increase substantially in their sophomore seasons.

“You look at some of our statistics … Justin gave us a lot, but his stats dropped off significantly late in the season. All of those young guys — Khristian [Smith], Devonte [Brown], Dawon [Cummings] — none of them have had to go through 30-plus games,” Lansing noted.

ISU (18-14) is considered to a bubble team as far as NIT selection is concerned. Since the NCAA took over the NIT in 2005, the 32-team tournament has garnered wider acceptance, but has also changed some of its rules for selection.

One rule that significantly impacts ISU’s potential entry is that the regular-season champion of a conference is guaranteed a spot in the NIT field if it isn’t chosen for the NCAA Tournament. As of press time, there could be anywhere from 10 to 12 regular-season champions that could be NIT-bound.

Working in ISU’s favor is its RPI rank of 70 and its strong nonconference strength of schedule, which includes victories over expected NCAA participants Miami, Wichita State, Creighton and Iona. Working against ISU is its 2-6 finish and competition from fellow MVC schools Northern Iowa, Evansville and Illinois State.

The Panthers and Purple Aces are also 18-14. The Redbirds are 18-15. UNI’s RPI and strength of schedule are also strong and the Panthers are expected to make the field. Illinois State finished stronger than ISU, but the Redbirds are 115th in the RPI and have a weak nonconference schedule. Evansville — beaten twice by ISU — is considered to be a long shot.

“I think it would be great [to be chosen]. We haven’t played in the NIT since [Larry] Bird was a junior. Our goal every year is to play in the NCAA tournament, but the NIT is going to be very good,” Lansing said.

What do Lansing’s tea leaves tell him?

“I’ve been told we have a chance. I’ve stayed in close contact with [MVC commissioner Doug Elgin] and we know people on the committee,” Lansing said.

If ISU isn’t chosen for the NIT, the College Basketball Invitational and Tournament are options, but Lansing did not confirm that either have been contacted as a NIT backup plan.

“Both of those other tournaments want us, but we can’t make a commitment until we know about the NIT. It’s something Mr. [Ron] Prettyman [ISU Director of Athletics] and our staff have talked about,” Lansing said.