TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State’s men’s basketball team returned to practice on Friday without a team or a tournament to prepare for.
ISU coach Greg Lansing put it succinctly when asked what it was like to be in postseason limbo since the Sycamores’ quest to make the NCAA Tournament fell short in last Sunday’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship loss to Wichita State.
“To put it simply, it stinks,” Lansing said.
The National Invitation Tournament is the next best option for ISU, but even though the Sycamores have 23 wins and the NIT has had a MVC team in its field every year since 2002, the NIT is no guarantee for the Sycamores.
The biggest issue for the Sycamores is the NIT rule that conference regular season champions get an automatic NIT bid if they don’t win their conference tournaments. This rule was instituted when the NCAA took over the NIT in 2005.
Conference tournament championship week has been one long punch in the gut for ISU’s NIT chances. Upsets in several mid- and low-major conference tournaments have swelled the amount of automatic bids the NIT will have to honor.
As of Friday, nine conference champions have punched their ticket to the NIT that won’t likely be chosen for a NCAA at-large bid, but there are still 19 conference tournaments to be played, including eight involving mid-major conferences that won’t likely get its regular season champion chosen for the NCAA Tournament.
The net effect, of course, is that space is increasingly limited for NIT at-large teams … and ISU is very much on the NIT bubble. Last season, 10 teams received an automatic NIT bid. As it was, ISU was a No. 6 seed in the 2013 NIT with more quality wins than the current Sycamores have. ISU’s advantage this season is better conference placement and more wins overall.
“You’re sitting around waiting to see if the conference regular season champions win their tournaments,” Lansing said. “Last year we got in with 18 wins, even though we had more signature wins. We have 23 wins and finished second. It would terrible for the league to have one team in the NCAA and no team in the NIT.”
Lansing said if ISU isn’t chosen for the NIT he would leave it up to ISU’s seniors if the Sycamores played on in either the College Basketball Invitational or CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
ISU senior Jake Odum said he wants to keep on playing if ISU’s NIT hopes are dashed.
“I want to keep playing. College basketball is one of the most fun things I’ve ever been a part of. Being with these guys and having the opportunity to play one more game, no matter who it’s against or what tournament it’s in, it’s still going to be a highly-competitive environment. It’ll be good experience for the young guys too,” Odum said.
ISU senior Lucas Eitel also expressed his desire to keep playing.
“I want to play. You only get to do this once in life. There’s a lot of people who would like to be in our shoes. I’d like to take any chance I can to play. Even though it’s not the tournament we wanted to play in, it’s still an accomplishment to make the postseason,” Eitel said.
Lansing said it is unlikely ISU could afford to host a game in either the CBI or CIT. The CBI would be the more likely of the two scenarios. It is possible ISU could play Indiana in either the NIT or CBI. Illinois is also a remote possibility in the NIT, and if that were to occur, ISU would host the game as Illinois’ Assembly Hall is closed for renovations.
Odum was a full-go in Friday’s practice after injuring the knuckle on his right index finger early in the second half of last Sunday’s 83-69 loss to Wichita State in the MVC championship game.
“[Friday] was the first day I did anything, but it feels all right and I should be ready to play,” Odum said.
Lansing said that if Odum wasn’t active ISU’s NIT chances would likely be non-existent.
“I think if Jake Odum was out we wouldn’t have a chance to tell the truth. The NIT committee is watching it,” Lansing said.
Mid-major teams ISU needs to win their conference tournaments to help gain a NIT at-large bid:
Big Sky — Weber State
Big West — UC-Irvine
Conference USA — Louisiana Tech
Mid-American — Western Michigan
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference — North Carolina Central
Southland — Stephen F. Austin
Sun Belt — Georgia State
Western Athletic — Utah Valley State