Indiana State stands at a crossroads.
The Sycamores have played in five nail biters, and at 2-4 have won just one of the those close games. Their schedule has been more than respectable, but with four near misses the Sycamores - like their MVC brethren - may have already sealed the conference’s fate as a “one bid league” this season.
There have been Valley successes against power conference teams. Northern Iowa knocked off Arizona State and Oklahoma before dropping two-in-a-row to Xavier. Loyola handled Washington State, but were drilled by St. Joseph’s, and had a near miss of its own, dropping a narrow decision to North Carolina State. Southern Illinois has put together a fine schedule, but has lost at Arkansas and Minnesota.
Conference standard-bearer Wichita State had the rare opportunity this past weekend to play two top-25 teams on consecutive days, but lost both games. Louisville defeated the Shockers by 10 and Michigan State held on for a victory the following day. As we all know, close only counts in horse shoes.
The Sycamores’ season underscores the Valley’s struggles. They split season opening overtime games, blew out Div. II Missouri-St. Louis and then dropped three games by a total of eight points at the Advocare Invitational.
ISU battled to the final buzzer against No. 21 Iowa State only to lose by two points. They then battled back and forth with Stanford only to lose by three, and - most disturbingly - let previously winless Quinnipiac come away with a three point win. The four Sycamore losses have come by a total of 10 points.
Greg Lansing knows close is not good enough. Speaking after the Stanford loss, he told gosycamores.com that his team has to start winning close games.
“We’re not in for participation ribbons or pats on the back,” said Lansing. “We want to win these games. We could have won either one of these games or both.”
Against Iowa State, leading scorer Brenton Scott missed a three pointer that would have given ISU the win at the final buzzer. The next day Stanford connected on a buzzer beater and against Quinnipiac freshman Jordan Barnes couldn’t connect on the game-tying three point attempt.
After the Iowa State game, Lansing said he was confident right to the end.
“I really felt we were going to win,” said Lansing. “Proud of the way the guys were, but we’ve got to learn from it we really do.”
ISU out-shot all three opponents in Orlando, but were out-rebounded in all three games, highlighting the differences many mid-majors face against typically taller and more athletic power conference teams. An MVC team simply has to play precision basketball to pull off the upset.
Lansing’s team played well, but he said it was the little things that cost them in those tight games. After the Stanford game, he said his team lost some focus and became a little selfish.
“We got a little too individual on the offensive end,” he said. “We stood around too much. Our rule on offense is ‘ball movement and man movement,’ but we were way too individualized today.”
At-large bids for a league like the MVC take impressive non-conference wins, and it had ample opportunity last weekend. But as a whole, the league came away with five near misses and is running out of time to build its case for the selection committee.
RealTimeRPI.com ranks the Valley 12th in their conference rankings, with only Northern Iowa, Missouri State and Southern Illinois in the top-100 of individual teams.
Opportunities still lie before the MVC. Games with Butler, Louisville, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa, Iowa State and North Carolina, as well as mid major tilts with Murray State and Valparaiso, are on the schedule for December. Additionally, nine games in the MWC/MVC challenge are this Saturday.
At the end of the day it’s not complicated. If the MVC hopes to send more than one team dancing, it needs to start seizing opportunities against quality opponents.