After a big home win against Creighton on Feb. 6, Indiana State's chances of landing an at-large NCAA tournament berth appeared rosy.
Now, the Sycamores know the only way they'll get a spot in the NCAA field is to win the Missouri Valley tournament next month.
Losing three straight league games took the luster off Indiana State's résumé, which was as solid as any of the teams in the Valley after the win over Creighton. In addition to beating the Bluejays, Indiana State counted wins over RPI top-50 teams Wichita State, Mississippi and Miami among its 16 victories.
Then came back-to-back-to-back losses in league play, knocking the Sycamores out of the Valley race and sending their at-large hopes up in smoke.
Indiana State bounced back with a BracketBusters win over Iona, and can add a couple more Valley wins before heading to St. Louis.
Naturally, Indiana State's players are disappointed by the sudden turn of events.
“But they're handling it about as well as 18- to 22-year-olds can handle it,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “We just hit a stretch where we didn't play well, and we could give any of 100 excuses, but our guys never did that.
“I think the bottom line is we're just not good enough to contend for a title this year. The teams ahead of us are very good, and we went into every game expecting a heck of a game, and that's what we've gotten.”
Indiana State heads into the final week of league play in fourth place with a 9-7 record. The Sycamores are one game behind Northern Iowa and one game ahead of Evansville, which they will play on the final Saturday of the regular season.
“It was great to be in the conversation with bubbles and this and that,” Lansing said. “I don't think we got too ahead of ourselves. We just hit a stretch that teams played better than us and we weren't playing as well as we needed to.
“Hopefully we can regroup. This is a huge week for us to continue to get better going into St. Louis.”
Players of the week
Overall: Evansville guard Colt Ryan. The senior from Batesville, Ind., averaged 26 points and seven rebounds in leading the Purple Aces to a pair of wins.
Newcomer: Wichita State forward Cleanthony Early. The junior from Middleton, N.Y., averaged 18.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in two Shocker victories.
Quote of the week
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, on Creighton's dramatic increase in nonconference strength of schedule after Saturday's loss to St. Mary's that allowed the Bluejays to jump his team in the all-important tiebreaker should the teams tie for first place: “I really don't know how that works. I always thought their strength of schedule was a little better than ours, so I didn't understand how we were ahead of them, but we were. But it seems like you play one game and your strength of schedule jumps 60-some-odd places, that's incredible. The matrix went haywire.”
Bits and pieces
>> Bradley guard Walt Lemon Jr. has a chance of joining former Braves great Hersey Hawkins as the only players in Valley history to score 500 points, grab 100 rebounds, dish out 100 assists and record 70 steals in a season. Heading into the final week of the regular season, Lemon has 449 points, 114 rebounds, 102 assists and 66 steals.
>> Creighton's Doug McDermott is the first Valley player since Hawkins to score at least 650 points in back-to-back seasons. McDermott leads the league with 651 points this season after scoring 801 last season.
>> Illinois State's Tyler Brown scored 35 points in a BracketBusters loss at Utah State. He is the only league player and just one of eight nationally to have at least two games of at least 35 points this season. He scored 36 points against Northwestern earlier this season.
>> A victory over Drake would give Indiana State an 8-1 record at home in league games, the best since the Sycamores went 9-0 while winning the 1999-2000 Valley championship.
>> Missouri State ranks fifth nationally in fewest turnovers per game (10.3), and has had 10 straight games in which it has committed 10 turnovers or less.
>> Wichita State has outrebounded its opponents in 25 of 29 games. The Shockers finished even on the boards in two of the games they didn't win the rebounding battle.
— Steven Pivovar