UPDATE (March 12): Illinois State men’s basketball received one of the top seeds in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), after being left out of the NCAA Tournament. For more information, follow @Redbird_MBB on Twitter and visit GoRedbirds.com. See below for ticket information. The following story was published March 9 and detailed the Redbirds’ likely postseason scenarios.

Bracketology: the activity of predicting the participants in and outcomes of the games in a sports tournament, especially the NCAA college basketball tournament.—Google definition

Redbirds, on and off campus, are engaging in an additional field of study this week: bracketology. They are trying desperately to envision scenarios in which the men’s basketball team lands some floor space at the Big Dance, aka March Madness, aka the NCAA Tournament.

Illinois State is “on the bubble,” which, for the uninitiated, means it is among the final group of teams being considered for entry into the tournament. Nineteen years have passed since the Redbirds last qualified for the NCAA playoffs. Back then, current head coach Dan Muller was on the court, not on the sidelines.

Paris Lee dribbling the basketball on the court

Redbird guard Paris Lee’s prowess on both ends of the court is a big reason for the Redbirds’ success this season.

This season Muller has led the men’s basketball program to its most wins (27) in school history and to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). However, the team missed a chance to earn an automatic bid to the tournament last Sunday by losing to top 25-ranked Wichita State in the MVC Tournament championship game.

That loss has left the Redbirds’ postseason destination in the hands of the inscrutable NCAA selection committee, a group whose decisions annually befuddle and infuriate pundits and college basketball fans alike. The committee will meet this Sunday to award the 36 at-large bids and to seed the 68-team field.

No matter what the committee decides, the Redbirds will be playing postseason basketball next week. Illinois State automatically qualified for college basketball’s second most prestigious tournament, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), by finishing in a first-place tie for the MVC regular season title. The NIT bid would be a nice consolation prize for Redbirds fans in more ways than one: The team would likely receive a high seed and be selected as a host site for the tournament.

Most Redbird fans, however, are putting thoughts of the NIT out of their heads until the team’s NCAA fate is decided. Here are what some professional bracketologists are saying about the Redbirds’ chances:

  • USA Today: “That brings us to Illinois State, the true definition of a bubble team that will be sweating it out until Selection Sunday and is currently hanging on the first four out of today’s bracket. The Redbirds (27-6), in spite of a school-record season and sporting an RPI in the 30s, have two résumé-staining losses — to Tulsa and Murray State. And most notably, they only have one top-50 win. Against Wichita State.”
  • ESPN: “On the surface, it might be tempting to argue as vociferously for ISU as we would have for Wichita State. Sunday’s result was Wichita’s third top-100 win; ISU has two, and the RPI and schedule numbers are a comparative wash. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as easy to make ISU’s case. One key difference is bad losses. Wichita State has nothing outside the top 50; Illinois State lost on a neutral floor to San Francisco, at Tulsa and at Murray State in the nonconference slate. … Illinois State will spend the next week on the bubble, hoping a bunch of teams lose and (or?) the committee grants them mercy. That’s the best hope right now.
  • Bleacher Report: “Illinois State must avoid the fate that most accomplished mid-major teams deal with when getting bumped off in their conference tourney. Though its RPI is strong, that won’t be the only metric the selection committee uses, meaning that its mere six games against top-100 opponents (three of which are Wichita State) will come into play. Being 2-4 in such games doesn’t hold up well against power-league bubble teams who have had far more chances to build their resumes.”

Senior guard Tony Wills is a key contributor for the Redbirds.

Ticket information

The Illinois State Athletics Ticket Office is currently taking NCAA Tournament ticket requests from all Weisbecker Scholarship Fund donors and season ticket holders. If the Redbirds make the tournament, the general public will be encouraged to go through the host site’s ticket office—once the game location and time are announced—to purchase tickets.

If Illinois State hosts a first round game in the NIT, the Illinois State Athletics Ticket Office will begin selling tickets to Weisbecker Scholarship Fund donors and season ticket holders Monday, March 13, at 9 a.m. Tickets for the general public will be made available March 14 at 9 a.m. The first round game would likely be played on that Wednesday, March 15.

One thought on “Redbird basketball headed to NIT

  1. Brian Bown says:

    I remember the years we were completely ignored by the tournaments. Then the first one. At Creighton. I still have the Omaha World front page. “Happy Redbirds, Sad Jaybirds”. Exciting win. Tired of the NCAA’s blatant bias against ISU. They have deserved to be in several times and have been ignored. The selection committee is on the big conferences payroll I think. The Birds deserve to be in. We’ve knocked on the door too may times.