Being a student at Illinois State University, I wanted nothing more than for our men’s basketball team to win the Missouri Valley Conference championship today. If they had done so, they would have been given an automatic berth into the men’s NCAA basketball tournament for the first time since 1998.
ISU entered the MVC tournament as the number 4 seed in the conference. In the first round, they beat Northern Iowa 54-42 to advance to the conference semifinals. In the semis, they beat Wichita State 65-64 in a thriller. Wichita State was ranked #14 in the country heading into that game. By beating the Shockers, Illinois State moved on to the conference championship against Creighton earlier today. Unfortunately, we came up short in this one. Creighton won by a score of 83-79 in overtime.
For a while it looked as though ISU might have been able to pull off the upset. At one point in the second half, we were up by 7 points. Creighton ended up coming back and taking the lead heading into the final minute of play. With 6 seconds left in the game, ISU tied it up on a lay-up to send it to OT. The bad thing about going into overtime was that it heavily favored Creighton. It was obvious that the longer this game was extended, the tougher time ISU was going to have trying to contain the Blue Jays.
Over the years, Illinois State’s basketball program has never been recognized as a “top” program in the country, let alone the Midwest. Had they been able to pull off the victory this afternoon, it would not have only been a big win in the sense that they would be headed to the NCAA tournament, but it would have been a huge feat to put on their resume when trying to recruit future players. I honestly believe that ISU’s basketball program has the potential to be a lot better and a lot more well-known than they are today. In order to make that happen, however, they need to start winning big games like this one today. The top players coming out of high school aren’t going to want to commit to a school that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 14 years. If ISU could find a way to make it into the NCAA tournament sometime in the next couple of years, I really believe that they could then get some better recruits to sign on with the program.