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Madness brewing? Despite loss, Schertz positive about Sycamores' NCAA chances

Mar. 10—The direct path to booking passage to the NCAA Tournament came and left the Indiana State men's basketball squad Sunday at the Enterprise Center.

Now, the Sycamores spend the next week waiting for the March 17 NCAA Selection Sunday to find out if they'll get an at-large berth in March Madness.

An aggressive defense and a barrage of 3-pointers from second-seeded Drake nearly put Sunday's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game out of ISU's reach. The top-seeded Sycamores were able to take a lead in the second half after trailing by 18 points with 10 minutes and 8 seconds left to play in St. Louis' Enterprise Center, but wound up losing 84-80.

Both ISU and Drake, which gets the MVC Tournament title's automatic NCAA berth, are 28-6 for the season.

ISU is now on the bubble for a NCAA at-large spot in the 68-team field. The Bulldogs punched a second straight ticket and the program's seventh appearance.

ISU jumped its NCAA NET ranking to 26th in the country out of 362 Division I teams, up three spots after convincingly ousting Northern Iowa 94-72 in Saturday's MVC Tournament semifinals.

History says ISU can be cautiously optimistic about getting into the NCAA field for a fifth time in school history. The highest-ranked NET team to get snubbed was North Carolina State in 2019 with a NET of 33, according to The Athletic.

On the surface with ISU likely being in the top 30 looks decent, however, the 2019 Wolfpack only won three Quad 1 games and Clemson that year had one Quad 1 victory. (The NCAA Tournament selection system gives heavier weight to games against opponents with more stout victories.) Clemson was NIT-bound after a NET of 35.

ISU coach Josh Schertz referenced North Carolina State's situation from four years ago in Sunday's postgame press conference and expressed confidence.

"We are going to be 28 in the NET, five places ahead of [NC State's 33rd spot in 2019]," he said. "Anything can happen in life. We had a chance to guarantee ourselves and we missed that chance. I certainly feel like again, our resume stacks up. We've done everything we can to put ourselves in position."

Schertz made his pitch for "the little guys" and those teams' role in making the NCAA one of the most entertaining basketball tournaments.

"I think we proved this tournament we are good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament," Schertz said. "To me — and I know things are getting skewed toward the Power 5s and the Power 6s or whatever — but the romanticism of the tournament has been the mid-major and the high-majors competing.

"March Madness is not one Power 5 upsetting another Power 5," he continued. "March Madness has always been in basketball the underdogs having a chance to make a run — the mid-majors."

The Sycamores won 82.3% of their games this year and 82.6% of their conference in a league ranked ninth strongest for most of the season.

The Sycamores went 15-5 in games outside of Terre Haute and went 13-1 in Hulman Center. ISU went 1-4 in Quad 1 games and finished 4-1 in Quad 2 games, which are both critical metrics for picking the field by the NCAA Selection committee. A win over Drake on Sunday would have been ISU's lone game not on the road in the Quad 1 sector. And that win would have given them an automatic berth.

"We've done a lot," Schertz said. "I have confidence the committee will get it right."

Hunter Tickel can be reached at hunter.tickel@tribstar.com.