NORMAL — Being in class this week, instead of spring break with campus empty, might sound like a good idea to keep Illinois State's basketball players busy.
Yet there is really no hiding from whether they will hear their name called on Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament.
"You've got classmates asking you, 'You think you're going to get in?' So it's kind of hard to get your mind off it," said ISU senior Paris Lee. "Everyone on campus and everyone in the community knows what's going on.
"It's not a bad thing, but anxiety kicks in and you want to know if you're going to get in."
The Redbirds hope a 27-6 record, a 17-1 mark in the Missouri Valley Conference and winning of 20 of their last 22 games are good enough to gain an at-large berth and end a 19-year NCAA tourney drought.
However, much depends on how other teams fare in conference tournaments being played this week. The NCAA Tournament Selection Show airs at 4:30 p.m. Sunday on CBS.
ISU coach Dan Muller said he is not rooting for certain teams to lose to help out the Redbirds’ cause, but rather for certain teams to win. Muller also hinted his anxiety level isn’t that high.
"It’s one of my strengths as a coach or person is I don’t worry about it," said Muller. "I’m not glued to the screen yelling and screaming."
The Redbirds returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since a 71-51 loss to Wichita State in the MVC Tournament championship game three days earlier in St. Louis.
"We've had an unbelievable season," said Muller. "Ninety percent of my incredible desire to have our name called Sunday is for those players. That's what it's all about."
ISU and the MVC office have put together a standard information sheet for NCAA selection committee members "to help better explain the credentials of their teams," said Redbird athletic director Larry Lyons.
"I can tell you as a member of the (NCAA) baseball (selection) committee I received stuff last spring on a fairly regular basis," said Lyons. "That's fairly normal for that to happen."
While ISU's profile is lacking top-50 (one) and top-100 (two) victories, the Redbirds feel good about several things. They have lost only three games without their top eight players healthy, plus they won nine road games.
Muller also believes ISU's attempt to schedule tourney-caliber opponents should be considered. While New Mexico and Saint Joseph's did not have the seasons expected, the Redbirds are not hiding behind weak nonconference scheduling as some schools.
Lyons also has a message for those following all the so-called bracketology experts in the media.
"The only thing that matters is what the committee thinks and how they evaluate things. You have to block out this other stuff that happens all week," he said.
"It all depends on how this particular committee interprets the data they have to use and how they choose to structure the tournament. Every year is a little bit different because the committee changes."
Lyons and his staff are getting ready to host a game on Tuesday or Wednesday in the National Invitation Tournament if the Redbirds aren't picked for the NCAA.
"Our ticket office and events staff and external staff have tried to juggle both balls at the same time so we're as prepared as we possibly can be which direction we're going," he said.
Right now, N-I-T are three bad letters that Lee doesn't want to hear.
"If we go the NIT route we will be mad a day or two, but we have to suck it up and play basketball," he said. "But I would be real crushed if Sunday we're not selected for the NCAA."
So would Muller.
"There's nothing I can say right now that would change that fact," he said. "We are preparing right now to play next week, and I'm preparing to play in the NCAA Tournament. Our players need to understand how critical practice is this week to prepare for the NCAA Tournament.
"If we don't make it, then we'll deal with that at that moment."