Indiana State’s ridiculously fun NIT run is a reminder of how dumb the selection committee was


Indiana State is now in the NIT Final Four. A win over Cincinnati on Tuesday night is keeping the Sycamores dancing, and they’re one of the most complete basketball teams in the country. There’s no doubt this team could be in the NCAA tournament, but shortsightedness caused them to miss out. Now we’re left to wonder how good they could be if they were in the big dance.

Indiana State was one of the feel-good stories of college basketball this year. The school’s success in 2023-24 evoked the halcyon days of Larry Bird, and reversed decades of mediocrity for one incredible run. In the end a 29-6 record wasn’t good enough for the selection committee, who snubbed the Sycamores for their loss in the Missouri Valley tournament to Drake, pushing Indiana State to the NIT.

The choice was antithetical to everything we love about college basketball in March. Here we had an exciting mid-major, led by one of the most intriguing players in the nation in spectacled, do-everything big man Robbie Avila — and yet we were instead subjected to the ponderous mediocrity of Virginia (23-11), who were bounced in the first four.

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Now that we’ve reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, and the Final 8 in the NIT we can safely say that it’s ridiculous we were robbed of seeing Indiana State in the big dance. What’s been happening away from the brightest lights of March is the Sycamores running through their competition with relative ease.

On Tuesday night they beat Cincinnati, their toughest competition in the NIT so far — but still prevailed against a program thought to be superior because of its conference. The Sycamores did what they’ve done all year, play complete team basketball and overwhelm the Bearcats.

Avila scored 22 points, three other players were in double-figures. It was another night of work for Indiana State who kept dancing in the NIT.

Robbie Avila is the ultimate team player

The poor man’s Nikola Jokic of the NCAA, Avila has been a can’t-miss player this season. Despite looking like your dad in a pickup game, with the athleticism to boot, Avila is a such an unselfish throwback player that he’s impossible to ignore.

Avila’s shot hasn’t really been falling in the NIT, so he’s pivoted to being a distributor in the paint — kicking the ball out to Indiana State’s stellar guards. He’s averaging 5.5 rebounds and 7 assists in two games, while also drawing fouls and knocking down 13-of-15 from the line.

So much of the Sycamores offense flows through Avila that it’s just … fun. It’s something we don’t see often. It would have been fascinating to see how he faired against some of the best big men in the NCAA tournament like Zach Edey, Donovan Clingan or Armando Bacot, but the committee robbed us of that.

The Sycamores have two overlooked stud guards too

All the headlines have been around Avila because he’s such a unicorn, but what makes Indiana State compelling is that they’re not a one-horse team. The NIT has shown this, with Jayson Kent and Ryan Conwell trading off to have massive games.

Against SMU Kent went off, scoring 35 points primarily through driving the lane with overwhelming athleticism. There was a distinct “next man up” element to Indiana State’s opening game, and with SMU over-committing to stopping Avila he feasted.

Then in the Round of 16 we had Minnesota, who were stronger in the middle and able to stop Kent, only to see Conwell destroy them from outside, shooting 6-of-8 from beyond the arc en route to a 23 point performance.

If this all sounds exciting, it’s because it is

Indiana State are just awesome. They’re this team that would be everyone’s second team in the NCAA tournament after their favorite was eliminated. Now they’re just making the selection committee look stupid for robbing us of something beautiful.

Would the Sycamores hang with the Sweet 16 teams left? Maybe not. Still, there’s absolutely no doubt we would have gotten better basketball from them than some of this field.

There’s a lesson for the future here: The tournament selection committee needs to listen to the people. Look, we know a lot of the process is about money and visibility — but ignoring a team with Cinderella qualities just to eek out slightly more Power Conference attention hurts what this tournament should be about.

The irony of all this is that if Indiana State made it in there’s no doubt they would have attracted more curious eyeballs than almost anyone else in this field. Avila has been going viral on TikTok all season long because of his unique look and game, and this would have attracted even more attention to March Madness.

Big-name basketball schools might be the building blocks of the NCAA tournament, but mid-majors are the glue that holds it together. Let them dance.



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