BLOOMINGTON — It wasn’t the tournament that Indiana and Hoosier fans had been hoping for, but IU still received a postseason invitation to one Sunday night.
For the third straight year Indiana did not receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but for the second time in three years it did garner an invite to the NIT.
The Hoosiers (17-15), who are one of the tourney’s four No. 1 seeds, will host eighth-seeded St. Francis, Pa. (18-14) at 7 p.m. tonight at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“It is an honor to earn an invitation to postseason play of any kind and our program will treat it as such,” IU coach Archie Miller said Sunday night. “We look forward to the opportunity to be a No. 1 seed in the NIT and our goal is to win and take advantage of the experiences we can gain as a team.”
Miller added more thoughts at a press conference Monday.
“Our message is, at the end of the day if you have an opportunity to put an Indiana jersey on, you better be ready to play,” he said. “For us, obviously there’s disappointment, but at the same time there’s also opportunity. We need to focus in on the opportunity, then we need to be ready to go. I think any time you have a chance to win a game, it changes the complexion of your group, sort of the morale.”
“We have an opportunity tomorrow night to win a game. That’s what we have to try to do.”
Meanwhile, it appears that freshman standout Romeo Langford will try to play. The 2018 New Albany graduate and Indiana Mr. Basketball had just nine points on 4 for 12 shooting in the Hoosiers’ 79-75 loss to Ohio State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. Afterward Langford, a likely NBA Draft lottery pick, told reporters he would play in the NIT. He is, however, battling a back injury.
“He’s day-to-day with his back,” Miller said Monday. “He tweaked his back in the first eight minutes of the Ohio State game. He has struggled with some soreness, and has been really uncomfortable. It’s something that he’s had a lot of treatment on in the last three days. ... It’s day-to-day in terms of what he can do today for practice. We’ll see. But Romeo isn’t shutting anything down. I mean, Romeo has been basically practicing every single day all season long to this point. I think he’s hopeful he can get back and back onto the floor. If he can’t go, or is not able to practice tomorrow, we’ll take it day-by-day.
“Definitely in talking to him, like every other player on our team, you sit and you reflect. You look forward, say what is the next opportunity for me. I’m a player, I want to play.”
Indiana will play second-round and quarterfinal games at home if it wins.
First, though, the Hoosiers have to get past the Red Flash.
St. Francis was the regular-season champion of the Northeast Conference, but was upset by Fairleigh Dickinson in the NEC Tournament final.
The Red Flash is led by 6-4 junior guard Keith Braxton (16.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists), 5-10 senior guard Jamaal King (15.4 points, four assists) and 6-1 junior guard Isaiah Blackmon (11.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg). Braxton was the NEC Player of the Year.
“Looking at them early on, you have a team that won eight in a row. They played really well down the stretch. They lost in their conference title game, but were able to win the NEC [regular-season title],” Miller said. “They have the player of the year in the conference, a mismatch guy inside.
“They cause you a lot of problems because they’re mobile. They have a good point guard [King], a first-team all-conference player, cat-quick kind of guy. They have shooters. ... In general you’re dealing with a team that’s amped up to play Indiana. Indiana has to find a way to be amped up to play the game, as well.”
If IU wins it will host the winner between fourth-seed Providence and fifth-seeded Arkansas, which beat the Hoosiers earlier this season. The Razorbacks, however, will play without sophomore big man Daniel Gafford, their coach announced Monday. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said Gafford won’t play because he plans to sign with an agent and enter the NBA Draft. The 6-foot-11 Gafford averaged 16.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game this season.