By Dave Skretta
AP Sports Writer
Maybe Illinois State coach Dan Muller should have resorted to Twitter long ago for help scheduling.
The Redbirds’ coach tweeted a caricature of himself holding an hourglass Monday with a plea to power-five schools to give him a call. The tweet read in part, “It’s me again. Looking 4 home & home next year. Pls call me 4 chance 4 QUALITY road win, top 33 RPI.”
The tweet came after the Redbirds, who went 27-6 and tied Wichita State for the Missouri Valley regular-season title, were one of the top teams left out of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
The biggest reason for the snub was a weak nonconference schedule. Muller said it wasn’t entirely their fault because power-five schools have been unwilling to play them.
“It’s just hard to schedule the games they want us to play,” Muller said. “What they’re asking for sometimes is not possible. I can tell you, I probably called — our staff probably called — 25 schools that made the (NCAA) Tournament to see if they’d play. What do you want us to do?”
Muller said he offered home-and-home deals to some schools, including Dayton and VCU, both of which landed at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. He even offered 2-for-1 deals with some schools, but none of them was willing to risk what might be considered a “bad loss” by the selection committee.
“It didn’t work out for them,” Muller said of the A-10 schools. “That’s fine. Some won’t pay us to play them, sometimes the date won’t work. But there’s a number of teams in there that we asked if they would play us also and they didn’t want to.”
Bad luck also cost the Redbirds the chance for quality wins this season.
Their annual in-season tournament was the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, which had a relatively weak field. Their game in the Missouri Valley-Mountain West Challenge was against New Mexico, which had a surprisingly down year. And the Valley itself was down.
The Shockers lost to the Redbirds in January before beating them twice, once at home later in the regular season and again in the finals of the Missouri Valley Tournament.
Even after that loss, the Redbirds thought they had done enough to make the NCAA field. But when their name wasn’t called on Sunday, they wound up with a No. 1 seed in the NIT, where they will play UC Irvine in the first round on Wednesday night.
“Obviously we were pretty disappointed and crushed for a little while after waiting to see our name come up,” Muller said. “We have to make sure everybody is good. Mentally it’s tough because obviously we have high hopes But we’re going to go into this thing trying to win it.”
As for his tweet on Monday, it only took a few hours for him to get a response.
Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork tweeted back at Muller that he was sitting next to Rebels coach Andy Kennedy, whose team is also in the NIT. And while Kennedy doesn’t use Twitter, he had told Bjork to let Muller know to give him a call.
“We’d love to match up,” Bjork said.