This gets to the heart of the biggest complaint people have with the March Madness selection process. It’s a moving target that changes every year. Sometimes it’s RPI (of which Illinois State was 33rd in the country, higher than a lot of tourney teams). Other years, it’s road wins, or top 50 wins, or strength of schedule. Teams don’t know how to plan for it, and thus you just have to schedule a stupid hard non-conference and hope that’s enough.
Here’s where Illinois State missed though: mid-majors don’t get the “they could win a few games in the tourney, so let’s put them in” benefit that Michigan State or Vanderbilt got. This ISU team could win one or even two games in March, but that has never and will never move the needle for the March Madness committee. If you’re a mid-major, you’re better off scheduling the hardest schedule possible, and hoping you can at least cover the spread against them. Because a non-conference schedule including IUPUI, a home and home with Tulsa, and Ferris State among others doesn’t get the job done, clearly.
Muller told the Chicago Tribune they “called 25 of the schools in the tournament to see if they wanted to play, what else are we supposed to do?” Which is a valid argument, showing the lack of power mid-majors have in scheduling. It’s easy for Kentucky and Kansas to schedule good non-conference matchups. Mid-majors? Well, as always, money’s the name of the game, and a Duke-Illinois State matchup just won’t bring in the dollars. And also, people don’t want to go to Bloomington, Illinois in mid-November.