Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in journalism.
Anderson: NIT a step forward
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson talks to guard Fred Gulley III during the second half against Florida in an NCAA college basketball game at Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/David Quinn)
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas is embracing the NIT.
Razorbacks players said they didn't have much time to process not making the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. They didn't watch the selection show because they were practicing that afternoon and didn't hear of their NIT bid until later Sunday night.
"We kind of found out about both at the same time," senior guard Kikko Haydar said.
The Razorbacks (21-11) will host Indiana State (23-10) Tuesday night at Bud Walton Arena in their first postseason game in six years. It isn't the tournament the team had hoped for, but it's an experience worth embracing, especially for five seniors.
"I think we're all just excited," Haydar said. "This is the first time we've had postseason in my career. It's not the best because we weren't in the NCAA, but the NIT is also hard to get into these days."
Third-year Arkansas coach Mike Anderson hopes to use the NIT experience to propel his team into next season. A total of 13 teams from last year's NIT field are in this year's NCAA Tournament, including Virginia who received one of four No. 1 seeds.
"This is a great opportunity because by a lot of standards we're still a young basketball team in terms of playing time," Anderson said. "You're looking at guys getting an experience in postseason play with up to five games.
"The experience of being in a tournament, playing in a tournament of this caliber can only benefit this team."
Anderson said he expects his team to have a good mindset following their frustrating end to the season. Arkansas had won six straight games and were considered by many analysts to make the NCAA Tournament before a 25-point loss to Alabama to end the regular season and a 2-point loss to South Carolina in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
"You want the mindset to be right but obviously there are a lot of teams not playing right now," Anderson said. "We're very fortunate to be playing basketball….I still think there is a lot of good basketball left in us.
"The foundation has been set. All we've got to do now is go forward. We were in a position where we controlled our own destiny. Last year I wasn't in a position to say that. Experience can be your greatest teacher, so we're learning."