Arkansas coach Bret Bielema speaks during SEC ...
Hogs hope for postseason run
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson watches play against the South Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the Southeastern Conference men's tournament, Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
FAYETTEVILLE At the very least, Arkansas took a step forward in its third season under Mike Anderson just by reaching the postseason.
Anderson now hopes to avoid a potential non-NCAA tournament letdown and end a late-season swoon when the Razorbacks (21-11) host Indiana State in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
Arkansas, which once appeared on track for the NCAAs after winning eight of nine Southeastern Conference games late in the season, fell to the No. 3 seed in the NIT after closing out the regular season and SEC tournament with surprising losses to struggling Alabama and South Carolina.
The postseason berth is the first for the Razorbacks under Anderson, and it's the school's first since last making the NCAA tournament in 2008.
The sixth-year stretch without an NCAA berth is the Arkansas' longest since it ended an 18-year drought in Eddie Sutton's third year in 1977. Any disappointment, however, over settling for the NIT will just have to wait — at least in the eyes of the players.
"I think we're all just excited," Arkansas senior guard Kikko Haydar said. "It's the first time we've had any postseason in my career, and even before I got here. It's not the best that we weren't in the NCAA, but the NIT is also hard to get into nowadays."
Arkansas finished 18-14 in 2011-12, Anderson's first season after leaving Missouri to return to the school where he was an assistant coach for 17 seasons under Nolan Richardson.
The Razorbacks improved to 19-13 last season, upping their SEC win total from six to 10 games, and their win total this season is the most since the 23-win team in 2007-08 that last reached the NCAA tournament under former coach John Pelphrey.
Anderson has turned his attention to the sixth-seeded Sycamores (23-11). Indiana State was second behind undefeated Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, and it's led by senior point guard Jake Odum's 13.2 points per game.
"We're fortunate to continue to play basketball," Anderson said. "We'll find out how we do respond coming off a tough loss to South Carolina."
The Sycamores are making a school-record fifth straight postseason appearance, their second straight trip to the NIT, and coach Greg Lansing left little doubt his thoughts on the Razorbacks, who led the SEC in scoring with an average of 80.2 points per game.
"They're scary," Lansing said. "I can't believe they are not in the NCAA tournament. They should be."
Indiana State was 9-6 on the road this season, including a win at Notre Dame on Nov. 17, and it will face another difficult challenge on Tuesday inside Bud Walton Arena, where Arkansas is 50-6 under Anderson.
He hopes to keep rolling and set the stage for a long-awaited return to the NCAA field next season.
"I think that you look at the foundation is laid," Anderson said. "To me, the foundation has been set. And so all we've got to do now is just go forward."