Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
NIT FIRST ROUND: ARKANSAS VS. INDIANA STATE:
3 losses to 34-0 foe toughen Sycamores
Wichita State's Fred VanVleet (23) drives past Indiana State's Jake Kitchell (0) in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Missouri Valley Conference men's tournament, Sunday, March 9, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
FAYETTEVILLE - Indiana State faced 34-0 Wichita State three times this season, but Sycamores Coach Greg Lansing said his team hasn’t played an opponent like Arkansas.
“I don’t know if there is anybody that does play like them,” Lansing said. “I really don’t. I admire how they play and I wish I could coach like that and get a team to play like that for 40 minutes.
“They just want to pressure and take you out of anything you may want to do. You’ve just got to put your head down and make plays sometimes.”
The Sycamores (23-10) will get a chance to see if they can make plays against the Razorbacks (21-11) when the teams meet in a first-round NIT game at 8 tonight at Walton Arena.
Arkansas in the NIT
Arkansas 67, Arkansas State 64, OT
Nebraska 78, Arkansas 71
Arkansas 101, Northern Arizona 75
Arkansas 76, Pittsburgh 71
Arkansas 86, UNLV 73
FINAL FOUR (NEW YORK)
Michigan 77, Arkansas 62
Connecticut 74, Arkansas 64
“They’re scary,” Lansing said. “I can’t believe they’re not in the NCAA Tournament. They should be.”
The Razorbacks won six consecutive SEC games for the first time since 1998 to put themselves in position to gain an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, but they had to settle for a spot in the NIT after losing 83-58 at Alabama and to South Carolina 71-69 in their SEC Tournament opener.
“Of course everyone wants to be in the big dance,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “If we had our preference, that’s what we’d rather be in.
“Obviously, we came up a little bit short.”
Anderson, in his third season at Arkansas after leading Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri to six NCAA Tournament appearances in nine seasons, said playing in the NIT is a positive for the Razorbacks. It’s their first postseason appearance since the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
“This is an opportunity for us to play more games,” Anderson said. “I still think there’s a lot of good basketball left in us. We’ll find out how we do respond coming off of a tough loss to South Carolina.”
Arkansas senior guards Kikko Haydar and Fred Gulley said it was disappointing to not make the NCAA Tournament’s 68-team field, but that the Razorbacks are excited to play in the NIT.
“There a lot of teams right now that are packing their stuff in,” Gulley said. “They don’t get any postseason. We’re blessed to be in this position.”
Arkansas is among 19 at-large teams in the NIT at-large field along with 13 conference champions. Teams left out of the field include Indiana, Maryland,Marquette and UNLV.
“It’s not the best that we’re not in the NCAA, but the NIT is also hard to get into nowadays,” Haydar said. “So we’re very thankful.”
Indiana State is 12-8 away from home, including 9-6 in road games - highlighted by an 83-70 victory at Notre Dame.
“That’s very impressive. That’s more than we’ve done,” Haydar said of the Sycamores’ record away from home. “They’re not going to be scared to go on the road.
“We’d better be ready to play. They’re going to come in confident and hungry.”
Indiana State is led by two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference senior point guard Jake Odum, who will be making his 130th consecutive start tonight.
Odum, 6-4, is averaging 13.2 points, 4.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds.
“Jake Odum is terrific,” said Illinois State Coach Dan Muller, whose team went 1-1against Indiana State. “Especially against the way Arkansas plays, he’s key.
“I think he’s seen everything you could see. He’s really good with the ball. He’s got good size. He can finish around the rim, and he can really draw fouls. He gets to the foul line a lot, which against Arkansas could be valuable.”
Arkansas was called for 28 fouls in its SEC Tournament loss to South Carolina, which shot 41 free throws.
Odum has hit 587 of 777 free throws (75.5 percent) in his career.
“I just think he understands how to play,” said Missouri State Coach Paul Lusk, whose team was 1-1 against the Sycamores. “He’s been in so many big games.
“I think the thing he does better than almost anyone in the country is draw fouls. He does a great job of getting to the foul line for a point guard. He’s not a great shooter. He’s a capable shooter. I think he’ll keep you honest, but he can really drive the basketball.”
Odum is one of three senior starters for Indiana State, along with 6-5 forward Manny Arop (10.9 points per game) and 6-3 guard Dawon Cummings (9.8) points.
Sophomore 6-6 forward Khristian Smith (10.5 points) was the MVC’s sixth man of the year.
“We’re a veteran team,” Lansing said “Guys have been in tremendous, tough games in tough atmospheres.”
Sports, Pages 17 on 03/18/2014