NIT Breakdown in the SEC: Arkansas and Missouri Open With Home GamesPosted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on March 18th, 2014
It might not be Super Tuesday, but flip over to ESPN and ESPN2 tonight and you will find two SEC teams in action. Arkansas and Missouri both kick off their respective NIT campaigns with home games against teams from smaller conferences. Here’s all you need to know about Indiana State and Davidson ahead of this evening’s alternative March fun:
Indiana State at Arkansas, 9 PM ET, ESPN
- Indiana State’s Story: Last we saw the Sycamores, they had pulled within five points (55-50) of Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game. Getting that automatic bid was their only chance ending up in the NCAA Tournament, so the Shockers’ late surge (they won 83-69) sent Indiana State to the NIT. The Sycamores, however, were pretty clearly the second best team in the MVC, and the only realistic challenge to Wichita State. They picked up a win at then #21 Notre Dame in mid-November, which didn’t hold up given the Irish’s slide (they finished 15-17). Indiana State avoided a bad loss in its non-conference slate, losing only to Belmont and tournament teams Tulsa and Saint Louis. Unfortunately for the Sycamores, their resume simply lacked quality wins, and while they went 12-6 in the MVC, the down-nature of the conference outside of Wichita State doomed them.
- Watch To Watch For: This looks like a pretty good match-up for Arkansas. The Razorbacks have been burned on the offensive glass this season, but the Sycamores come in as one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in college basketball (7.1 per game, 319th in the country). Part of those struggles are because Indiana State can create mismatches with two big men that can stretch the floor in Justin Gant (41.5% on 65 3PA) and occasionally Jake Kitchell (8-for-12 from three on the season). But Coty Clarke, Bobby Portis, and Alandise Harris are all athletic and nimble enough to close out on the perimeter and still somewhat recover on the glass. The fun match-up in this game will be watching rock solid senior point guard Jake Odum deal with the Arkansas press. Odum takes great care of the ball (27.3% assist rate, 12.9% turnover rate, 22.4% usage rate), but even the best ball handlers can get rattled in Bud Walton.
- Arkansas’ Motivation Factor: Arkansas had just pounded Ole Miss the last time it walked off Bud Walton Arena’s floor, and the Razorbacks looked comfortably pointed in the right NCAA direction. But things went south quickly with RPI 100+ losses to Alabama and South Carolina. Given the steep drop, it’s hard to predict how this Arkansas team will approach this game. If they couldn’t perform well in two crucial games against (theoretically) worse teams than Indiana State, how can they be counted on to play well this evening? But Mike Anderson does have five seniors on the roster that have never reached the postseason in an Arkansas uniform. If nothing else, the impending finality should be a good motivator. It’ll also be interesting to see how full Bud Walton gets, since it could be a giant factor in favor of the Razorbacks.
Davidson at Missouri, 9 PM ET, ESPN2
- Davidson’s Story: Davidson is one of the pesky automatic qualifiers that shrunk the NIT bubble. The Wildcats tore through the Southern Conference with a 15-1 mark to win the regular season title. However, Western Carolina erased a 15-point deficit to knock Davidson out the conference semifinals, and Wofford went on to capture the tournament title. The Wildcats entered conference play at 5-11, but that record isn’t as bad as it looks with losses to Virginia, North Carolina (overtime), Duke, New Mexico, and Wichita State. Despite the Southern tournament disappointment, Bob McKillop has built a solid mid-major program at Davidson (before and after Stephen Curry), and this will be the Wildcats’ fourth consecutive postseason appearance after playing in the CBI in 2011, and NCAA Tournament in 2012 and 2013.
- Watch To Watch For: The Tigers are running into a highly efficient offense this evening at Mizzou Arena. On the season the Wildcats averaged 1.11 points per possession, good for 25th in the country, and knocked down 38.1% of their three’s (41st in the country). Missouri has had a habit of allowing opponents to get hot from three, and it could be a big problem if that happens in this game. Despite this offensive firepower, the Wildcats are a typical mid-major in the sense that no player that averages more than 15 minutes per game is taller than 6’9’’. This has translated to some poor rebounding numbers, and could be an opportunity for players like Jonathan Williams, Torren Jones, and Ryan Rosburg to build some confidence going into the off-season. If you’re a fan of high-scoring games, this could be a good one to watch. Versatile forward De’Mon Brooks averages 18.6 points per game and has a ridiculous 38.5 player efficiency rating despite a 31.5 usage rate. Most of Davidson’s three-point fire power comes from Brian Sullivan and Taylor Kalinoski, high volume three-point shooters hitting 38.9% and 46.3%, respectively, of their shots from deep.
- Missouri’s Motivation Factor: The fall from NCAA tournament contention wasn’t as drastic for the Tigers as it was for the Razorbacks. Missouri’s deep trouble began when it dropped a game to Alabama in late February, so the players should be more used to the idea of the NIT. Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson may very well play 40 minutes against Davidson, regardless of how motivated they are, as backup freshmen guards Wes Clark and Shane Rector were arrested on Sunday night for suspicion of marijuana possession. The draft stocks of Brown and Clarkson have slid from where they were earlier in the year, so the NIT could be a good place possibly improve that. Earnest Ross is the team’s lone senior that will likely play (depending on what happens with Tony Criswell), but the entire team could be eager to redeem itself after lopsided losses to Florida and Tennessee in the last week and a half.