Earlier this week, Bobby Portis was named the SEC Player of the Year by the league’s coaches. He was the second-leading scorer (17.8 PPG) and fourth-leading rebounder (8.7 RPG) in conference play this season. More importantly, the sophomore forward took Arkansas from its status as NIT regular to its current position as the second-best team in the SEC, helping to put the program back on the national map. On Friday evening against Tennessee, Portis showed that the coaches weren’t wrong in giving him the award. The sophomore played like a man possessed in the game’s first 15 minutes, scoring 18 points and grabbing six rebounds to make certain that Arkansas did not fall victim to the SEC Tournament upset bug (five wins by lower seeds already) The Hawgs raced out to a 20-point halftime lead before turning back another furious second-half Tennessee rally to ultimately win, 80-72. Portis ended the night with 26 points and 11 boards, this sixth time this season he has notched a 20/10 performance. “He’s just so, so strong and athletic,” Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall said after the game. “He’s got great hands. His second jump is incredible.”
For Arkansas, this year’s trip to Nashville wasn’t about earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks’ play over the course of 31 games sealed that deal long ago. Instead, it was about showing that they are ready to not only make the Big Dance but to do some damage when they get there. Despite a second half lull that allowed Tennessee to get back into last night’s quarterfinal game, the way they came out of the gates was encouraging. Currently projected as a #5 seed in most brackets, the Razorbacks hope to do no worse than stay in that range. While this will be the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament under head coach Mike Anderson, this is a program that has accumulated a lot of talent since he arrived. Anderson has put together a deep team on which 10 players see double-figure minutes of action. Guards Michael Qualls and Rashad Madden lead the way from the perimeter, complementing the dominant low post play of Portis.