Indiana State (23-10) at Arkansas (21-11)

03/18/2014 7:38 AM

03/18/2014 7:47 AM

GAME NOTES: The sixth-seeded Indiana State Sycamores and the third-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks will square off at Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday night in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

The winner moves on to the second round play either California or Utah Valley.

Indiana State has enjoyed an impressive season at 23-10 overall, its most wins since Larry Bird led the squad to the Final Four in 1979. However, ISU played second-fiddle to Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference all season long, including in the MVC Tournament title game with an 83-69 setback. The Sycamores have qualified for postseason play in five straight seasons and won in the opening round of the NIT last season over Iowa for their first-ever win in the event.

Arkansas was surging at the end of the regular-season with six straight wins, including a 71-67 road triumph at then-nationally-ranked Kentucky on Feb. 27, and it appeared poised for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament before falling flat with an 83-58 loss at Alabama in the regular-season finale and a 71-69 setback to South Carolina in the second round of the SEC Tournament. The Razorbacks have enjoyed the confines of Bud Walton Arena this season with an outstanding 16-2 home record, and they have won all four previous NIT matchups played at home.

The teams have met only two times before, with Indiana State winning in 1968 and 1972.

The Sycamores could not overpower the mighty Shockers and earn an automatic NCAA Tournament bid in their latest bout, as they fell behind by 10 at the half and were unable to climb their way back in it. Their field goal shooting effort (.411) was solid considering Wichita State's elite defensive attack, and Justin Gant and Manny Arop both shined with 18 points apiece.

On the season, Indiana State has displayed good balance on both ends of the floor, shooting 45.4 percent from the field for 71.1 ppg while allowing just 67.8 ppg on 43.5 percent shooting, and it also owns small positive margins in both the rebounding (+0.9) and turnover (+0.4) battles. Jake Odum leads the way with 13.2 ppg and 4.5 apg, while Arop (10.9 ppg), Khristian Smith (10.5 ppg), Gant (10.2 ppg) and Cummings (9.8 ppg) round out a balanced squad.

The Razorbacks said goodbye to their NCAA Tournament chances last Thursday. The incredibly close game with South Carolina consisted of 21 ties and 15 lead changes, but they ultimately fell to a game-winning free throw by the Gamecocks in the final minute. Their usually-potent offensive attack was merely modest on the afternoon, as they shot 42.6 percent from the field and just 3-of-14 from 3-point range. Coty Clarke poured in 13 points to lead the way, Bobby Portis and Rashad Madden netted 11 points apiece and Michael Qualls scored 10.

Arkansas has the SEC's top-scoring offense this season at 80.2 ppg on 44.4 percent field goal shooting, which has successfully masked a mediocre scoring defense (71.2 ppg). Its turnover margin has also been outstanding, ranking fourth in the nation with a +5.5 mark. Madden (12.7 ppg), Portis (12.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Qualls (11.8 ppg) have all been stellar, and the squad possesses a deep rotation with a total of 12 players averaging at least 2.7 ppg.

This looks like a well-matched contest, but despite Arkansas' late-season stumbles, it will have the a leg up, considering its tremendous homecourt advantage in Fayetteville.

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