Most likely, many Arkansas fans know little more about Indiana State than that it's Larry Bird's school, and his 1979 Sycamore team defeated the Razorbacks in the Elite Eight in an absolute heartbreaker.
Who Is Indiana State?
23-10 overall record
12-6 Missouri Valley Conference record (2nd place)
Lost to Wichita State in the finals of the MVC Tournament. Before that, lost three straight games to end conference play against Missouri State, Illinois State, and Northern Iowa. Their best wins this season are at Northern Iowa, at Notre Dame, and against Belmont.
The Sycamores appear to be the prototypical good mid-major squad that has grown together into an experienced, highly efficient, fundamentally sound team.
They're among the most experienced teams in the country, playing three seniors and playing four, three juniors, and three sophomores. No freshmen log significant minutes.
Indiana State is an average three-point shooting team but have several players who can shoot. Five different players make at least a third of their shots from beyond the arc (their best by percentage is Justin Gant), but the Sycamores do most of their damage inside. The team as a whole shot 50.4% on two-pointers this season. Four of their five starters shoot 49% or better.
The one starter whose percentage isn't that high is point guard Jake Odum, but he's still very dangerous, shooting 46.9% inside the arc. Odum is also one of the best in the country at drawing fouls, doing so at a rate of 6.2 per 40 minutes. He's taken 215 free throws this season.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p>Razorback fans.. Indiana st. Is a good team with a great point gaurd and leader.. Quality big man, good veteran team well coached.</p>— clint mcdaniel (@clintmcdaniel89) <a href="https://twitter.com/clintmcdaniel89/statuses/445638942272929793">March 17, 2014</a></blockquote>
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What are their weaknesses?
In what should be welcome news to Razorback fans, Indiana State is a really bad offensive rebounding team. This isn't a game fans should expect to see the Hogs dominated on the offensive glass the way most SEC teams were able to do.
The Sycamores are susceptible to steals, although they don't turn the ball over too much otherwise. They also put their opponents on the free throw line more than the average team.
They are not a fast team compared to Arkansas (few are) but it will be interesting to see how they are able to handle Arkansas' athleticism.
How can Arkansas win?
The Razorbacks are among the best in the nation in two-point field goal percentage. They have to make things difficult for Indiana State inside the arc. They can't allow Indiana State to shoot over 50%.
Arkansas must do what they do best, which is harass teams and create turnovers. The Hogs are a little bigger and a little faster than the Sycamores, so if they're playing with full effort, they should be able to do that. Bobby Portis will have a height advantage over any of the Indiana State starters, so Portis might have an opportunity for a big game.
As has been a constant throughout the season, the Razorbacks must hit shots. They have to knock down threes and shoot over 40% from the field.
Indiana State is actually a similar team to Arkansas in some respects. The Sycamores are very balanced. Neither team relies just on one player for success.
Ultimately, this is the NIT. How excited are both of these teams to play? The Razorbacks in particular have been playing for an NCAA Tournament bid for the entire season. Will they be motivated to play? How many fans will show up? Will it feel like a typical Bud Walton crowd?
The Razorbacks are more athletic and more talented, and probably should win, but Indiana State is not a team Arkansas can overlook. Nearly everyone they put on the floor can score and is capable of having a big game. It should be a fun game to watch.
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