Before their mid-November road trip to Fayetteville, the sky seemed to be the limit for Indiana.
At 3-0 and coming off an impressive blowout win over Marquette, the NIT was the last thing on the minds of Hoosier fans.
IU was a sure thing, or so we thought.
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford dominated on that Sunday afternoon with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Despite a 22 point, 10 rebound and 5 assist road performance by freshman Romeo Langford, the Hoosiers couldn’t close down the stretch and came up short against the Razorbacks.
But all hope was not lost. While frustrating, wins at the Bud Walton Arena are hard to come by.
Any March rematch between Arkansas and Indiana would surely come in the NCAA Tournament as the young but feisty Razorbacks rode first team All-SEC Gafford to the big dance. Right?
National Invitational Tournament
Arkansas (18-15) at Indiana (18-15)
- Tip time: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern
- Location: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
- Television: ESPN (Dave Feldman and Dan Dakich)
- Series: Arkansas leads 2-1
- Point Spread: Indiana is a 6 point favorite.
- Archie Miller, Zach McRoberts, and Al Durham preview the game.
- Arkansas’ Mike Anderson previews the game.
First Game Highlights:
The March rematch is indeed here, but there is no NCAA Tournament, no Gafford, and likely no Langford, who continues to deal with a back issue.
Out with the old, in with the new.
Absent from that November meeting for Indiana were Devonte Green, Zach McRoberts and Race Thompson. Green will likely start on Saturday, while McRoberts and Thompson are likely to play.
The Razorbacks started the season 10-3 before things got sideways in the SEC. Similarly, Indiana started the season with a 12-2 mark and have gone just 6-13 since.
Both teams are coping with early promise turned disappointment, and adjusting to the loss of their leading scorers.
Arkansas wasted no time establishing their identity sans Gafford, who decided to forego the NIT to avoid injury and prepare for the NBA. The Razorbacks controlled their first round NIT contest against Providence throughout, cruising to an 84-72 win.
Indiana needed a half to regroup, but outscored St. Francis (Pa) 55-32 in the second segment of their own first round NIT win.
IU head coach Archie Miller sees a Razorback team that now plays faster and more spread out without the 6-foot-11 Gafford:
“He’s obviously a very, very good player,” Miller said on Friday afternoon. “But without him, like I said, they become way more wide open in terms of the way they attack and shoot the ball from five positions and drive it from five positions. Their motion allows them to really move, and it’s just one of those things where it’s not a very structured game. They’re very free flowing.”
“The thing that in watching them play against Providence, that was really evident in that game, how fast they played, how well they shot the ball, and then defensively their ability to change defenses, match up zones, the press, the man-to-man, it just keeps you off balance.”
Both stylistically and from a youth perspective the new-look Razorbacks perhaps most closely resemble Illinois.
That’s a team that Indiana beat twice with Langford, including a dominating win a few weeks ago in Champaign.
But this time there will likely be no Langford.
And this is the NIT, where attitudes matter as much as aptitude.
The hungrier team usually wins, and Arkansas appeared to have a healthy appetite earlier in the week.
Providence head coach Ed Cooley said this about the Razorbacks after their win over his Friars on Tuesday —
“I think they were more excited to play than my guys,” Cooley said. “They had a little more pop in their step.”
Indiana will need to be ready for this one from the jump.
Otherwise, their transformation will be complete.
From November sure thing to March maddening.
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