Two Top 20 teams from power conferences that boast high-octane offenses, standout coaches and NBA-caliber players is a recipe for an outstanding nonconfernece clash.
That’s what could happen tonight when Arkansas plays Iowa State at 8 p.m. on ESPN 2 in a Big 12/SEC Challenge game.
If both teams are playing their best, this is a game that could be talked about nationally for awhile, particularly as both teams make their case to the NCAA Tournament selection committee in March.
Arkansas has become one of the suprise teams so far starting 6-0 for the first time since 1997. It appears coach Mike Anderson, with a team full of his recruited players, has been able to fully implement his system, that has made some Hogs fans harken back to the old days when Nolan Richardson’s teams were turning turnovers into easy buckets.
Most teams can’t run with Arkansas. Iowa State is one that can. Under former Cyclone star Fred Hoiberg, the Cyclones have pushed the ball and shhot as many three-point shots as possible. Something will have to give tonight, most likely the scoreboard which could flip to triple digits. Iowa State is hard to pressure with sophomore point guard Monte Morris, who broke an NCAA freshman record for assit-to-turnover ratio last year. John Walters, the voice of the Cyclones, said on The Zone on 103.7 the Buzz this morning that if ISU can keep the turnover total under 20 they will be in position to win.
One of the reasons Arkansas has improved is the emergence of Bobby Portis. The sophomore is taking a more active role after easing into the mix as a freshman. Portis is a true NBA talent and can make the big shots a team has to make to pull off big road wins. Iowa State counters with junior Georges Niang. The 6-7 forward who lost 20 pounds is a tough matchup because he can post up and shoot the deep three. Walters says Niang may start off guarding Portis but Hoiberg may pull bulky post player Daniel Eudozie off the bench to bang on Portis.
The biggest key for Arkansas may be dealing with what locals call “Hilton Magic.” ISU has been tough to beat, regardless of talent, since the 1980s when Johnny Orr rejuvenated the program. Hoiberg has thrived going 50-4 at Hilton in five years, and the Cyclones are riding a 23-game nonconference winning streak. Arkansas hasn’t won back-to-back nonconference road games since winning at Tulsa in 2003 and then starting 2004 with a win at Missouri.
The game has all the ingredients to be an instant classic with an NCAA Tournament feel in Decembrer that draws a lot of interest from college basketball fans around the country.