FAYETTEVILLE — Indiana State coach Greg Lansing isn’t making his first trip to Fayetteville when his team plays Arkansas in the National Invitation Tournament.
Lansing was in town rooting for the Razorbacks last September.
The fourth-year coach said Monday that Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema is one of his “best friends” and attended the Razorbacks’ 2013 opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. Their friendship dates back to their time at Iowa, when Bielema was an assistant coach with the football program and Lansing was on the basketball staff.
“I’m an Arkansas football fan and I’m a bigger Bret Bielema fan,” Lansing said. “So wherever he’s at I want him to win every game.”
Lansing said he spoke with Bielema on Sunday night shortly after his team drew the Razorbacks in the NIT. Illinois State (23-10) and Arkansas (21-11) will meet in Bud Walton Arena at 8 p.m. in the first meeting between the programs since 1979.
It’s a business trip for Lansing, of course. He’s in his fourth season with the Sycamores and has led Indiana State to the postseason each season. It included a trip to the 2011 NCAA Tournament and back-to-back NIT seasons (2013 and 2014).
But Lansing said he plans to see his friend as well. He and Bielema have stayed in close contact since working together at Iowa. In fact, Lansing said he always tries to make it to Bielema’s home openers and was in town last fall.
“When I come it’s fun for me but it’s business for him,” Lansing said. “He’s as hard-working a head coach as I’ve ever been around. He’s a grinder. So it’s not like I got to see him much or spend a lot of time with him there, but he knows I’m there to support him. I came by with a buddy on the sidelines and I got to go by his house after the game. That’s what I usually look forward to is after the game is over when he doesn’t have to be on with a bunch of different stuff and just get to sit there and catch up as friends.”
The script will flip tonight with Lansing trying to lead his program to an NIT win.
He said Bielema — who will be on the field this afternoon as the Razorbacks go through their second day of spring practice — plans to make it in time for the second half. Lansing said they’ll probably catch up some earlier in the day as well.
But Lansing won’t count on Bielema rooting for Indiana State tonight.
“Obviously, he’s supporting the Razorbacks as he should,” Lansing said.
Arkansas had trouble keeping its hands off South Carolina in the SEC Tournament, which led to 28 fouls and 40 free-throw attempts. The Razorbacks could face another challenge against Indiana State, which has had success getting to the line.
“A lot of fouls that were called were touch fouls, I think, with the hands,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said about the South Carolina loss. “We’ve just got to move our feet and keep people in front of us. That just requires you to discipline yourself to do that. Good teams make the adjustment, make the subtle adjustment.”
Senior point guard Jake Odum leads the Sycamores with 225 attempts and has 777 in his career. His 587 made free throws is an Indiana State record.
“He’s real clever, just real heady,” Anderson said. “I think he kind of runs the show and he can score when he wants to. Gets to the free-throw line and awful lot.”
Prepare For Pressure
Arkansas will test Indiana State’s depth with its pressure defense as it tries to wear down its first-round opponent. But the Sycamores have gotten solid contributions from their bench this season. Nine players average 11 minutes or more.
Lansing believes his team will need every contributor to upset the Razorbacks. He said it’s important that each one is “aggressive” against Arkansas’ pressure.
“You can’t come in tentatively at all, because the Razorbacks are going to smell blood in the water and even heat you up a little bit more with their pressure,” Lansing said. “Our depth, it’s not quite as good as theirs, but our guys off the bench are going to have to be ready.”
Indiana State comes to Bud Walton Arena with a 9-6 record in road games this season. The Sycamores also are 3-2 in neutral site games.
So guard Kikko Haydar and the Razorbacks’ expect a confident opponent tonight.
“That’s very impressive,” Haydar said of Indiana State’s 15-8 record outside its own gym. “That’s more than we’ve done. They’re not going to be scared to go on the road. … We better be ready to play. They’re going to come in confident and hungry.”
Arkansas is playing in the NIT for the third time in the program’s history and is 4-3 overall, including a Final Four appearance in 1997. The Razorbacks also played in the 1987 NIT under former coach Nolan Richardson.
Indiana State is in the NIT for the second straight season and playing in the tournament for the fourth time in the program’s history (1977, 1978, 2013, 2014). The Sycamores are 1-3 in NIT games.