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Basketball: Arkansans aplenty in NCAA Men's Tournament

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Watch the movie Hoosiers and recite lines I've heard dozens of times.

Check.

Stock up on junk food items -- chips, dip, cheesy Rotel and cocktail weenies -- my doctor pleads with me to avoid.

Check.

Practice fake cough for calling in sick before first-round games on Thursday and Friday.

Check.

I am now primed for TV viewing at its finest, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. One Shining Moment -- for the whole weekend.

Nothing beats tournament time more than when your favorite team is involved. Arkansas fans should get their wish today when the Razorbacks are likely announced as participants for the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, the Razorbacks will stay for awhile. If they don't, there are other teams with players from our state who could keep you interested.

Arkansas

Where would Arkansas be without Dusty Hannahs, who spent two years in exile at Lubbock, Texas before receiving a call from the Razorbacks?

The National Invitational Tournament and "nowhere" are both acceptable answers.

"I still had that Hog blood in me," said Hannahs, who grew up an Arkansas fan. "Now, I can be a Hog fan for life and stay connected with the state. Hopefully, I've proved my worth on the basketball court."

Indeed, he has.

Hannahs (Pulaski Academy) leads a strong group of in-state players that includes Daryl Macon (Little Rock Parkview), Trey Thompson (Forrest City), Anton Beard (North Little Rock) and Manny Watkins (Fayetteville), a former walk-on. Not to diminish the significant contributions of Moses Kingsley and Jaylen Barford, but this is an Arkansas-first team and more in-state talent is on the way.

Wichita State

Nothing screams Hoosiers and Jimmy Chitwood more than an appearance in the tournament by Austin Reaves, a freshman guard from Newark (pop. 1,176), which is located near Possum Grape and Oil Trough in northeast Arkansas.

Reaves signed with Wichita State after he averaged 32.5 points per game, with a high of 73 against Forrest City, while leading Cedar Ridge to the Class 3A state championship last spring. Reaves' minutes are limited with a deep Wichita State team, but he would lead the Missouri Valley Conference in 3-point accuracy (27 of 53, .509 percent) with a few more made attempts.

Vermont

No NCAA Tournament bracket would be complete without an obscure team with an unusual mascot.

The Vermont Catamounts fits the description. That's where you'll find Payton Henson (Siloam Springs), who is a starting forward and second-leading scorer for the Catamounts, a cougar-like animal long thought to be extinct in Vermont.

Extinct like the Arkansas State men, who were last seen briefly in the NCAA Tournament 18 years ago.

Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt rejects the notion that it's hard to beat a team three times in one season.

Just ask Florida, which lost three times to Vanderbilt and was eliminated from the SEC Tournament by the Commodores. Payton Willis (Fayetteville) has been a major contributor as a freshman for the Commodores, who were considered out of the running for the NCAA Tournament after a 72-52 loss to Missouri last month.

Sound familiar?

Florida

Three starters who played high school basketball in Arkansas took the floor when Kentucky beat Florida 76-66 on Feb. 25. That was the game in which freshman Malik Monk (Lepanto/Bentonville) scored 33 points while sophomore KeVaughn Allen (North Little Rock) had 24 for Florida. Senior Justin Leon (Conway) also started for the Gators and contributed 13 points.

Monk is flashier, but Florida fans certainly are happy with Allen, a second-team All-SEC selection who averages 13.9 points per game.

"KeVaugh has been terrific for us," Florida coach Mike White told reporters after the All-SEC teams were announced. "Some people forget he's just a sophomore. He's done a lot for us already, but his ceiling is even higher than what we're seeing right now."

Kentucky

SEC Player of the Year, SEC Newcomer of the Year, SEC scoring leader, and projected NBA lottery pick.

That's Monk, who broke a few hearts and elicited some angry responses from Razorbacks fans when he left the state for Kentucky. But the Wildcats will have him for only a few more games before he declares for the NBA.

Monk has been spectacular at times, especially against North Carolina, when he scored 47 points. But he's also made typical freshman mistakes with poor shot selections and sloppy ball-handling that can frustrate his coach on occasion.

"I had some ups and downs. I could've done better," Monk said after being selected SEC Player of the Year by the Associated Press. "It's tournament time, so I need to be focused even more."

Good luck, defenders, in trying to stop this Wildcat from Poinsett County.

Now, pass the cheese dip.

Sports on 03/12/2017

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