College Basketball Nation: Bobby Portis

This season’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge is anchored by Friday’s prime-time matchup between Texas and Kentucky. But that’s not the only meaningful game of the series. Kansas State-Tennessee, Florida-Kansas, Arkansas-Iowa State and LSU-West Virginia are all interesting, too. And you can watch them all here.

Here are the top 10 players in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Agree? Disagree? Tell us on Twitter by using #Top10Thursday.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky

Karl-Anthony TownsMark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports
It’s not easy to stand out on a roster full of future first-round picks. But the freshman and potential No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA draft has emerged as one of the premier talents in Lexington, especially on the defensive end. He has a ridiculous 18.6 block percentage (No. 2 in the country, per Ken Pomeroy).

2. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky

Dakari JohnsonMark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports
After he decided to come back following last season’s solid finish in the NCAA tournament, Johnson changed his body and tweaked his game. He’s second in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage (10.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, 60.5 percent from the field) on the No. 1 team in the country.

3. Perry Ellis, Kansas

Perry EllisMark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire
He was overshadowed by Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins last season, but Ellis is the catalyst for a Kansas team that’s chasing its 11th consecutive Big 12 title. He’s the reigning Big 12 player of the week after earning MVP honors at the Orlando Classic. He scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the title game against Michigan State.

4. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

Buddy HieldSteven Branscombe/USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma has suffered some tough losses already this season (Creighton, Wisconsin). But the Sooners will get back on the right path with Hield in charge. The 6-foot-4 junior’s stats this season have been impressive. Can’t ignore the 2.3 turnovers per game, but check out the 16.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.2 SPG and 37.5 percent clip from beyond the arc.

5. Georges Niang, Iowa State

Georges NiangAP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
He has clearly recovered from the foot injury that sidelined him during the NCAA tourney last season. Niang is shooting a career-low 30 percent from the 3-point line, but his 18.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG and 88.5 percent mark from the free throw line are all career highs.

6. Juwan Staten, West Virginia

Juwan StatenAP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo
He hasn’t quite matched last season's crazy marks. But 15.1 PPG, 4.3 APG and 1.4 SPG are still respectable numbers. Plus, he’s ranked 12th overall in the Big 12 with a 121.9 offensive rating, per Ken Pomeroy. Staten’s production has been vital for 16th-ranked and undefeated West Virginia.

7. Marcus Foster, Kansas State

Marcus FosterBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports
Somehow, Foster wasn’t even ranked among the best players in Texas as a prep athlete. But multiple colleges now probably wish they’d pursued the sophomore. He’s averaging 14.9 PPG. That’s commendable. His 47.7 percent connection rate on his 3-pointers is just nonsense.

8. Cinmeon Bowers, Auburn

Cinmeon BowersEthan Miller/Getty Images
The junior college transfer is an important player for Bruce Pearl. He’s averaging 15.2 PPG and 13.0 RPG for the Tigers. It might be a tough season for Pearl, but Bowers, KT Harrell and a healthy Antoine Mason will keep this program in most games throughout the season.

9. Bobby Portis, Arkansas

Bobby PortisTim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports
He grew a couple of inches in the offseason. And he was a problem before he hit 6-11. Portis (14.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.5 BPG), a potential lottery pick next summer, is one of the reasons Arkansas possesses a top-20 offense and top-60 defense.

10. Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss

Jarvis SummersSpruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports
Remember that “What will Ole Miss do without Marshall Henderson?” convo? Well, Andy Kennedy’s squad is 5-1 with wins over a previously ranked Creighton squad and Cincinnati. How? Well, Summers (14.7 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.7 SPG) has become the new leader for the program. He’s an underrated star for a team that needed one after Henderson left the building.

ATLANTA -- Nine out of 10 times, Bobby Portis makes that shot.

He’s in front of the basket, he goes up and finishes.

[+] EnlargeCoty Clarke and Kikko Haydar
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesArkansas likely saw its shot at the NCAA tournament squashed Thursday.

But with a game -- and a season -- on the line, one of the Razorbacks’ top players adjusted too much. Instead of taking a pass and going right to the basket for an almost certain bucket with six seconds remaining and his team down one, Portis tried to draw a foul by jumping into his defender. When he shot, his arm went left, causing the ball to clank off the rim inside the Georgia Dome.

The ball almost immediately fell into South Carolina forward Michael Carrera’s hands before he was fouled with 2.9 seconds left. After a last-ditch launch failed to fall for the Razorbacks, Portis was left grimacing and banging his hands together as he slinked off the court to the tune of a devastating 71-69 loss to the SEC tournament’s No. 13 seed.

“That’s one of my moves, really -- two dribbles to the middle and then right hand jump hook off my left shoulder,” said a visibly heartbroken Portis. “I just missed it. It’s one of those days.”

It definitely was for a team that was so hot during the last month of the season, yet so not in its final two games. After winning six straight and seven of their last eight, the Razorbacks will be left wondering how in the world they almost certainly played their way out of the NCAA tournament.

"We had opportunities," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "... we had a lot of mental mistakes going down the stretch.

"We're in the hunt for something; I don't know what."

After losing to a South Carolina team that is now 14-19 (5-13, SEC) and basically playing for fun at this point, the Hogs are now 21-11 (10-8) and are staring at a bid to the NIT. A week ago, this team beat Ole Miss by 30 and was pushing itself off the bubble and into the field of 68.

Then, Arkansas was squashed by hapless Alabama 83-58 to close the regular season. That loss stung and complicated its NCAA tournament dreams before Thursday crushed them. This team probably had to beat Tennessee Friday to make it into the tournament, so this loss, in which the Hogs were matched toe-to-toe for 40 minutes against a team that lost nine of its first 10 SEC games, is very costly.

The Arkansas team that beat a ranked Kentucky team twice in overtime and blew out a hot Georgia team late in the year wasn’t tough enough Thursday. It had jitters and didn’t challenge the boards, getting out-rebounded 40-24. Its benched softened, getting outscored 34-22. The Hogs were lackadaisical and careless with the ball. Anderson said they had unnecessary fouls, which helped the Gamecocks attempt 41 free throws.

“South Carolina came out there prepared for everything that we were doing,” said Portis, who finished with 11 points and just three rebounds. “They attacked us; we didn’t attack them. We didn’t play Arkansas basketball today.

“They were attacking the rim and we weren’t. We were settling for jumpers and stuff like that.”

For some reason, the energy needed for a run to an NCAA bid just wasn’t there, and now the Hogs will be nervously awaiting what should be an appropriately disappointing fate.

“We saw toward the beginning of the game when they were down, their enthusiasm started to slow down a little bit,” South Carolina guard Brenton Williams said.

Arkansas slowed down, while South Carolina sped up. This unlikely crew got a fun trip to the big city but is taking advantage of it.

So while Arkansas sits, South Carolina hopes its magical run through Atlanta continues. After a 74-56 win over Auburn in the first round of the tournament, the Gamecocks now face fourth-seeded Tennessee in the quarterfinals on Friday with the hopes of keeping this momentum churning.

“I wouldn’t say we’re a scary team, but we’re definitely motivated and we’re ready to play whoever’s next on the schedule,” Williams said.

3-point shot: Champs ready to start again

September, 26, 2013
1. Louisville begins practice Saturday. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said these are the main objectives at the beginning of practice: "We have a veteran team so we will just work on execution of our presses and learning our sets. We have a strong team but will miss the incredible attitudes of Peyton (Siva) and Gorgui (Dieng). They are incredible team-first guys.'' Pitino added that wing Kevin Ware, rehabbing from a broken leg suffered last March in the Elite Eight, will start workouts in two weeks. "He should be ready to go at it around late October,'' said Pitino.

2. Duke starts practice this weekend with three stated goals for the Blue Devils. According to assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski they are: 1. Pace: "to get accustomed to the pace at which we will play, especially defensively.'' 2. Leadership: "Replacing the maturity of a good senior class we want to see who steps up to create and lead in the same positive environment.'' 3. Role: "Start to identify and establish some roles.''

3. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson had already decided to start practice on Oct. 5 before flooding occurred at Bud Walton Arena. He said he wanted the players to get acclimated to school and stay with a three-to-four-week conditioning program. Anderson said he doesn't anticipate any long-term damage to Bud Walton. Meanwhile, Anderson is extremely high on his newcomers, who will have to play a significant role with the departures of B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell. Anderson said the freshmen (Moses Kingsley, Bobby Portis and Manuale Watkins) have been the first guys in and the last guys out of the gym. Anderson said he likens this Arkansas team to ones he had early at UAB and Missouri. Anderson said he expects this Razorbacks team to be much more of a team, rather than one based on highlighting individuals. "We hogs, that's our mindset, we hogs,'' Anderson said. He added that senior Coty Clarke would be the team's leader. Anderson is still looking for a reliable player to score but also had high hopes for Alandise Harris, who sat out last season. "This can be the ultimate team,'' Anderson said. "We're trusting each other and sharing the ball. I'm excited.''