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It was your night, Jordan Barnett

Yes, the freshmen big men were terrific. But no one played better than Barnett.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Historically, Senior Night is a special night.

It’s a chance to honor the players who are exhausting their eligibility and have given their energy, sweat, and sometimes blood to your program. Players get a nice keepsake of a framed uniform, they walk out with their parents, and they get a handshake and a hug from the head coach. And somehow they have to quell all those feelings and go out and win. You want this moment to be a lasting one.

Last night is one Jordan Barnett is going to remember, and he should. Before I even noticed his offensive output, I thought Barnett was the most valuable performer on the court last night because of his defense.

Consider, if you will, how important Jaylen Barford is to the Arkansas attack. He averages over 18 points, with a 114.1 offensive rating, and he has a higher usage rate and shot% than any other Razorback. Because of Barnett, Barford had just 11 points on 13 shots and an offensive rating of 90. Just outstanding, terrific defense by Barnett and probably the difference in the game.

Then I noticed his offense...


box score arkansas mizzou 3-3-18

Barnett was the defensive MVP ... oh, and also scored 19 points on eight shots and grabbed 11 rebounds without subbing out of the game.

When Barnett shoots his toe-raise 3-pointer off the catch, it always seems weird when it doesn’t go in.

He’s often frustrating to watch because he’s so physically gifted and you can see the switch turn off and on. When it’s off you wish it was on, and when it’s on he’s amazing to watch.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve long held conversations with St. Louis basketball people who think Barnett could carve out a career in the NBA if he could figure out who to be on more often than not. He’s such a fluid athlete, and when he decides to defend, it’s easy to see him becoming a 3&D guy in the NBA (a role player who can defend well and hit open 3-point shots). Barnett was supposed to get the opportunity to show off those abilities this year, playing a bit of the role of Robin to Michael Porter Jr.’s Batman.

Only, Batman didn’t show up.

Instead he was teamed up for a weird four-headed monster with his fellow senior Kassius Robertson and a couple of freshman bigs in Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon. (Editor’s contribution: The Occasionally Fantastic Four, maybe?)

Even on Senior Night, Barnett was mostly quiet in his greatness. It’s just part of his personality — that of a good kid who just goes about his business and somehow ends up with 19 & 11 and a great defensive effort against opponent’s best player. Ya know, no bigs.

On a night for freshman bigs, it was Mizzou’s duo who took the night.

Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford is a monster. Sixteen points on 10 shots, multiple dunks, four blocks ... there’s no denying he’s a stud.

But last night he might’ve been the third-best freshman big man on the court.

Jeremiah Tilmon scored a season-high 17 points, made seven of nine FT (!!!), grabbed eight rebounds, and blocked a shot. Jontay Porter scored 19 points, made two of four 3s and five of seven FTs, grabbed eight rebounds, dished four assists, and added a block and two steals.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Porter lived up to his stat-sheet-stuffing reputation, and Tilmon stayed out of foul trouble despite picking one up less than 30 seconds into the game.

It really is exciting to see what these guys can do when they play without foul trouble and up to their ability.

On a down note...

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I have been both protective and highly critical of Cullen VanLeer in my space here.

On one hand, I get the frustration from Mizzou fans. VanLeer is an example of why Kim Anderson shouldn't have been hired as the head coach at Missouri. His competing offers with Missouri were mid- to low-majors, and the staff billed him as this next great shooter, which never materialized.

On the other hand, Cullen didn’t offer himself this scholarship. And all he’s done since he signed his paperwork is show up, work hard, represent the university incredibly well, and do everything that’s been asked of him.

When Cuonzo Martin took over, fans (ourselves included) immediately began dismissing VanLeer as somebody who would get relegated to benchwarmer status. And yet, despite all of that he walked out against Kansas in the preseason exhibition as a starter, with stud freshman Michael Porter Jr. next to him.

He started 12 games, including last night, for an NCAA tournament team. But he’s done for the year after tearing his ACL closing out on a shooter in the second half.

I feel awful for Cullen. He only scored in double digits once and failed to find the scoring column in 14 games. But CVL did everything that was asked to the best of his ability, and it’s awful his season ends this way. He deserved to play in the NCAA tournament. But not this year.

Get back soon Cullen.