Arkansas junior guard Jaylen Barford/ Photo: Walt Beazley / ArkansasRazorbacks.com
What we all expected became reality Sunday afternoon when CBS announced the NCAA Tournament pairings a couple of hours after the Arkansas Razorbacks’ painful defeat in the SEC Tournament championship game.
The Kentucky Wildcats whipped the Razorbacks, 82-65, to add the SEC Tournament title to their regular-season championship, but the NCAA still punched the Razorbacks dance card punched for the NCAA Tournament.
Making the big dance for the second time in three seasons had to be some consolation for the Razorbacks. If not a stated goal for the season, it certainly was an implied goal since this group first began working together last summer. So mission accomplished.
However, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee did Mike Anderson’s Hogs no favors in making them the eighth seed in the South Regional. The Hogs (25-9) play ninth seed Seton Hall (21-11) at 12:30 p.m. Friday in Greenville, S.C.
The winner will advance to the second round where they will likely run into the South Region’s top seed North Carolina (27-7), which opens with 16th seed Texas Southern (23-11) on Friday.
Hog fans shouldn’t sweat the possibility of playing a No. 1 seed just yet. The Pirates are a strong basketball team in their own right. Seton Hall’s not an elite team, but they are rugged.
The Pirates proved just how tough they can be last Friday, taking Villanova, the nation’s No. 1 team and the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, down to the wire before falling, 55-53. The Pirates lost two other games to Villanova in the regular season by large margins, but that did not keep them from making the Wildcats sweat.
Juniors Khade Carrington and Angel Delgado lead coach Kevin Willard’s Pirates, who have four players averaging double figures. Carrington, a 6-4 shooting guard, averages 16.9 ppg. and shoots 37.7 percent from three-point range.
Delgado is a 6-10, 240-pound beast of a center that averages 15.3 ppg. and 13.1 rpg. He is a load down low and will be one of the best low-post scorers the Razorbacks have played against this season. He is also a solid passer with 71 assists on the season. Desi Rodriguez is the Pirates other key scorer, averaging 15.9 ppg., while Myles Powell averages 10.7 ppg.
The Pirates play at an mid-tempo pace, averaging 73.3 points on the season and giving up 70.2 ppg, and won’t back down from the Razorbacks’ speed of play. Willard plays as many as nine, but seven get most of the minutes.
Seton Hall shoots 45 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from the three-point line. Seton Hall’s not a great free-throw shooting team at 64.3 percent. They are solid on the boards averaging 39.2 rebounds a game with a 6.7 rebound per game advantage.
The Pirates hold opponents to 43.2 percent shooting from the field and 34 percent from three-point range. Seton Hall turns the ball over 11.9 times a game, while forcing 11.7 turnovers.
The Razorbacks stats tell a somewhat similar story. The Hogs go into the tournament averaging 79.8 ppg., while giving up 74 ppg. Arkansas shoots 46.1 percent from the field, while allowing opponents to shoot 42 percent. The Hogs hit threes at a 36.4 percent rate, while opponents connect at 33.2 percent. The Razorbacks are a fine free-throw shooting team, hitting 76.2 percent.
Arkansas averages 36.3 rebounds a game, but gives up 36.1 Arkansas is forcing 13 turnovers a game, while suffering 11.7
Seton Hall’s common opponents with Arkansas are Florida, which they lost to 81-76 in November, and South Carolina, which they beat 67-64 in December. The Gators beat the Razorbacks in both of their games this year, 81-72 in Walton Arena Dec. 29, and then 78-65 at Gainesville, Fla. on March 1. Arkansas beat South Carolina, 83-76, at Columbia, S.C., in their only meeting.
The game appears to be fairly evenly matched, which is exactly what an eight-versus-nine seed game should be. The early Las Vegas odds have Arkansas as 1 to 1.5-point favorite, but it seems most of the national analysts are picking Seton Hall.
Get You Some Men
In thinking about some of the ugliness that went down toward the end of the SEC Tournament championship game Sunday, it reminded me a bit of an incident from Arkansas’ 1991 game with Nevada-Las Vegas.
Sure that’s ancient history to a lot if not most folks, but some memories are just etched into your mind as a fan.
Now, the 1991 Razorbacks were a much better team than the current Razorbacks. With Lee Mayberry, Todd Day and Oliver Miller starring, it was one of the best teams in Arkansas history. But, that UNLV team is arguably one of the best college teams ever despite the Runnin’ Rebels losing to Duke in the national semifinals.
Jerry Tarkanian’s squad featured Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, Anderson Hunt, and George Ackles, and they beat the Hogs, 112-105, in a game that only was that close because walk-on Ernie Murray canned four three-pointers late for Arkansas after the game was already decided.
There’s was an incident in the game where Day became frustrated and took a tepid swipe at Johnson while pulling away from muscular power forward, whom Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson had recruited since Johnson was a ninth grader. The way the gangly Day contorted his body looked cartoonish, like something out of a Looney Tunes short.
That’s not a criticism of Day. Anyone would think twice about seriously challenging Johnson in his prime.
Instead of being baited, though, Johnson told Richardson that he had better “get him some men” as he ran back down the court. Richardson has enjoyed telling that story ever since.
After the Hogs won the national championship in 1994, Richardson said he did “get him some men.”
While Kentucky guard Malik Monk’s throat-slashing gesture to the Arkansas bench after he thought he had hit a three-pointer isn’t exactly the same thing, Anderson should take it the same way Richardson took Johnson’s advice so many years ago.
Anderson doesn’t have an untalented team now, but the Razorbacks desperately need a higher level of talent if they are going to seriously compete for a SEC regular-season or tournament title.
Supposedly one of the reasons Monk opted to take his talents to John Calipari’s blue grass, one-and-done factory is that he didn’t want the pressure of being “The Savior” for the Razorbacks program. Evidently he felt that way because there wouldn’t be enough talent around him to keep the onus off him.
I suppose there is some wisdom in that; however, it also sounds like a great pickup line from Calipari, one he’s likely used before.
Monk did himself no favors by pouring salt on the already open wound. Hog fans and Arkansans in general aren’t going to forget the throat slash.
Monk will likely go on to the NBA and make enough money where he won’t have to think about Arkansas ever again, much less return to the state if he doesn’t want to. But then again, it’s kind of a shame to tarnish your reputation in your home state.
While the Razorbacks were no doubt upset and frustrated about getting whipped on the hardwood, the throat-slash likely incited the two hard fouls committed late in the game by Dusty Hannahs and Moses Kingsley.
There’s no excuse for those fouls, but ESPN analyst Dick Vitale blew them out of proportion. No doubt he had an ESPN producer talking in his ear, prodding him on to play it up thick, but Vitale went overboard.
That aside, Anderson’s current signing class and the one he and his staff are still putting together for 2018 reportedly are moves in the right direction in beefing up the Hogs’ talent.
That’s great news because as a fan, it’s a whole lot more fun watching the Razorbacks frustrate opponents with their talent than the other way around.