March Madness Begins for Razorbacks

Henry Wilson, Staff Writer

March is here at long last. This season for the Hogs has been a wild one, to say the least. The Razorbacks started hot with a 9-0 start, but soon dropped 5 of 6 games around the turn of the new year. At the time, the play of the hogs was honestly pretty poor, and many within the fan base and national pundits alike were not confident in even an NIT bid. Arkansas during this stretch was considered a bust, going from the teens and twenties in both the Kenpom and the Net to more in the ninety range. 

 

Just like last year’s Arkansas team though, the hogs started roaring back in the second half of the season. All-SEC first-team and third-team All-American point guard for the Razorbacks, JD Notae, along All-SEC first-team and All-SEC defensive team Jaylin Williams with became visible leaders on the floor and both of their scoring increased dramatically. Also, players such as Stanley Umude, Trey Wade, and Au’Diese Toney started finding their roles, leading to a more cohesive and focused team. Arkansas went on to win 15 of their last 18, including an overtime, court storming thriller against #1 Auburn, an instant classic over #6 Kentucky, and a defensive slug-fest against #16 Tennessee. 

 

Going into the NCAA Tournament, not including their most recent loss to Texas A&M, the Hogs have been widely considered one of the hottest teams in the nation. They were awarded as the #16 overall seeded team in the field with a 4 seed in the West division of the bracket. Now with the NCAA Tournament field set, people are avidly filling out their brackets in anticipation of arguably the greatest sporting event of the year: March Madness

 

My thoughts on the field as a whole:

Honestly, the bracket this year is very similar in comparison to what has been predicted for the past few weeks. I honestly believe that this year’s bracket was far from flawless, but acceptable. Out of the 68 teams going to the tournament, I believe that the only changes I would make are to replace Notre Dame with Texas A&M for one of the 11 seed play-in games, and I would switch the 2 seed from Duke and give it to 3rd seeded Tennessee. But overall, considering resume, metrics, eye test, and hotness of the teams the committee did a good job with the seeding of the teams, except for the ultimate snubbing of Texas A&M by the selection committee.

 

This year, unlike past years, it seems like every team is human. Last year, for example, it was clear from the beginning of the season that Baylor and Gonzaga were simply on another plane of existence when it came to both their intensity, talent, and overall record. It truly seems that it is possible for even a 9 see Creighton could challenge and possibly beat 1 seeded Kansas. It doesn’t mean that Creighton is extremely good or that Kansas is bad, but rather it suggests that anything can go. Everyone in the field has a unique flaw for another team to exploit, and that in the end will make this one of the most chaotic and fun tournaments to watch in recent years. With all of this considered, I think that this year will be the year of ultimate chaos throughout all of March Madness.

 

My thoughts on the Razorbacks:

The Razorbacks this year are truly an interesting team. At times, they play like a Final 4 caliber team and other times, for example against Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Hofstra, a team who would be lucky to make the NIT tournament. With everything being said, I firmly believe that the hogs quite possibly have both the highest ceiling and the lowest floor out of the teams in the field. Their defense is so lockdown that even against the one and two seeds in this tournament, I think that they have a good chance on a given night depending on how well the shots are falling.

 

This whole season, I have used what I call “padlock stats” a term I first heard from Josh Pate of 247sports.com. This term effectively means that there are one or two stats from a game that if you just looked at the box score, you could find out who won the game based on those stats. These have changed for the Razorbacks throughout the season as their game has changed, but I believe these “padlock stats” for the hogs will be points off of turnovers and offensive rebounds. It seems like everyone who is suddenly bearish with the hogs all knew that they shoot poorly behind the 3-point line. Well, they are not wrong. Arkansas is in the lower quartile in 3-point percentage nationwide, and that is why these two stats for the hogs are so critical. They allow for easy buckets in transition off of the hog’s cutthroat defense and second-chance shots to help offset their poor 3-point shooting. But like I said earlier, this team can either play like a Final Four team, but could also lose to Vermont by 20 if they lack focus.

 

Final prediction:

In relation to the Razorbacks, I see them winning against Vermont in the first round, winning in a close game against either Uconn or New Mexico State in the Round of 32, and then falling to Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen. I think that they will be able to make it past Vermont in a similar way that the Razorbacks did last year against Colgate. Thankfully, during the last 18 games, their defense has traveled quite well, and that is a must if the Hogs want to have a run in this tournament. But, I believe they will. Head coach of the Razorbacks, Eric Musselman, has always prepared his teams well come tournament time. This has been the case at both of his head coaching stops at Nevada and Arkansas, and I am more than confident in his ability to get the guys both prepared and focused on the prize.

 

With the field as a whole, I still am questioning who I think will win, but my current Final Four is Gonzaga, Purdue, Tennessee, and Kansas. My national champion is Tennessee against Gonzaga in a close, instant classic National Championship game.

 

Where to watch: 

The #4 Arkansas Razorbacks take on the #13 Vermont Catamounts in Buffalo, New York at the KeyBank Center. Tip-off is at 8:20 pm CDT and will be called by Brad Nessler and his announcer crew on TNT.