Hogs tested by tough sched­ule

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

FAYET­TEVILLE — The Arkansas Ra­zor­backs haven’t gone more than five bas­ket­ball games this sea­son with­out play­ing a team that’s in the NCAA Tour­na­ment.

It started in the sec­ond game when the Ra­zor­backs beat Buck­nell

101-73 at Wal­ton Arena on

Nov. 12.

The Bi­son won the Pa­triot League and are join­ing the Univer­sity of Ar- kansas, Fayet­teville in Detroit, where the first two rounds of the NCAA Tour­na­ment are be­ing played at Lit­tle Cae­sars Arena.

Arkansas’ two most re­cent games also were against NCAA Tour­na­ment teams when the Ra­zor­backs beat Florida 80-72 and lost to Ten­nessee 84-66 at the SEC Tour­na­ment in St. Louis.

In be­tween play­ing Buck­nell and in the SEC Tour­na­ment there have been plenty of other NCAA Tour­na­ment matchups for Arkansas.

The Ra­zor­backs (2311) have played 16 of their 34 games against 11 teams NCAA Tour­na­ment teams.

“That sched­ule tested us early and of­ten,” Arkansas Coach Mike An­der­son said. “I thought it pre­pared us.”

Arkansas, the No. 7 seed in the East Re­gional, will play a 12th NCAA Tour­na­ment team when the Ra­zor­backs take on No. 10 seed But­ler (20-13) at ap­prox­i­mately 2:10 p.m. Fri­day.

It’s a sched­ule An­der­son put to­gether to chal­lenge his team with the NCAA Tour­na­ment in mind.

“Coach al­ways tells us that he set up our sched­ule to pre­pare us for this time of the year,” Ra­zor­backs se­nior guard Daryl Ma­con said. “I think ex­pe­ri­ence is go­ing to play a big part in this tour­na­ment.”

Arkansas is 8-8 against NCAA Tour­na­ment teams, in­clud­ing split­ting two games each with Auburn, Ten­nessee, Florida, Mis­souri and Texas A&M.

In other games in­volv­ing NCAA Tour­na­ment teams the Ra­zor­backs beat Ok­la­homa and Alabama and lost to North Car­olina, Hous­ton and Ken­tucky.

“We’ve been work­ing on this all year,” Ra­zor­backs se­nior guard An­ton Beard said. “We’ve had one of the hard­est sched­ules in Arkansas his­tory and we’re go­ing to be ready.”

Arkansas es­sen­tially has been play­ing an NCAA Tour­na­ment game for the last four weeks given the strength of the SEC, which landed a record eight bids.

The Ra­zor­backs have faced an NCAA Tour­na­ment team in seven of their last eight games, start­ing with a 94-75 vic­tory over Texas A&M in Wal­ton Arena on Feb. 17.

Arkansas is 4-3 in that seven-game stretch against SEC teams in the NCAA Tour­na­ment.

Most im­pres­sively the Ra­zor­backs beat Florida — a No. 3 seed — on a neu­tral court in Scot­trade Cen­ter in the SEC Tour­na­ment quar­ter­fi­nals to end an eightgame los­ing streak against the Gators.

“The Ra­zor­backs are ter­rific,” Florida Coach Mike White said. “They were great against us.

“They’ve had a re­ally good year. Do I think they can make a deep run in the NCAA Tour­na­ment? Ab­so­lutely.”

The Ra­zor­backs didn’t have their usual en­ergy against Ten­nessee in the SEC Tour­na­ment semi­fi­nals, play­ing their third game in three days with the Vols play­ing their sec­ond game af­ter hav­ing a dou­ble bye.

But Ten­nessee Coach Rick Barnes came away im­pressed with the Ra­zor­backs, who beat the Vols 95-93 in over­time in Wal­ton Arena in the SEC opener.

“I think Arkansas is ca­pa­ble of go­ing on a deep run as much as any­body,” Barnes said of the Ra­zor­backs’ chances in the NCAA Tour­na­ment. “They get through that first-round game, they’re a hard team to get ready to play on a one-day prep.”

The Arkansas-But­ler win­ner plays Sun­day against the win­ner of the game be­tween No. 2 seed Pur­due and No. 15 seed Cal­i­for­nia State-Fuller­ton.

Arkansas has five se­niors who played two NCAA Tour­na­ment games last sea­son. Beard and se­nior for­ward Trey Thomp­son played two games in the 2015 NCAA Tour­na­ment as well.

“I re­ally like Arkansas’ depth and ex­pe­ri­ence,” Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said. “They’re ath­letic and I like the way they play to­gether.

“I think they’re go­ing to con­tinue to give peo­ple fits.”

The Ra­zor­backs are 2-0 un­der An­der­son in firstround NCAA Tour­na­ment games with vic­to­ries over Wof­ford in 2015 and Se­ton Hall last sea­son, but af­ter each of those vic­to­ries they were beaten in the sec­ond round by North Car­olina.

With the Tar Heels be­ing the No. 2 seed in the West Re­gional and the Ra­zor­backs be­ing in the East, the teams couldn’t meet un­til the NCAA Tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship game.

The im­me­di­ate goal for Arkansas is try­ing to beat But­ler.

The Bull­dogs are NCAA Tour­na­ment-tested, too. They have played 15 games against teams in the NCAA Tour­na­ment and are 5-10 in those matchups.

Five of But­ler’s games have been against No. 1 seeds Vil­lanova (1-2) and Xavier (0-2).

“It’s a new sea­son, NCAA play,” An­der­son said. “It’s what you work for, hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in this tour­na­ment.

“I like how we’ve been play­ing, and ob­vi­ously we have to be at an even higher level in this tour­na­ment. It’s the big­gest game on our sched­ule right now.”

In a sea­son that’s been full of big games.


NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/CHAR­LIE KAIJO

Guard An­ton Beard (31) and the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs are 8-8 against NCAA Tour­na­ment teams this sea­son, but Beard said he be­lieves he and his team­mates are pre­pared for the tour­na­ment. “We’ve been work­ing on this all year. We’ve had one of the hard­est sched­ules in Arkansas his­tory and we’re go­ing to be ready,” Beard said.

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