Kevin McPherson: Is Seton Hall, Hogs Game Really a Toss-Up?

 

 

For the second time in three years, the Arkansas Razorbacks received an at-large bid to the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament. The Hogs (25-9, 14-7 SEC, and RPI No. 27) are seeded No. 8 in the South Region, and will play the No. 9-seed Seton Hall Pirates (21-11, 12-9 Big East, RPI No. 44) at 12:30 p.m. CT on Friday in Greenville, S.C. The game will be televised by TNT.

The Razorbacks, making their 31st appearance in the NCAAT, have a national championship, a national runner-up, 6 Final Fours, 10 Elite Eights, 11 Sweet 16s, and an overall NCAAT record of 41-30. After a 5-year drought of no postseason appearances – 2008-09 through 2012-13 — Arkansas will have played in 3 post-season tourneys (NCAAT in ’14-’15 and ’16-’17, plus the NIT in ’13-’14) in the past 4 seasons under Mike Anderson, who is in his 6th season as head coach at Arkansas.

The Arkansas-Seton Hall winner is practically guaranteed a 3rd-round match-up on Sunday against No. 1-seed North Carolina, who plays 16-seeded Texas Southern, also on Friday in Greenville, S.C. Looking ahead at the Hogs’ chances in the NCAAT, it’s difficult to see past North Carolina, and it’s certainly no given that the Hogs are a clear favorite over Seton Hall. No. 8 seeds have a 52% winning percentage over 9 seeds in the history of the NCAAT, and the Las Vegas odds-makers have only established the Hogs as an early 1.0-point favorite (-1).

That seems about right. Arkansas has won 8 of its last 10 games, while Seton Hall has won 8 of its last 11 games. Both teams finished tied for 3rd in their conference, while both advanced to their conference-tourney title games where both lost to their conference regular-season champions. The Hogs are 9-6 outside the state of Arkansas, while Seton Hall is 9-10 away from home. Hogs have a better RPI and better road record, but the Pirates played in a tougher conference and have a better neutral-site record.

When looking at Seton Hall’s team, it starts with 6-10 junior big man Angel Delgado, who averages 15.3 points and an NCAA-leading 13.1 rebounds per game (includes NCAA-leading 4.9 offensive boards per game) in 33.1 minutes per game. Arkansas will counter with 6-10 senior Moses Kingsley, the preseason SEC Player of the Year pick who ended up 2nd-team ALL SEC before hitting rock-bottom in a forgettable performance (and regrettable exit) against Kentucky in the SECT title game on Sunday. Kingsley needs to put that game behind him and show the kind of aggressiveness and production that helped the Hogs win 8 of their last 10 games.

Khadeen Carrington, a 6-4 junior, leads the Pirates in scoring with 16.9 points per game to go along with 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.2 steals in 33.2 minutes per game. Desi Rodriguez, a 6-6 junior forward, is averaging 15.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in 31.8 minutes, and he could be a match-up problem for the Hogs who lack size and athleticism at the small forward / 3 spot. Myles Powell, a 6-2 freshman, averages 10.7 points per game in 23.8 minutes per game.

Arkansas’ 5-deep backcourt might have a slight edge here, especially given that Seton Hall goes only 7 deep and its top 3 scorers each averages more than 2 turnovers per game. So, pressure and depth will likely be the key for the Hogs in this game as they look to advance to the round of 32 for the second time in three years. Like so many games this season, it would not surprise me if Arkansas fell behind, even by double-digits, only to dig out of  the hole in the 2nd half to win another one-possessions game — the Hogs are 6-0 in one-possession games this season.

That was the formula in Arkansas’s away games all season, and certainly those ups and downs in games were a microcosm of this team’s entire season. Because for the Hogs and their fans, a roller-coaster 2016-17 regular season that saw a 1-3 SEC start and later an 0-2 stretch (a loss at lowly Missouri followed by a blowout loss at home against Vanderbilt) finally took a turn for the better as the Hogs finished 8-2, including a run to the SEC tournament finals, where SEC regular-season champion Kentucky prevailed, 82-65. Arkansas finished 3rd in the SEC regular season and 2nd in the SECT.

The catalysts for the 8-2 finish to the season were: 1) a defense that improved once the Hogs began using more match-up zone, a move made to start the second half of the LSU game in Baton Rouge last month; 2) improved production and contributions from the frontline; and 3) handling business decisively at home (after 3-3 start at BWA in SEC play, Hogs went 3-0 at home in their 8-2 finish, wining those home games by an average margin of 15.0 points).

The strength of this team has always been the guard play and bench supremacy compared to it opponents, but the needed tweaks to the defense and getting more from the frontline were huge down the stretch of the season.  Moses Kingsley upped his contributions, and bigs Trey Thompson and Dustin Thomas played their most-consistent basketball of the season. Particularly Thompson, whose rebounding, assisting, and defense were a huge spark off the bench.

While those seem to be the most obvious improvements, the continued emergence of junior-college-transfer guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon over the course of the season can’t be overlooked. Macon was Arkansas’s best all-around player most of the season, and though he had slumped at times down the stretch while playing off the bench, he did have a huge 30-point game against Ole Miss and was the Hogs’ best player against Kentucky in the SECT title game. Barford continues to display an array of tough, sometimes spectacular, dribble-drive rim-runs, and he’s showing an evolving and effective step-back mid-range shot. Combined with senior scorer Dusty Hannahs, Barford and Macon are among the top 3 scorers on this team.

Arkansas is a team on a roll now with a chance to make some noise in the Dance, but if that doesn’t happen, the Hogs have players who will return next year — along with an impressive class of newcomers — who can move the needle even more for the program.  All eyes are on Arkansas-Seton Hall in the short-term, though. It’s now win or go home.

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Kevin McPherson is a former sportswriter and editor at both the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat, as well as a former contributor to newspapers in Northwest Arkansas — covering Arkansas Razorbacks basketball, high school football and basketball, and basketball recruiting. He’s entering his 13th year as a mortgage banker with Bank of England, but he still covers Razorback basketball and recruiting as well as high school sports. You can join him live every Monday and Thursday at 1:30 CST on The Hog Call, KREB 1190 The Fan in Northwest Arkansas by clicking here: http://1190thefan.com/listen-live/ You can also follow him live on Twitter @ARHoopScoop.

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket sized seton hall

 

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