DES MOINES, (Iowa) — Eric Musselman has Arkansas back in the NCAA Tournament, and the crown is anyones for the taking. The Razorbacks get their chance to dance in the first round this afternoon against Illinois. The Hogs and Illini had a similar season but operated with two different styles of play. This one has all the makings to be a rock fight for 40 minutes, so strap in, Hog fans.
Date: Thursday, March 16, 2023
Time: 3:30 pm
Place: Wells Fargo Arena - Des Moines, IA
Line: ARK -2
The Razorbacks come into this game with a clean slate. In many recent press conferences, Musselman and his group speak to the fact that the tournament presents a new opportunity. The Hogs undoubtedly have the talent, and now we will see a team with the highest level of desperation with the season on the line.
The key to success for Arkansas is to impose its size and athleticism. Unfortunately, recent struggles have seen the Hogs fail to close games during the second half—the ability to turn the inconsistencies around starts at the guard position for the Razorbacks. I hope to see the Hogs drive to the basket with a vengeance today and not let up. Illinois will not be able to keep up if the Razorbacks can increase the pace, and the speed will start by getting to the basket on the offensive end.
I’m expecting big games from Anthony Black and Nick Smith Jr. The two undoubtedly feel the pressure, but each freshman seems to shine on the biggest stage. Additionally, the experience of Devo Davis should help the Razorbacks. Davis’ production on the floor increased during the previous Elite Eight runs, and I expect the same Devo in this matchup.
The Hogs have to get to the rack, no questions asked. Arkansas must also improve offensive rebound efforts and free throw percentage to get a victory.
The Fighting Illini enter the day with a 20-12 record. Brad Underwood’s squad fell in a narrow loss to Penn State in the B1G Tournament. Illinois struggled with many of the same issues as the Razorbacks down the final stretch of the regular season. The Illini are a long, athletic team that remains inconsistent in many aspects of the games.
The big three of Illinois will be the focal point for the Razorbacks in this matchup. Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon Jr. leads the team in scoring and can easily beat his opponent off the dribble. Baylor transfer Matthew Mayer averages 12.8 points per game and can catch fire from deep. I would not be surprised to see Devo get the assignment on Mayer. Lastly, Coleman Hawkins is a versatile big man who can give the Hogs trouble inside. Hawkins averages 9 points and six rebounds per game, creating the biggest obstacle for the Hogs to get back on the right side of the rebound column.
The Illini average just over 12 rebounds a game. Also, the team shoots a disappointing 68 percent from the free throw stripe, just a tick under Arkansas’ percentage. So free throws may very well decide the victor in the matchup. It will be interesting to see which squad can make fewer mistakes.
- This season’s tournament birth marks three straight for the Razorbacks
- Arkansas is 0-5 all-time against Illinois
- The winner will face either in Kansas or Howard in the Round of 32