FAYETTEVILLE — As the third seed of the South Regional to be played 11:45 a.m on tru-TV Friday in Indianapolis or vicinity, the 22-6 SEC runner-up Arkansas Razorbacks learned Sunday they will play the 14-1 14th-seeded Patriot League champion Colgate Raiders.
Friday’s Arkansas vs. Colgate winner advances to Sunday’s South second round vs. Friday’s winner between sixth-seeded Texas Tech and 11th-seeded Utah State.
Colgate of Hamilton, N.Y. under four time Patriot League champion Mark Langel might not be on the basketball tips of many tongues in this part of the country but was instantly recognized by CBS basketball expert Clark Kellogg when the Arkansas vs. Colgate pairing was announced on CBS’s NCAA Tourney selection show.
“They are going to play this one on roller skates,” Kellogg said. “This will be up and down, up and down. Both these teams score and shoot the three.”
Colgate averaged 86.3 points per game in a unique because of covid concerns Patriot League schedule. The Raiders played nearby league opponents Boston University, Bucknell, Army and Holy Cross on consecutive days, two home games each for what became a 4-game series, before their home court Patriot League Tournament of 77-69, 105-75 and 85-72 through Boston University, Bucknell, and the Baltimore based Loyola University.
Coach Eric Musselman, whose Razorbacks average 82.4 points, was well brushed up on Colgate upon Sunday’s announcement.
“This team Colgate can really, really score the basketball,” Musselman said. “They’re second in the nation in scoring at 86.4 points per game. They have an incredible assist-to-turnover ratio, second in the nation. Eighth in assists. So, they do a great job of moving the basketball from side to side with 17.6 assists per game. And then their field goal percentage, they take great shots. They’re 10th in the country in field goal percentage at 49.7 percent.”
Musselman confessed to his astounded audience how he knew so much so fast about Saturday’s opponent. He was premonition sourced by Arkansas Director of Basketball Operations Anthony Ruta.
“Coach Ruta had this thing nailed on who we were gonna play,” Musselman said. “So, we had a five-hour bus ride (after Saturday’s SEC Tournament loss to LSU in Nashville, Tenn.) where Coach Ruta was hammering home Colgate.”
Last season’s Musselman’s coached Razorbacks, 20-12, were fighting after one round of the SEC Tournament to break though the NCAA Tournament bubble when all collegiate sports were shut down by the covid pandemic.
The previous season under former Coach Mike Anderson the Razorbacks were in the NIT.
“I’ve never made it to the NCAA Tournament and this is my first time,” junior guard Desi Sills of Jonesboro, the only scholarship Anderson remaining along with junior forward Ethan Henderson of Little Rock, said Sunday. “It’s a wonderful feeling. Hopefully we can make a run in the tournament and just keep playing together.”
As an Indiana University grad and the entire 68-team tournament played in Indianapolis and vicinity because of covid concerns, Smith finishes in the state where he started at Stevenson High School and then for the Indiana Hoosiers.
“It’s exciting,” Smith said Sunday. “I’m happy to be back. It would be nice to play in Assembly (the Hoosiers play at Assembly Hall in nearby Bloomington) but we’ll see what happens. Spending my first three years of college in this state (Indiana) you kind of get to know how big basketball. It’s a big deal and I just can’t wait to play.”
And to represent Arkansas.
“When I decided to come to Arkansas, I wanted to make sure that we were going to have a chance to win,” Smith said. “To do a lot of big things, and we’ve had that so far. Obviously the conference tournament didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to but we’ve still got a big opportunity in the NCAA tournament. Winning was always a big, important factor for me and I’m glad that it came to fruition here at Arkansas.”
Musselman and the Razorbacks took the 78-71 SEC Tournament loss to LSU hard but the NCAA Tournament new life fast flushes that defeat.
“That was yesterday,” Arkansas freshman guard Moses Moody, who scored a game high 28 points on LSU, said Sunday. “We’ve got to have short-term memory. We’re forward thinking and getting ready for the next opponent. We’ve got to know what we did wrong in that loss, critique it and be ready for the next competition.”
Musselman said as a player at the University of San Diego and as a college assistant coach and head coach (Nevada and Arkansas) he says the NCAA Tournament is never an experience to take for granted.
“You can never, ever, ever as a player, as a coach, as an administrator, as a booster, as a former player, as an alumni or as a fan, you can never take for granted how hard it is to get into this tournament,” Musselman said. “I can picture every moment my freshman year when we went to a tournament and played Princeton. I’m 57 years old and I can still tell you the meals we had.
Nor, he said, do you ever take for granted looking past your game at hand as a high seed. Asked what it takes to reach the Sweet Sixteen, Musselman replied, ““I’m going to say one thing, we’ve got to figure out a way to beat Colgate. I don’t even know who else is in the bracket with us. I just know we play Colgate.”