GREENVILLE, S.C. — It has been 21 years since Arkansas made a Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. This season, 2017, feels a bit like the Razorbacks’ best chance to return.
As the No. 8 seed in the South Region, the Razorbacks play No. 9 seed Seton Hall on Friday at 1:37 p.m. ET in the first round. The 8/9 games are notoriously close, but Arkansas has the higher expectation. Making the Sweet 16 isn’t out of the question.
But it will require making no missteps and maybe having a little luck. Make no mistake: The Razorbacks have the pieces to be able to do it. They’re not a “happy to be here” bunch.
This is how to make it all happen.
Outrun Seton Hall
Seton Hall is talented, no question. Pirates big man Angel Delgado (15.3 points per game, 13.1 rebounds per game) is the leading rebounder in Division I basketball. Khadeen Carrington averages a team-best 16.9 points. Desi Rodriguez averages 15.9 points and is the swingman Arkansas wishes it had.
Thing is, Seton Hall only goes seven deep. It might play an eighth or ninth every so often, but those reserves aren’t doing much damage. They won’t even play long. If Arkansas can force Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard to use those depth players for more minutes or exhaust his primary contingent enough down the stretch, the Razorbacks will wear out the Pirates enough to win the game.
Play an A-game and hope
North Carolina won’t lose to Texas Southern. It’s not going to happen. If Arkansas beats Seton Hall, it will face the Tar Heels in the Round of 32 for the third — third! — consecutive Razorbacks NCAA Tournament appearance.
If Arkansas got past the Pirates, though, it’s because in part the Hogs slowed Delgado. They would have their hands full again versus North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks. Meeks had 9 points when the teams met a couple years ago. Arguably, he isn’t as good as Delgado, so it stands to reason stalling him would be helpful.
But beating North Carolina will require neutralizing Justin Jackson. A 6-foot-8 forward, Jackson averages 18.1 points, nearly 5 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He is, without question, the most balanced player on the Tar Heels roster. He also had 16 points a couple years against Arkansas.
This holds for games against Seton Hall and North Carolina. Arkansas has loads of potential from beyond the arc, but it hasn’t always capitalized on that potential.
Dusty Hannahs can shoot it from half court without fear. Daryl Macon is excellent of the dribble. They must get going, and both have to score from 3-point range for Arkansas to make the Sweet 16. Either that or someone else — Anton Beard or Jaylen Barford, perhaps — must score from outside.
All of these things are possible. Individually, they’re maybe even likely. If Arkansas wants to make it to the Sweet 16, it will needs everything to come together.