GREENVILLE, South Carolina – Things Thursday for Arkansas and Seton Hall could not have been much more disparate. The two teams carried a different demeanor ahead of their first-round game from Bon Secours Arena on Friday.
Seton Hall was all business. Their three players brought to media availability didn’t do much, if any, joking around. They talked about their disappointment from last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Pirates’ open practice focused on half-court sets and fullcourt defense, especially getting back in transition.
Arkansas wasn’t all fun and games, by any means. But the Razorbacks were loose. Quite loose.
Arkansas: The jokesters
All three seniors – Manny Watkins, Moses Kingsley and Dusty Hannahs – were joined by junior-college transfers Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford for the press conference ahead of the game Friday (12:37 p.m. CT). Those five have been the most common presser participants all season. They are known to bust each others’ chops, too. That didn’t stop Thursday.
Kingsley, especially, had a laugh at veteran Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Bob Holt’s expense. Holt asked Kingsley how he planned to slow down Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado on the glass. Delgado leads the nation in rebounding.
Kingsley got literal.
“Box him out. That’s how you keep a guy off the glass, box him out,” Kingsley said. “And then you get the ball and you get it away, that’s a rebound.”
Every sentence ended with something of a prolonged pause and some teammates’ laughter. Kingsley, good-natured, did eventually answer with a more substantive response. But Arkansas players had their fun.
They’re not going to put too much pressure on themselves. Coach Mike Anderson said they did that against Kentucky on Sunday. By the time that game finished, proverbial blood had been shed and the Razorbacks’ national reputation took a shot. That, Anderson said, wasn’t the team he’d known all season.
“I’m anxious to see how we come out. You’re coming from the Kentucky game, where I thought we were just, I thought we wanted it so bad that we were too amped up,” Anderson said.
Seton Hall: The quiet calm
Seton Hall still feels a bit embarrassed by last year’s finish. The Pirates were a 6-seed who lost to 11-seed Gonzaga in the first round. They won the Big East Championship that Saturday, watched the Selection Show on Sunday, traveled to Denver on Monday, did the media stuff on Tuesday and played on Wednesday. It was a whirlwind few days.
Pirates coach Kevin Willard was happy to have an extra day to catch a breath this year. And his team seems more focused, partially because of it.
“I don’t think we ever recovered emotionally,” Willard said. “Physically I think we were fine, but emotionally I don’t think we ever got back on track. I think we’re still excited and it’s awesome to be in the tournament. But I think we’re a little more rested and a little more emotionally back to where we normally are.”
Neither approach is wrong. It’s all about what works for individuals. Seton Hall didn’t have any goofing during its final moments of practice. Arkansas finished its with a 3-point shooting fest from halfcourt. North Carolina, the 1-seed in the region, ended their practice with a dunk contest.
Loose or business-like doesn’t matter. They’re all in the NCAA Tournament for the same reason, even if they go about it in different ways.
Survive and advance.