FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas – Arkansas can play itself right off the NCAA Tournament bubble by 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Not off in a bad way. Off in a hey-they’re-back-in-good-shape way. If the Razorbacks pull the upset – and it would be an upset – against South Carolina in Columbia, Arkansas would perhaps pull itself back into a 9- or 10-seed among the prognosticators’ boards of projection for the Big Dance.
The Gamecocks (20-5, 10-2) are nine-point favorites as of late Tuesday night. They sit tied atop the SEC standings with usual league powerhouses Kentucky and Florida. And who is right behind that triumvirate?
Arkansas (18-7, 7-5). Even with the miscues, the Razorbacks have endured the last few weeks, they have, in fact, endured them. Of the four “major” bracket predictors, Arkansas currently sits on the right side of the bubble in three of them. ESPN, Fox Sports and USA Today all have coach Mike Anderson’s team among the last four teams to make it. Only CBS Sports, of the four, has Arkansas out.
So beating South Carolina would be an absolute boon. The Gamecocks are a 6-seed in each of those brackets. Of course, beating South Carolina is easier said than done what with the game being on the road.
But Arkansas has been good there. Heck, they’ve been better on the road than at home. The Razorbacks carry a 4-2 record in SEC play for away games and a 3-3 record at home. South Carolina has been, relative to its overall record, vulnerable – somewhat – at home, too. Alabama beat USC in its last home game, 90-86, in four overtimes. Seton Hall and Clemson, coincidentally bubble teams with Arkansas, also beat the Gamecocks.
An early tip means you should jet home from work because an Arkansas win might mean the world.
What time is tip-off?
5:30 p.m. CT
What TV channel is showing the game?
Who is calling the Arkansas-LSU game?
Dave Neal has the play-by-play duty and Chris Spatola is the analyst.
Looking at South Carolina
Arkansas slowing Sindarius Thornwell will go a long way in achieving that victory. The 6-foot-5 senior guard is the team’s best player and is the front-runner for SEC player of the year. He had 44 points in the loss to Alabama and averages 19 a game. He also grabs more than seven rebounds a game. As a shooting guard.
“He’s a tough matchup because he can put it on the floor, he can shoot the basketball,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be a tall task for our basketball team.”
If you’re wondering why a 6-5 guard is boarding at that rate, you may not have seen many Frank Martin-coached teams the last several years. The Gamecocks, like Martin’s teams before, are rough-and-tumble. Almost mean. South Carolina has the No. 1 scoring defense in the league by more than two poitns. They’re also the best in the league at stopping opponents from easy baskets (.387 percentage) and 3-pointers (.274 percentage).
Defense isn’t the only thing. They’re also muckety mucks on offense. They shoot the ball themselves worse than all but one team in the league. And that’s acceptable because South Carolina has, by Ken Pomeroy’s measurement, the best defense in the country. The Gamecocks lead Division I basketball in giving up just 86.3 points per 100 possessions (adjusted for opponent).
Basically, Arkansas simply cannot do what its done the last few games and start off so horrendously. Doing so against South Carolina will get the Razorbacks beat. How does Anderson fix that early-game frustration? He’d like to see some more intensity.
“How about making some shots? That helps when you can make some shots,” he joked. “And defensively, a lot of times, it’s unfortunate that some guys play as the offense goes. Your defense has to go be there constantly. Hell, if we don’t score, don’t let them score.”
Long story short – Wednesday night’s game is going to be a grind. And even if Arkansas loses it, things won’t be badly damaged. If they win it, though?