Musselman, Notae Talk SEC Tournament

FAYETTEVILLE – Given their NCAA Tournament bid seems assured, Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman and first-team All-SEC senior star guard JD Notae were asked what’s the SEC Tournament incentive for the Razorbacks?

Arkansas, 24-7 overall and as the 13-5 SEC fourth-place regular season finisher the fourth and final team earning a double bye into Friday’s SEC Tournament quarterfinals in Tampa, Fla., will play Thursday’s winner between the 12-20  Missouri Tigers, 72-60 first round victors Wednesday night over Ole Miss, and the 21-10 LSU Tigers earning a fifth-place bye into Thursday’s game.

Arkansas’ game tips off at approximately 1 to 1:30 p.m, CST Friday on the SEC Network 25 minutes after SEC champion Auburn plays its quarterfinals game tipping off at 11 am CST.

Until I hear our name on selection Sunday, I don’t trust anything,” Musselman said of the AP 15th-ranked/NET 20th Razorbacks receiving a NCAA Tournament at large bid among the 68-team field.

Doing the math seems to assure the Razorbacks NCAA Tournament bid but Arkansas conceivably could improve its NCAA Tournament seeding faring well in Tampa. But that’s not the gist of Musselman’s incentive.

“As long as they’re going to keep a scoreboard up down there in Tampa, and we’re not out there just hoopin’, then as a competitor you want to go win,” Musselman said. “I promise you there will be one thing on my mind Friday, and that’s how do we win the freaking game. That’ll probably be the only thing on my mind.”

Before the game we’ve got to make decisions on roles and how many minutes guys are going to play, and some of those things will be semi pre-determined. Once the heat to competition gets going, it’s all about how to get a W.”

Notae said the Hogs have been out to prove they’re better than their 0-3 SEC start prefaced by losing 2 of their last 3 December nonconference games. Apparently that motivation doesn’t cease even though they’ve proven it.

“To just go prove ourselves once again,” Notae said. “We still feel like we’ve got something to prove. We want to go down there and win the SEC Tournament. So that’s a big-time challenge for us to just go down there and prove ourselves again.”

So far they’ve proven they’re better than Missouri and LSU beating both home and home.

However there’s no guarantee that a third time will be a charm.

Missouri fell easily to the Hogs, 87-43 at Walton Arena in Fayetteville and 76-57 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.

However the Tigers have beaten Texas A&M in College Station, Texas where Arkansas lost and scared the bejabbers of then nationally No. 1 Auburn before edged, 55-54 in Columbia shortly before Arkansas’ epic 68-66 victory over then still No. 1 Auburn in Fayetteville.

Mizzou forward Kobe Brown, a team-leading 16 points against Ole Miss, is among the SEC’s outstanding players.

LSU, actually ranked somehow ranked higher in the NET, 17th, than Arkansas despite going 0-2 against the Hogs and 9-9 in the SEC, fell by 10 then nationally ranked 12th but minus then injured point guard Xavier Pinson on Jan. 15 in Baton Rouge, La.

With Pinson back active and Tari Eason scoring 24 off the bench, LSU led Arkansas, 76-75 last week at Walton before Notae’s two free throws with four seconds left eked Arkansas boy 77-76.

The Hogs prevailed despite outrebounded, 43-34.

“We got outrebounded crazy tonight but we still came up with the W,” Arkansas forward Stanley Umude said postgame. “That’s all that matters.” 

True, but the Hogs can’t count on surviving LSU again if so badly beaten on the boards.

“They beat us on the boards by a lot last game,” Arkansas center Jaylin Williams said. “I’m pretty sure that (LSU’s) 22 offensive rebounds, that’s something that can’t happen again if we do end up playing against them. We’ve got to beat them on the rebound.”

Unlike Game One against LSU when Pinson was out, Arkansas likely will be the one shorthanded Friday whether against Arkansas or Mizzou.

Starting guard Au’Diese Toney, sorely missed in Arkansas’ 78-74 SEC regular season ending loss to Tennessee last Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn., was in a walking boot at midweek, Musselman said from the ankle injury he suffered late in last week’s victory over LSU.

Musselman has relied on an 8-man rotation now likely down to seven with one of three among reserve guards Chris Lykes and Devo Davis likely to join starters Notae, and Williams, both All-SEC, Umude and Trey Wade.

Guards KK Robinson and Jaxson Robinson  are next in line if foul trouble compels Musselman going beyond his top seven.

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