FAYETTEVILLE – Before brushing off Colgate as 14th-seeded fodder for their third-seeded Razorbacks in today’s first round of the NCAA Tournament’s South Regional in Indianapolis, Arkansas fans perhaps need a history lesson.
Their own school’s history and Colgate’s, too.
Arkansas, 22-6 and the SEC runner-up ranked 10th nationally by the Associated Press, and Colgate’s, 14-1 Patriot League champion Raiders tip off at 11:45 a.m. today on tru-TV.
The Arkansas vs. Colgate winner advances to the South’s Sunday second round vs. Friday’s first-round winner between sixth-seeded Texas Tech and 11th-seeded Utah State.
The Patriot League battles for media recognition even in its Northeast domain so tends to be slighted come tournament time.
However with Arkansas seeded eighth and current Patriot League member Bucknell seeded ninth, Stan Heath’s 2006 Razorbacks, not pressing to keep “fresh legs,” Heath painfully explained, got beat, 59-55 playing at Bucknell’s pace.
Given Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks average 82.4 points, and Coach Matt Langel’s Red Raiders average a second in the nation 86.3 points, pace likely won’t slow unless somebody has sufficient lead to run clock at the end.
More to the point of what Arkansas must beware, the Razorbacks’ national runner-ups of 1995 nearly didn’t survive Round 1. At the last they edged, 79-78 at the Regional in Austin the same Texas Southern team the 1994 national champion Razorbacks obliterated, 129-63 in an early-season rout attended by President Bill Clinton at Walton Arena.
In 2019 against the SEC’s Tennessee, seeded second in the NCAA Tournament, Tennessee breezed to a 14-point lead over Colgate then was stunned to see Colgate erase the deficit and fight to the end with Tennessee hanging on, 77-70.
Current Colgate senior guard Jordan Burns, leading the Raiders averaging 17 points per game, led Colgate’s comeback against Tennessee scoring 32 points.
“I told the guys last night, ‘Don’t expect it to be easy,” Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes said after his Vols escaped. “I think a game like today is what makes the NCAA Tournament the NCAA Tournament.”
Since Arkansas point guard Jalen Tate via graduate transfer from Northern Kentucky University, is the only Razorback who has played in an NCAA Tournament, he and Musselman have stressed the tournament’s unpredictability.
“ We’ve got to treat them as if they’re an SEC team,” Tate said. “Because anything can happen in this tournament. We’re definitely not going to take them lightly and will make sure we get focused and do everything we can to get prepared for that game.”
Arkansas All-American guard and 17.4 points per game team leading scorer Moses Moody, so basketball wise beyond his freshman classification, Musselman said, avidly studies the Raiders.
“They run the floor,” Moody said. “They play fast and they hit a lot of threes. So a team like that that can be dangerous. A team that shoots as well as they do can catch anybody off guard and hit a lot of shots from the back so you’ve got to stay ready.”
What about Burns?
““He seems like a small, fast guard that can hit a lot of shots,” Moody said. “He’s a shotmaker who can shoot off the dribble. He can create his own shot. He can score at all three levels. So he looks like a pretty tough guard.”
He’s not the lone Colgate threat. Junior starting guard Nelly Cummings, 12.3 points per game, starting swingman Tucker Richardson 11.6 points and sixth-man guard Jack Ferguson, averaging a second on the team 12.6 points as the answer to Arkansas sixth man JD Notae, 13.3, are veterans of that Tennessee game.
Sophomore Keegan Records, 6-10, and Jeff Woodward, 6-11, are Colgate’s big men.
“ We know their two guards (Burns and Cummings) are dynamic,” Musselman said. “We know their big men understand their roles. We all know that Colgate pushes the ball and you’ve got to get matched up as quickly as possible before the ball crosses half court because that’s going to be too late. They’re a really well coached team.”
And one getting national attention as only an 8 to 10 point underdog predicted by some to spring a first-round upset.
“We’re well aware that many of the national media members have come up with the prediction that Colgate is a favorite in this game,” Musselman said. “All those things, we are well aware of.”
Arkansas’ size gets a boost with 6-10, 245 freshman Jaylin Williams reactivated after a 4-game covid protocol absence and in the meantime has had a recent lift from 6-8 junior reserve Ethan Henderson while 7-3 center Connor Vanover has struggled.
A unique shot-blocker/3-point shooter when playing well, Vanover returning to earlier season form would be a major Arkansas plus against Colgate.
Because of the Patriot League’s in season covid policy limiting the Raiders to playing Patriot League teams only until this tournament, Colgate has played 11 less games and against a much lesser schedule than Arkansas.
But once this NCAA Tournament tips off it doesn’t matter who you played before. It’s all or nothing on the game at hand.
F-Justin Smith 6-7 Sr. 13.0 pts. 6.9 rebs.
C-Connor Vanover 7-3 So. 7.6 4.2
G-Jalen Tate 6-6 Sr. 10.4 3.8
G-Moses Moody 6-6 Fr. 17.4 5.9
G-Davonte Davis 6-3 Fr. 7.6 4.2
F-Ryan Moffatt 6-6 So. 5.6 pts. 3.3 rebs.
C-Keegan Records 6-10 So. 9.3 6.9
G-Jordan Burns 6-0 Sr. 17.0 4.4
G-Nelly Cummings 6-0 Jr. 12.3 2.8
G-Tucker Richardson 6-5 Jr. 11.7 5.9