FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman and his staff so obsessively scout opponents to know them better than they know themselves.
So it’s been a conflicting, gut-wrenching week for Musselman and crew simultaneously preparing for tonight’s SEC Tournament quarterfinals game at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. against
Thursday night’s winner between the Missouri Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs.
All of Friday’s SEC Tournament games are televised by the SEC Network with Arkansas’ game tipping off at 6 p.m (CST).
ESPN televises Saturday’s noon and 1:25 semifinals and Sunday’s noon championship game.
“It’s like we’re rewiring the switchboard right now,” Musselman said earlier this week. “Because we don’t really know who we’re playing. So how do get ready for both teams? And also kind of worry about ourselves? We’re trying to balance marrying out offense and our defense right now at this juncture of the season and understanding the two different philosophies that Georgia and Missouri have.”
As the SEC’s second and third place finishers, nationally No. 8 Arkansas, 21-5 overall and 13-4 in the SEC regular season, and LSU, today playing the winner of Thursday’s Ole Miss vs. South Carolina, were seeded into today’s quarterfinals.
Today’s winners meet in Saturday’s semifinals to advance to Sunday’s championship game vs. the other bracket winner.
Nationally sixth-ranked SEC champion Alabama heads that bracket opening today vs. Thursday’s Kentucky vs. Mississippi State winner while fourth-seeded Tennessee awaits Thursday’s Florida vs. Vanderbilt winner.
Back on Jan. 9 minus then injured Arkansas stellar forward Justin Smith, Arkansas romped, 99-69 over Georgia at Walton Arena.
The Razorbacks split two with Mizzou. With Smith then still out and Missouri center Jeremiah Tilmon starring (25 points and 11 rebounds), Mizzou handled the Hogs, 81-68.
On Feb. 13 with Smith back and scoring 19 points with six rebounds and three assists and Tilmon absent attending a funeral, Arkansas won, 86-81 over the then nationally No. 10 Tigers, now 15-8, 8-8, in overtime at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.
Georgia, 14-11, 7-11, may seem like easy pickings after that by 30-points flogging in Fayetteville, but Coach Tom Crean’s Bulldogs have since added freshman guard K.D. Johnson, second on the team in scoring averaging 13.6 points, and in February beat LSU and Mizzou and last Saturday led Alabama by 14 before falling, 89-79.
“Georgia has really stepped it up these last couple weeks playing on another level than they did the last time we played,” Arkansas first-team All-SEC guard Moses Moody said. “Missouri, where it was a top 10 team throughout the season, has had its highs and lows, but they’re a really good team. We’re going to have to bring everything we’ve got to beat either one of them.”
If it’s Arkansas vs. Mizzou the best out of three rubber match and both Smith and Tilmon on hand obviously would be highlighted.
“The fact they didn’t have Tilmon, and we didn’t have Justin, t’s going to be both teams fully loaded,” Moody said.
Well, maybe not fully for Arkansas.
Apparently because of covid protocol, Arkansas backup center Jaylin Williams missed Arkansas’ regular-season ending victories over South Carolina and Texas A&M.
Assured with their 21-5 record and rankings (No. 8 in the AP and No. 17 in the NET) of a NCAA Tournament berth, the Razorbacks would face a Mizzou team perhaps on the SEC Tournament bubble and a Georgia team needing to win the tournament to advance to the Big Dance when the tournament field is announced Sunday afternoon.
While the incentive advantage seems to rest with their opponents, the Razorbacks assure they have plenty of motivation extending their 11-game winning streak against SEC teams and striving to win just the second SEC Tournament championship in Arkansas history.
“We want more with this team,” Musselman said. “We want more time with them. We want more games. We want more of everything. One of our themes is, ‘How do we come up with more?”
They’ll learn more starting tonight.