FAYETTEVILLE – Jalen Tate has walked in the Colgate Raiders’ shoes.
Formerly the point guard for Northern Kentucky University, the graduate transfer to Arkansas starting point guard firsthand carried the mid-major shoulder chip whenever NKU matched against a NCAA major.
He knows, especially for a NCAA Tournament setting like Friday’s South Regional game in Indianapolis.
Third-seeded SEC runner-up Arkansas, 22-6, and Colgate, 14-1 but the 14th seed as the Patriot League champion that because of the league’s policy on covid has played only Patriot League opponents.
Though only against geographically closest Patriot League teams, Army, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Bucknell for its regular season games and for Baltimore based Loyola University in the Patriot League Tournament final that Colgate hosted in Hamilton , N.Y., the Raiders averaged an impressive against anybody 86.3 points per game.
Couple that with pre-covid two years ago the Raiders, led by then freshman now junior star guard Jordan Burns scoring 32 points, took the SEC’s Tennessee to the NCAA Tournament first-round wire before losing, 77-70 and you can Tate’s respect for a team that some Arkansas fans may take lightly.
“They’re 14-1,” Tate said. “They’re a team that I think they get up and down the floor pretty fast and they shoot a lot of threes. They can shoot the ball pretty well.”
So Tate isn’t biding his time presuming the Hogs prematurely advanced to Sunday’s second round against Friday’s winner between sixth-seeded Texas Tech and 11th-seeded Utah State.
“The reaction I have is that we’ve got to get back to work,” Tate said Sunday after the team learned its NCAA Tournament assignment. We’ve got to treat them as if they’re an SEC team. Or any team in the country. 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.”
It behooves Tate to stay in the game for which he prepares. In both of Arkansas’ SEC Tournament games beating Missouri and losing to LSU last Friday and Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., Tate early sat on the first-half bench with two quick fouls.
With the Hogs reassembled in Indianapolis, Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman Tuesday was asked, how do you propose keeping him out of early foul trouble?
“He’s got to keep himself out of foul trouble,” Musselman said. “That’s on him. If you want to play minutes, you’ve got to stay out of foul trouble. He usually gets assigned the best offensive perimeter guy, and he has gotten in foul trouble. That’s also what makes him a good defender. He’s an aggressive defender.”
But he can’t defend against Burns or Nelly Cummings, the other excellent Colgate starting guard, from the bench.
“Certainly, our preference would be for him only to pick up one foul in the first half and not put himself in the position where he’s sitting there next to me,” Musselman said. “We’ve talked about hands up, body up and letting the refs see your hands and all those things become extremely important.”
Even with Arkansas combo guard JD Notae named the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year and scoring 27 points as the backup become main point guard in the SEC Tournament victory over Missouri, Tate customarily is just too Arkansas valuable as a defensively versatile, long 6-6 guard to sit for long.
“Jalen has been awesome defensively,” Musselman said. “He gets the toughest assignment every night. He’s had some scoring nights where he’s kind of carried us if we’ve sputtered offensively. I think his biggest thing is just being a leader in huddles, a leader at halftime, being a leader in pregame. The guys look up to him because of the winning mentality he has. He and Justin (Smith, the senior graduate transfer forward via Indiana University) are two guys I think all of us on the coaching staff look to from a stability standpoint, both in game and outside the lines.”