FAYETTEVILLE – Though Arkansas hails from the mighty SEC, and Colgate from the often other than the Northeast ignored Patriot League, it’s the Razorbacks arrived as rookies into the NCAA Tournament.
Colgate’s Raiders, 14-1 seeded 14th in the South Regional, and Coach Eric Musselman’s third-seeded Razorbacks, 22-6 and ranked 10th nationally by the Associated Press, meet in Friday’s 11:45 a.m. first-round game in Indianapolis televised by tru-TV.
Other than point guard Jalen Tate, at Northern Kentucky University playing in one NCAA Tournament before grad transferring to Arkansas, no Razorback has played in a NCAA Tournament.
All of the Raiders seniors and juniors under Colgate Coach Matt Langel, including starting guards Jordan Burns, Nelly Cummings and Jack Ferguson, two years ago battled the SEC’s favored Tennessee Vols (seeded second to Colgate’s 15th) to the last before finally defeated,77-70 in the NCAA Tournament first round.
“”I know our guys, having experienced our game two years ago against another great SEC team in Tennessee, a game that went right down to the wire, will be well prepared and excited for the opportunity.” Langel said when the Raiders of upstate Hamilton, N.Y.Sunday learned their assignment against favored Arkansas.
At a Tuesday Zoom press conference in Indianapolis, Musselman was asked if the Raiders have an edge for their NCAA Tournament experience.
“”I don’t think it hurts,” Musselman said. “You look at Burns, he torched Tennessee (32 points) as a younger player. We’ve shown our guys tape of what they did when they played Tennessee and that game was so close. We have incredible respect for Colgate.”
Musselman explained why.
“We know they’re great cutters,” Musselman said. “We know they can shoot the three. We know their two guards (Burns and Cummings) are dynamic. We know their big men understand their roles. And we’re well aware that many of the national media members (including CBS’ Seth Davis) have come up with the prediction that Colgate is a favorite in this game, too. All those things, we are well aware of.”
Freshman Moses Moody, Arkansas’ first-team All-SEC guard and SEC Newcomer of the Year, and honorable mention All-American and avid basketball film student, gives the Raiders their due.
“We’ve just been talking about the fact that 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.”
Burns averages a team-leading 17 points and has dished 81 assists.
“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.”
If the Raiders wield an advantage in tournament nerves, Moody presumes Indianapolis life in the bubble will negate much of it.
Because of covid-19 concerns, this entire 3-week 68-team NCAA Tournament will be played in Indianapolis and vicinity with players and coaches living a to practice, back to the hotel and meetings no frills existence.
“Given the circumstances with the bubble and not doing things and all that, I think that will take some of the jitters away,” Moody said. “It doesn’t seem as big of a moment as you would expect it to be. So I think it will be easier to play.”
Playing will be a welcome diversion from what’s so far their Indianapolis routine.
“We’re in our rooms and we’re at practice for an hour and a half, and we’re back in our rooms,” Musselman said. “Then we go to the meeting room and we eat, and then we’re asked to leave the meeting room after a short time frame. It’s a true bubble, I can tell you that.”
Moody expressed optimism that 6-10, 245 backup freshman center Jaylin Williams, his covid protocol completed after missing the final two regular SEC season games, victories over South Carolina and Texas A&M, and the SEC Tournament victory over Missouri and loss to LSU, is in shape to help against Colgate and if the Hogs advance to Sunday’s second round against Friday’s first-round winner between sixth-seed Texas Tech vs. 11th seed Utah State.
“Jaylin’s definitely going to be a critical piece,” Moody said. “I feel like he’s been putting in a lot of work and just making sure he’s ready for the moment. He got in there yesterday and looked like he didn’t miss a step. He was on the rim, running the floor, doing all the moves that we’re used to. I feel like he’s back the same way he left.”