Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Selection committee had plan for Hogs-Illini opener
Arkansas guard Anthony Black (0) signals a play, Saturday, March 4, 2023, during the second half of the Razorbacks’ 88-79 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for the photo gallery.
There are no easy draws for NCAA Tournament seeds Nos. 7-16.
An eight seed, like the Arkansas Razorbacks, is going to play a No. 9, and so basically there is no difference.
The NCAA likes interesting story lines, and that may have a little to do with the Hogs getting Illinois.
The winner most likely will play No. 1 seed Kansas, coached by Bill Self, who was at Illinois before taking the Kansas job.
Self missed the Big 12 Tournament for medical reasons — he was in the hospital — and the Jayhawks, the defending national champions lost in the finals to Texas. Self was discharged Sunday.
Or maybe the selection committee likes Big Ten-SEC match-ups because Iowa drew Auburn and Penn State plays Texas A&M.
Illinois was one and done in the Big Ten Tournament, losing to Penn State for the third time. The Fighting Illini have lost three of their last four games, but it was to teams who are in the NCAA Tournament.
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In the last game of the regular season, they lost at Purdue, a No. 1 seed, 76-71.
They played every Big Ten team who is in the NCAA Tournament and were 2-9.
They are coached by Brad Underwood who spent one season at Oklahoma State before jumping to Illinois and leaving the Cowboys facing NCAA sanctions that occurred on his watch.
He primarily uses a seven-man rotation but can go nine deep if he needs to, and his team is long.
The usual starters are 6-10 Coleman Hawkins, a junior, 6-9 Dain Dainja, a sophomore, 6-9 Matthew Mayer, a fifth-year senior transfer from Baylor, 6-7 sophomore RJ Melendez and 6-6 Terrence Shannon, a senior and the team’s leading scorer.
The Illini like to shoot the three, averaging more than 24 attempts per game, but they have a little issue with the making part, which is about 31%. Dainja is the only starter who hasn’t attempted a three-pointer. Mayer is the leader, making 67 of 198 attempts.
With their length, it is no surprise they block almost six shots per game.
There is no doubt the Big Ten gets stereotyped as big and slow, and if the Illini are, they may have trouble locking down the Razorbacks on defense.
The height shows up on their defense, as they have allowed an average of only 67 points per game and held teams to 41% shooting. Much of that is because when they aren’t blocking shots they are forcing teams to change their shots.
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Arkansas comes in off a 1-4 finish, but like the Illini, all the losses were to teams which are dancing.
The Razorbacks were 4-9 against SEC teams who are in the tournament.
The SEC also got eight teams in, and it is still the opinion here that Vanderbilt got shafted. The Commodores finished 20-14 overall and 11-7 in SEC play. They obviously were punished for the 2-4 start when their leading scorer was out.
In other NCAA Tournament news, the biggest Cinderella is Texas Southern, which finished the regular season eighth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference but won three games in four days to win the conference tournament.
The Tigers finished the regular season 14-20 and became just the third team to make NCAA Tournament with 20 losses, joining Liberty in 2013 and Coppin State in 2008.
Liberty and Coppin State both lost play-in games in Dayton, Ohio.
Texas Southern, coached by former LSU coach Johnny Jones, faces Farleigh Dickinson in a play-in game Wednesday night.
And to wrap it up, no, it was not a surprise that Ole Miss hired Chris Beard. All charges have been dropped in Austin, Texas, and in the world of perspiring arts, the word win is at the top of the charts, and someone was going to hire Beard because he knows how to win.
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