Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America, and was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Opponents draw comparisons between Hogs, Longhorns
Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr. (3) shoots, Thursday, March 16, 2023 during the first half of the NCAA Division I Basketball Championship First Round game at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Visit nwaonline.com/photos for the photo gallery.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Comparison is said to be the thief of joy.
But this week at Wells Fargo Arena, players and coaches comparing teams they are preparing to play to teams they have already played has made for some of the most interesting dialogue.
Illinois head coach Brad Underwood and Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts were both posed the same question over the last few days: What team does Arkansas remind you of?
They had similar thoughts.
“Texas is probably the best fit,” Underwood said Wednesday. “Texas was a little bit different because they don't play a true center. Athletically, they're very comparable. We don't see those lean athletes like that in terms of [Anthony] Black, in terms of Nick [Smith].
“The pace they play is very fast and the way they play, so it's different, no doubt, but Texas is probably the most comparable.”
The Illini, who lost to the Razorbacks 73-63 on Thursday during the first round of the NCAA Tournament, defeated Texas 85-78 in overtime at Madison Square Garden in December.
Arkansas also has first-hand knowledge of Texas, a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, having lost an exhibition 90-60 in Austin, Texas, in October.
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Roberts, who assumed interim head coaching duties for the Jayhawks prior to last week’s Big 12 Tournament when Bill Self underwent a heart procedure to treat blocked arteries, also linked the Razorbacks and Texas. Kansas went 1-2 against the Longhorns.
The Jayhawks lost 75-59 at Texas to end the regular season and lost 76-56 in the Big 12 Tournament championship game in Kansas City on March 11.
Kansas defeated the Longhorns 88-80 in Lawrence, Kan., on Feb. 6.
“That's tough,” Roberts said. “I don't think anybody in the country has as many athletes as Arkansas has. We have had different teams in our league that are pretty athletic. Baylor was athletic, but they're not as tall, long. West Virginia is long, but they're not as fast.
“We played against a combination of those things. Probably the closest one would be Texas. Texas probably has as many athletes in length that's similar to Arkansas.”
Roberts also spoke glowingly about a number of the Razorbacks’ key pieces, including Smith, Black and Jordan Walsh, and guards Ricky Council and Davonte Davis.
“They're very long and athletic, play extremely fast,” he said. “They've got three to four potential NBA guys. The main thing for us is we can't let people get comfortable. When you let somebody get comfortable they're going to play very well, so we have to make them uncomfortable, and there's ways that we can do that.
“Then we've got to be able to get out in transition and get easy looks for ourselves.”
A couple of Razorbacks players also had interesting opinions on the SEC team that reminds them most of Kansas.
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Arkansas forward Kamani Johnson mentioned Texas A&M in regards to ball movement. But he and Walsh agreed that Missouri was a better fit from the standpoint of pace and lineup configuration.
KenPom data shows that the Tigers and Jayhawks both average 69 to 70 possessions per game. The teams also average 16.4 seconds per offensive possession.
“I would agree with Mizzou, but Kansas is their own school,” Walsh said. “They have their own wrinkles and a coach that knows the game in and out, so a lot of respect for that. They have their own special twitch to it. They have a 5-man (in Jalen Wilson) who wants to make plays on the perimeter, who is throwing bullet passes through the defense to hit a flare to Gradey Dick all the way in the corner, and he's in the slot.
“Just small stuff like that that separates them from other SEC teams. They're a different team, but they have some similarities to SEC schools.”
According to KenPom data, Kansas is a top-25 offense in efficiency and No. 8 in defensive efficiency. Handling the Jayhawks’ pace will be key, Black said.
“They also have a lot of dudes who can score in the half court,” Black said of Kansas, which had each starter score 10-plus against Howard on Thursday. “It’s going to be a big game for us defensively and stopping all the weapons that they have.”
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