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Sweet 16 a surprise, not a shock for Hogs

By: Wally Hall Wally Hall's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, March 23, 2023
Arkansas guard Davonte Davis is shown during practice Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Las Vegas.
( Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas guard Davonte Davis is shown during practice Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Las Vegas.

A week ago today, 64 teams woke up with their dream intact, survive and advance.

Today, 16 of those teams are left. They represent 11 different conferences and only two No. l seeds survived the opening weekend and if they keep winning, it will be a showdown between Alabama and Houston with only one making the final.

The lowest seed still playing is No. 15 Princeton, which may be smarter than a whole set of encyclopedias, but they play sound fundamental basketball and will back door you in a heartbeat.

The next lowest seeds still playing are No. 9 Florida Atlantic, which takes on Tennessee, and Arkansas, a No. 8 seed which will face No. 4 UConn tonight.

The remaining field consists of two No. 2 seeds, three 3s, two 4s, two 5s, one 6 and one 7.

There is a lot of parity in college basketball these days, but the SEC and Big East are still dancing with three teams and that’s the most of any conference.

It might be a mild surprise the Arkansas Razorbacks have advanced to the Sweet 16, but it isn’t a total shock.

Their past two games have been like their win over Kentucky at Rupp Arena, a team effort on both ends of the court.

Davonte “Devo” Davis’ second half against Kansas, when he scored 21 points, should have been the top 10 plays of the day on ESPN.

Yet, all around him everyone was doing what he does best, playing stone cold defense against a team that had a confident swagger about them until the final minute.

Now Arkansas gets No. 4 seed UConn, coached by the least known Hurley.

Father Bob Hurley is a Hall of Fame basketball coach and his brother Bobby was a four-year stater for Duke with consecutive national championships. He was drafted seventh in the NBA’s first round and played five years professionally

Dan Hurley played at Seton Hall and went straight into coaching. He got his first head coaching job at Wagner, where he was 25-6 in his second season and that got him the Rhode Island job.

He was there six years and the last two he led the team to a NCAA Tournament win, which helped him get the UConn job, where he has rebuilt the Huskies into a contender.

They average 75 points per game and allow just 64. They are deep and nine players have played at least 400 minutes this season.

The go-to guy is Adama Sanogo, who averages 17 points per game. Alex Karaban is 6-10 and while not a great athlete, he is not afraid of physical play.

The Huskies finished tied for fourth in Big East regular season, but they are 2-0 against SEC teams having beaten Alabama, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and Florida.

They will try to control the tempo but will fastbreak in a heartbeat. They love to dunk, like most Big East teams, but they will shoot a three faster than a hummingbird can flap a win. They shoot 25 a game and make 36%.

Alex Karaban and Joey Calcaterra, who comes off the bench, are shooting threes at better than 40%.

Arkansas will need the same type of effort as it had in its first two NCAA games, guarding the perimeter and protecting the paint.

The Razorbacks have the length and strength and overall appear to be a little more athletic, but Northeast schools tend to bang with the best of them because it is basketball country.

The difference in this game is simple: Which team wants it enough to play 40 minutes of hard-nosed defense and unselfish offense.

The oddsmakers have made UConn a 3 1/2-point favorite, just like they did Kansas last Saturday. Only to them was Arkansas’ win upsetting.


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