FAYETTEVILLE - It isn’t just last Sunday’s 82-65 SEC Tournament championship game loss to Kentucky from which the Arkansas Razorbacks must rebound Friday.
It seems they must rebound — period — to extend their NCAA Tournament dreams beyond Friday’s first-round game with the Seton Hall Pirates to Sunday’s second round game of the South Regional at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C.
Coach Mike Anderson’s South Regional eighth-seeded Razorbacks, 25-9, and coach Kevin Willard’s Pirates (21-11), ninth-seeded, clash at 12:30 p.m. CDT the TNT network.
The Arkansas vs. Seton Hall winner advances to Sunday’s second round, presumably against the No. 1 seeded ACC champion North Carolina Tar Heels, prohibitive favorites in their first-round game at Greenville against 16th-seeded Texas Southern of the SWAC.
Anderson’s respect for the Pirates starts on the boards and their 6-10 big man Angel Delgado, college basketball’s chairman of the boards as the national leader averaging 13.1 rebounds per game along with his 15.1 points while dishing 71 assists.
“They’ve got the leading rebounder in the country and rebounding is something that we haven’t done particularly well consistently. We have to shore up our rebounding,” Anderson said.”
Willard sees Arkansas’ relentless pressure whether fullcourt or adapted halfcourt in a matchup zone, deep bench and Arkansas scoring guards Dusty Hannahs, Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon and Arkansas 6-10 shot-blocking senior Moses Kingsley and knows his Pirates could be headed toward choppy seas.
“Obviously we want to play more uptempo,” Anderson said. “So it’s a clash of styles. But from a player’s standpoint I think we kind of almost mirror each other.”
Even pace might not be that far apart. The Big East, sporting reigning national champion and overall NCAA Tournament top seed Villanova that only beat Seton Hall, 53-50 during last week’s Big East Tournament, tends to be more of a grind-it-out league.
But both with the Boston Celtics and Louisville Cardinals, Willard assisted decidedly uptempo Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
“They get up and down the floor,” Anderson said. “They beat (20th-ranked) Creighton, 87-81, so they can get up and down the floor. But they only play seven or guys so those guys are playing a lot of minutes. Hopefully it’s something we can take advantage of with our depth.”
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall’s 6-4 junior guard and leading scorer, 16.9 average, scored 41 of the Pirates’ 87 against Creighton.
“Carrington and the Rodriguez kid (junior forward Desi Rodriguez averages 15.9 points and 5.1 rebounds) are both lefties that can really score and in multiple ways,” Anderson said.
Depth is in Arkansas’ favor though off the bench freshman guard Myles Powell is Seton Hall’s best 3-point shooter and 6-8 junior Ismael Sanogo is billed as the Pirates’ best defender while averaging 5.7 rebounds.
“It’s not just Delgado,” Anderson said of Seton Hall’s rebounding d. “Delgado is a great passer,” Anderson said.
The Pirates present a lot of problems to Arkansas, Anderson acknowledges but he also thinks his Hogs present problems to the Pirates.
“When we’re playing right, we’ve got multiple guys that can score,” Anderson said. “And hopefully we’ve got a presence inside. It’s like if you’re going to stop Moses and Dusty, there’s Barford and Macon. We’ve got other guys that can score. Our defense has got to continue to be pretty good and hopefully depth can become an issue.”