Photographs by Associated Press
North Carolina's Brandon Robinson (4) drives on Arkansas's Daniel Gafford (10) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game during the Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland, Ore., Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks haven't gone more than five basketball games this season without playing a team that's in the NCAA Tournament.
It started in the second game when the Razorbacks beat Bucknell 101-73 in Walton Arena on Nov. 12.
The Bison won the Patriot League and are joining the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in Detroit, where the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament are being played in Little Caesars Arena.
Arkansas' two most recent games also were against NCAA Tournament teams when the Razorbacks beat Florida 80-72 and lost to Tennessee 84-66 at the SEC Tournament in St. Louis.
In between playing Bucknell and in the SEC Tournament there have been plenty of other NCAA Tournament matchups for Arkansas.
The Razorbacks (23-11) have played 16 of their 34 games against 11 teams NCAA Tournament teams.
"That schedule tested us early and often," Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. "I thought it prepared us."
Arkansas, the No. 7 seed in the East Regional, will play a 12th NCAA Tournament team when the Razorbacks take on No. 10 seed Butler (20-13) at approximately 2:10 p.m. Friday.
It's a schedule Anderson put together to challenge his team with the NCAA Tournament in mind.
"Coach always tells us that he set up our schedule to prepare us for this time of the year," Razorbacks senior guard Daryl Macon said. "I think experience is going to play a big part in this tournament."
Arkansas is 8-8 against NCAA Tournament teams, including splitting two games each with Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Missouri and Texas A&M.
In other games involving NCAA Tournament teams the Razorbacks beat Oklahoma and Alabama and lost to North Carolina, Houston and Kentucky.
"We've been working on this all year," Razorbacks senior guard Anton Beard said. "We've had one of the hardest schedules in Arkansas history and we're going to be ready."
Arkansas essentially has been playing an NCAA Tournament game for the last four weeks given the strength of the SEC, which landed a record eight bids.
The Razorbacks have faced an NCAA Tournament team in seven of their last eight games, starting with a 94-75 victory over Texas A&M in Walton Arena on Feb. 17.
Arkansas is 4-3 in that seven-game stretch against SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Most impressively the Razorbacks beat Florida -- a No. 3 seed -- on a neutral court in Scottrade Center in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals to end an eight-game losing streak against the Gators.
"The Razorbacks are terrific," Florida Coach Mike White said. "They were great against us.
"They've had a really good year. Do I think they can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament? Absolutely."
The Razorbacks didn't have their usual energy against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament semifinals, playing their third game in three days with the Vols playing their second game after having a double bye.
But Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes came away impressed with the Razorbacks, who beat the Vols 95-93 in overtime in Walton Arena in the SEC opener.
"I think Arkansas is capable of going on a deep run as much as anybody," Barnes said of the Razorbacks' chances in the NCAA Tournament. "They get through that first-round game, they're a hard team to get ready to play on a one-day prep."
The Arkansas-Butler winner plays Sunday against the winner of the game between No. 2 seed Purdue and No. 15 seed California State-Fullerton.
Arkansas has five seniors who played two NCAA Tournament games last season. Beard and senior forward Trey Thompson played two games in the 2015 NCAA Tournament as well.
"I really like Arkansas' depth and experience," Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said. "They're athletic and I like the way they play together.
"I think they're going to continue to give people fits."
The Razorbacks are 2-0 under Anderson in first-round NCAA Tournament games with victories over Wofford in 2015 and Seton Hall last season, but after each of those victories they were beaten in the second round by North Carolina.
With the Tar Heels being the No. 2 seed in the West Regional and the Razorbacks being in the East, the teams couldn't meet until the NCAA Tournament championship game.
The immediate goal for Arkansas is trying to beat Butler.
The Bulldogs are NCAA Tournament-tested, too. They have played 15 games against teams in the NCAA Tournament and are 5-10 in those matchups.
Five of Butler's games have been against No. 1 seeds Villanova (1-2) and Xavier (0-2).
"It's a new season, NCAA play," Anderson said. "It's what you work for, having the opportunity to participate in this tournament.
"I like how we've been playing, and obviously we have to be at an even higher level in this tournament. It's the biggest game on our schedule right now."
In a season that's been full of big games.
Sports on 03/14/2018
The Arkansas Razorbacks have played 16 games against teams in the NCAA Tournament, going 8-8. Here’s a look at those games as the Razorbacks head into their first-round matchup against Butler on Friday in Detroit:
Nov. 12;Bucknell;W, 101-73
&Nov. 23;vs Oklahoma;W, 92-83
&Nov. 24;vs North Carolina;L, 87-68
Dec. 2;at Houston;L, 91-65
Dec. 30;Tennessee;W, 95-93 OT
Jan. 6;at Auburn;L, 88-77
Jan. 13;Missouri;W, 65-63
Jan. 17 at Florida;L, 88-73
Jan. 30;at Texas A&M;L, 80-66
Feb. 17;Texas A&M;W, 94-75
Feb. 20;Kentucky;L, 87-72
Feb. 24;at Alabama;W, 76-73
Feb. 27;Auburn;W, 91-83
March 3;at Missouri;L, 77-67
March 9;vs Florida;W, 80-72
March 10;vs Tennessee;L, 84-66
&Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore.
SEC Tournament in St. Louis
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