A trip to the Sweet 16 will be on the line Saturday as the Arkansas Razorbacks will take on the New Mexico State Aggies at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York.
Arkansas, the fourth seed in the West Region, defeated No. 13 Vermont 75-71 on Thursday night. New Mexico State played the role of a bracket buster after its 70-63 win against No. 5 UConn.
Arkansas is hoping to make the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. The Razorbacks reached the Elite Eight before falling to eventual national champion Baylor.
This will be the first-ever matchup on the hardwood between New Mexico State and Arkansas.
West Region: No. 12 New Mexico State (27-6) vs. No. 4 Arkansas (26-8)
Time: Saturday, March 19 at 8:40 p.m. ET
Where: KeyBank Center (Buffalo)
Spread: Arkansas -6.5
Keys for New Mexico State
The key for New Mexico State is simple: get leading scorer Teddy Allen involved early and often.
In the win against UConn, Allen scored 37 points to give the Aggies their first NCAA tournament victory since 1993. No other NMSU player finished the game in double figures.
Not only will New Mexico State need Allen to have another game for the ages, but it also needs to get contributions from some of its secondary players. Clayton Henry only scored eight points on Thursday night. Jabari Rice finished with nine points in 35 minutes.
Against a talented Arkansas team, all Aggie hands will need to be on deck.
Keys for Arkansas
Arkansas received all it could handle before pulling away from No. 14 Vermont on Thursday night. The Razorbacks will need a fast start from JD Notae, who came up big against the Catamounts.
Notae scored all 17 of his points in the second half to help hold off Vermont's rally. He leads the Razorbacks in points (18.4), assists (3.7), and steals (2.1). Stanley Umude led the way with 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting (3-for-4 from 3-point range) to go along with nine rebounds.
Arkansas also will need to extend its defensive effort to the 3-point line. New Mexico State went 11-for-17 (64.7 percent) as a team on Thursday night, led by Allen's 4-for-7 effort and Rice's 3-for-3. If the Razorbacks can force contested shots, especially from Allen, that should slow down the Aggies' offense and also lead to some long rebounds and potential transition baskets.
For the season, Arkansas has done a solid job on defense, holding teams to 40.9 percent shooting overall and 32.2 percent from behind the arc. Vermont shot 44.8 percent on Thursday night but struggled both from long range (9-for-24, 37.5 percent) and the free-throw line (10-for-17), the latter of which was especially costly.
Meanwhile, New Mexico State shot a blistering 65 percent on 3-pointers (11-for-17) was perfect (13-for-13) from the line in knocking off UConn. Hot shooting aside, the Aggies actually finished under their scoring average (73.2 ppg), so if the Razorbacks can stay focused on defense, particularly keying n the Aggies' Allen, then they should be able to limit the damage on the scoreboard.
Arkansas will need to play a complete game and avoid the lapses and sloppy play that helped fuel the Catamounts' comeback late in the second half. However, the Razorbacks' defense has been consistent most of the season and should be the difference against a New Mexico State team that can be a one-person band at times.
Prediction: Arkansas 70, New Mexico State 60
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.