Former Southwest Conference rivals meet in Indianapolis for a spot in the Sweet 16
College basketball fans watching South Region action on Sunday get to jump into a time machine with the pairing of No. 6 seed Texas Tech against the No. 3 seed, the Arkansas Razorbacks. The old Southwest Conference foes began their rivalry back in the 1957-58 season playing every year until '90-91 when the Hogs left for the SEC. For just the fifth time in 30 years, the Red Raiders and Razorbacks meet up on the hardwood and the stakes could not be any higher in the NCAA Tournament.
The Red Raiders (18-10) won their opening-round game taking down Utah State 65-53 on Friday, but not without some first-half nail-biting. Tech head coach Chris Beard made the adjustments at halftime with his team down 26-23. The squad came out fired up outscoring the Aggies 42-27 for the big win. Tech had four players in double-digits led by Mac McClung's 16 points.
Coming into the NCAA Tournament opener as the nation's No. 10-ranked team, Arkansas (23-6) weathered a barrage of Colgate 3-pointers, finding themselves down double digits in the early minutes of the game. The Hogs buckled down and used a 17-0 run to take a three-point lead at the half, holding the Raiders scoreless for the final 5:28. Arkansas pushed its advantage with another 10-0 run in the second half, eventually walking away with an 85-68 victory. Five Razorbacks scored in double figures led by Justin Smith's career-high 27 points.
South Region: No. 6 Texas Tech (18-10) vs. No. 3 Arkansas (23-6)
Time: Sunday, March 21 at 6:10 p.m. ET
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
Spread: Texas Tech -1
Keys for Texas Tech
The Red Raiders were able to use their athleticism to control the game against Utah State, forcing 22 turnovers while limiting their own mistakes to eight. The turnovers took away the Aggies' 38:28 advantage on the boards. Another statistical category that needs to be won is beyond the arc. Tech hit 7-of-18 attempts with three of those falling in the first half. If Tech cannot control the glass against Arkansas and only attempts eight free throws, as seen in its Tournament opener, manufactured points will have to come from somewhere, off of turnovers or courtesy of made 3-pointers.
Tech is averaging 72.8 points per game on the season and will need every bit and more against a high-scoring team in the Razorbacks. Mac McClung leads the team in scoring (15.8) followed by Terrence Shannon Jr. (12.6), Kyler Edwards (10.1), and Kevin McCullar. Arkansas is firing up shots at a rate of 82.5 per game, sixth in the nation. Can the Red Raiders' big four step it up to keep pace?
Keys for Arkansas
The Razorbacks' defense was able to stifle one of the nation's best scoring teams in the first round, limiting Colgate to 68 points, well below its season average of 86. The Hogs also forced 22 turnovers using their athleticism and quickness to take over the game. Now they face a similarly aligned team that puts a great emphasis on filling the passing lanes and applying pressure. If Arkansas gets down early on the scoreboard again, Texas Tech is patient and talented enough to stick to its game plan of limiting scoring opportunities for the Hogs. Instead of attacking the basket, Arkansas settled for 3-pointers early against Colgate and managed to hit just two of nine attempts from long range in the first half.
The Razorbacks have their version of a big four as well, Moses Moody (17.2), Justin Smith (13.6), JD Notae (13.3), and Jalen Tate (10.5). From the stat sheet, Arkansas only plans on going six deep with Desi Sills being that seventh player to spot fill in limited time. The shooting edict from head coach Eric Mussleman is clear, they will ride with their top four players allowing Davonte Davis to be the swing player who can greatly affect the outcome of the game. Can Arkansas' players carry the heavy minutes deep into the second half against a team like Tech without tired legs showing up on shots falling short?
Statistically speaking, Arkansas and Texas Tech align evenly on 3-point, free throw, and field goal percentage. Where the Razorbacks separate in an important way is on the boards, 39.9 rebounds per game to 34.8, and scoring 82.5 points per game to 72.8. Texas Tech is giving up 63 points per game, but the Hogs have been held below 68 in just two meaningful games all season (Missouri, Alabama).
The winner advances to the Sweet 16 to face the winner of the Oral Roberts-Florida. A Razorbacks win also draws them closer to the Red Raiders in the all-time series (38-40).
Prediction: Arkansas 75, Texas Tech 68
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.