Arkansas ready for opportunity to take on top-seeded Tar Heels
Hogs confident, but know they’ll need best effort to beat Carolina
By Bart Pohlman
Back in the day, which, for the purposes of this conversation, is the late-80s to mid-90s, an Arkansas-North Carolina matchup would be a battle of two of the best programs college basketball had to offer.
Times have changed, however, and this particular game is more David vs. Goliath than anything else.
If there is a bit of hope for Arkansas, it’s that Mike Anderson has been here before.
In 2004, Anderson’s UAB team was the 9-seed in the St. Louis region, and knocked off top seed Kentucky in the second round to advance to the Sweet 16.
Anderson said that experience helps him know what the Hogs have to do to take down the mighty Tar Heels.
“I draw back on those experiences that I had at UAB,” Anderson said. “To me it was not necessarily just seeds. It was just two teams playing each other. And we were the underdogs. I mean, no one gave us a chance. Just like now no one’s giving us a chance. And in that locker room that we had, those guys believed and they came out and they gave themselves a chance. It was like David versus Goliath. I’ll never forget it. We threw a mighty big blow with a big rock, we did.
“It’s going to take one of those kind of efforts. You’ve gotta play almost perfect basketball. And of course they’ve gotta do some things and not play well. But defensively we’ve got to keep them off the boards. I think that’s going to be big and not let them get easy opportunities at the basket.”
(Video produced by Sawyer Radler.)
Keeping UNC off the boards is easier said than done. The Tar Heels lead all of college basketball with a plus-13.1 rebounding margin. Not only is it the best in the country, but the second-best team in terms of rebounding margin is Wichita State at plus-9.2. North Carolina has eight players who average at least 3.2 rebounds per game, and five of those players average at least 4.5 rebounds. And as good as Seton Hall was at crashing the offensive glass, the Tar Heels lead the country with 15.9 offensive rebounds per game.
Arkansas senior Manny Watkins said it’s going to take a team effort on the glass against North Carolina.
“It’s going to be tough,” Watkins said. “Seton Hall, I think, it was plus-7, and we didn’t do a good job on the boards. We gotta box out, hit people and help our bigs, help Moses, DT, Trey, all those guys, help them rebound. The guards gotta rebound really well this game.”
Anderson said rebounding against North Carolina will be the biggest challenge for the Razorbacks.
“They’ve got eight pros, have you seen all those guys they got? Eight, nine pros. You got pros, they can go get it,” Anderson said. “And they’ve got size. They’ve got girth. They’ve got experienced guys. And so, again, it’s going to be the ultimate challenge for our team, because that’s something we hadn’t done consistently, hadn’t done as well as I would like us to be. We’re not going to be a great team, but we’ve got to keep people off the glass.”
Analytics website KenPom.com currently only gives Arkansas a 23 percent chance of winning the game, and for good reason. North Carolina is fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, and 23rd in adjusted defensive efficiency. In fact, the only thing the Tar Heels don’t seem to do well is get to the free throw line—UNC is 246th nationally in free throw rate.
Despite the long odds, the Hogs remain confident as a team.
“One thing with us is we’re a really confident team,” Watkins said. “It’s kind of hard not to be when you’re one of 32 teams left in Division I basketball playing in the NCAA Tournament. So, I mean, we have the utmost confidence in our offense, our defense. And us being able to switch around defenses and go at people with different looks is a key part of what we do.
“So we’re going into the game with 100 percent confidence like we do every game.”