5 Arkansas Razorbacks vs. 12 Wofford Terriers
9:50 p.m. ET, TNT
It's been a long wait to get back into the NCAA Tournament for the proud Arkansas basketball program. The last time for the squad came in 2008, the third of just three visits between the Nolan Richardson era and this year. Mike Anderson restored the character of Richardson's teams, playing a fast paced style that has been 40 minutes of hell for most opponents.
Wofford is becoming a tournament regular, with this being the Terriers' fourth appearance in the past five seasons. The 2014-15 campaign is the best in school history, with a new record in wins and a new best tournament seed attained with a 12. They're no strangers to this stage and won't be intimidated by the enormity of the game.
Arkansas is a heavy favorite based on the KenPom ratings, where the Razorbacks rank 27th overall with Wofford down at just 92. The teams have contrasting efficiencies, with Arkansas being more efficient on offense while the Terriers are more efficient on defense. The Hogs are 19th nationally in offensive efficiency and 78th in defensive efficiency, while Wofford is 144th in the country on offense and 77th on defense.
The real contrast between these teams is in pace. Arkansas loves to push the tempo at 70.0 possessions per 40 minutes, while Wofford is one of the slowest teams in the country at 61.5 possessions per 40 minutes. Whoever controls the pace will probably control the game. The best team that Wofford has played is West Virginia, which is like Arkansas in preferring a fast pace. WVU blew out the Terriers 77-44. Meanwhile, Arkansas's losses to weaker opponents came against slower paced teams like Clemson (62.3 poss. per 40 minutes), Tennessee (60.6), and Florida (62.9).
Arkansas has played four games against teams in Wofford's neighborhood in the KenPom ratings, which I define as being within 10 ranking spots above or below.
|Clemson||R||88||-||L, 68-65 OT|
Worryingly for the Razorbacks, they went just 2-2 in those games with the aforementioned losses to Clemson and Tennessee. Arkansas did beat the Vols twice after losing, but neither was a runaway win. Both of the losses were on the road, and this game won't be in a true road environment. That said, everyone not calling the Hogs in Jacksonville will be pulling for Wofford. Everyone loves Cinderella in March, and the other fans in the house would probably prefer not to have to play the Razorbacks.
The Terriers played just one team in Arkansas's neighborhood along with two other teams that are a bit better than the Razorbacks and one that is a bit worse.
|NC State||R||41||E8||W, 55-54|
|West Virginia||R||25||MW5||L, 77-44|
If not for the win over NC State, this table would look awfully bleak for Wofford. The team lost by 16, 30, and 29 in the other games listed here. I won't try to take that win in Raleigh away from them, even if NCSU was one of the most inconsistent teams in the country, but their other performances against top competition this year don't inspire confidence.
Players to Watch
Arkansas's centerpiece is of course Bobby Portis, the SEC Player of the Year who averages 17.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Nearly as important is his running mate Michael Qualls, who scored 15.5 points and grabs 5.3 rebounds per game. If Wofford is going to win this one, it'll have to shut down one of those guys.
Karl Cochran is the top scorer for the Terriers at 14.6 points per game, but he's an inefficient player as he's shooting under 40% on the season. Spencer Collins is next at 11.6 per game, while Lee Skinner puts in an even 10 per game. Of the top three scorers, only Collins is a good free throw shooter at a hair under 80% on the year. Cochran and Skinner are the two best rebounders as well, while Cochran also averages nearly two steals per contest.
Mike Anderson is making his seventh tournament appearance. He's only lost in the first round twice, both times as a 9-seed or worse. This year is only his second time appearing as better than a 9-seed, with the other coming when his 3-seeded Missouri Tigers went to the Elite Eight in 2009. Wofford has just three tournament appearances in its history, all between 2010 and now. They've yet to win a game, though they previously had 13, 14, and 15 seeds. The 12-seed is their best yet, and everyone knows about 5-12 upsets.
By most measures, Arkansas should win this game. The Razorbacks are a much better team than Wofford is, and they have the best two players in the game as well with Portis and Qualls. Anderson has been a good tournament coach so far in his career, and the Terriers have by and large faltered when playing top competition.
That's not to say that this game is going to be a blowout for sure. If Wofford can avoid being goaded into an up-and-down game, its possession-limiting style will help it to stay in this game. It would be easier for Arkansas to get the Terriers out of their comfort zone and into a fast game if they didn't have recent tournament experience.
The 5-12 upset often happens when an iffy major conference team gets a better seed than it deserves and a mid-major gets shafted with a worse seed than it deserves. Neither of those conditions is the case here, with Arkansas owning plenty of good wins and Wofford having something of a generous seed given its rating. By comparison, fellow 12-seed Stephen F. Austin is No. 34 in the KenPom ratings, and four teams with worse seeds are ranked ahead of the Terriers there.
Anything can happen in March, and a Wofford win wouldn't be close to the wackiest thing we'll see this tournament. That said, the mixture for this one doesn't seem right for an upset.
Arkansas 70, Wofford 62