Hogs in tournament, but get tough seeding against Illinois
Razorbacks get No. 8 seeding in NCAA Tournament and will have to get through Illinois, Kansas for a second week.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It’s not easy anywhere in the NCAA Tournament and Arkansas will find that out.
The Razorbacks were selected as the No. 8 seed in the West Region on Sunday afternoon and will face No. 9 Illinois in the opening round Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.
Starting times and television assignments will come later.
The first thought on hearing that matchup is it could be a very physical game.
They are part of the SEC’s making a splash in the tournament this year, with Alabama getting the overall tournament top seeding and will play their first game in the South Region in Birmingham, Ala., on Thursday. The league tied with the Big Ten getting eight teams into the tournament.
Mississippi State was one of the last four in and will have to go through a play-in game to reach the field of 64.
There is a welcoming gift for the winner of the Hogs-Illini on Thursday, though. They will (barring a historic upset) get top-seeded Kansas in the second round as the Jayhawks will be getting coach Bill Self back. He was released from a short hospital stay for an undisclosed reason and missed the Big 12 Tournament.
The Hogs have made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2006-08. Arkansas is 3-6 in its last 9 games dating to Feb. 11, when freshman guard Nick Smith returned to the lineup from right knee management.
The Razorbacks (19-12 overall, 8-10 SEC) defeated Auburn 76-73 at the SEC Tournament and lost 67-61 to Texas A&M in the quarterfinal round Friday.
The Razorbacks are a No. 8 seed for the third time (2006 and 2017). In 2017, Arkansas defeated Seton Hall 77-71 in its first game then lost 72-65 to eventual national champion North Carolina in a controversial finish.
Arkansas is 0-5 all-time against the Fighting Illini. The programs have not met since December 2004, when Illinois defeated the Razorbacks 72-60 in North Little Rock.
Illinois finished the regular season with a 20-12 overall record and 11-9 mark in Big Ten play. They lost 79-76 to Penn State in their first game in the conference tournament.
Sixth-year head coach Brad Underwood has led Illinois to three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths. Since finishing under .500 in his first two seasons, the Fighting Illini have won at least 20 games in each of the last four.
They have been eliminated in the second round in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.
Illinois’ top two scorers are transfers from Big 12 programs. Terrence Shannon (Texas Tech) has averaged a team-high 17.1 points, and Matthew Mayer (Baylor) is second at 12.8 points per game.
The Fighting Illini are the top shot-blocking team in the Big Ten, averaging 5.5 per game. Their 111 blocks in conference play were 21 more than second most in the league.