It’s been almost two decades since Kansas and Arkansas met on the hardwood and over 30 years since they last faced off in an NCAA Tournament.
They’ll meet again in Saturday’s second round with a berth to the Sweet 16 on the line – and a chance for Kansas to break the curse that’s plagued recent defending champions in this tournament.
Here’s how we’re betting Saturday’s contest, which tips off at 5:15 p.m. ET on CBS.
Since Florida won back-to-back titles in 2006-07, no defending champion has advanced past the Sweet 16 – and only two of those reigning champs have even survived the first weekend.
That’s certainly encouraging news for Arkansas, which is starting to look like the team that has teased championship upside throughout this tumultuous season.
The Razorbacks opened the year with an 11-1 record before losing star freshman Nick Smith, who missed the team’s first six games and sat out for 13 straight from late December to early February.
The Hogs unsurprisingly spiraled in SEC play, and even after he returned on Feb. 11, the team lost six of its final nine games ahead of the NCAA Tournament.
Then, all finally looked right again.
Smith scored just six points in Thursday’s opening-round win over Illinois, but three of his teammates scored in double figures as Arkansas’ defense smothered the Illini inside and forced 17 turnovers to cruise to a 10-point victory.
Still, doesn’t it feel like the market is undervaluing Kansas a bit here?
Yes, the Jayhawks were blown out twice by Texas within the last two weeks, but they’ve won 10 straight outside of those two games by an average of 12.7 points – with seven of those wins coming against tournament teams.
Even with those two big losses to the Longhorns, Kansas profiles as the eighth-best team in the country per T-Rank over this 12-game run, boasting the sixth-most efficient defense with solid marks just about everywhere else.
The only clear weakness is on the boards, though Arkansas is a mediocre rebounding team despite having one of the nation’s tallest rotations.
If Smith can’t return to form in this game – and his recent track record suggests that’s still a ways away – I just don’t see Arkansas having enough advantages in this game to upend the Jayhawks, who own just seven losses all year with most coming against elite teams in hostile environments.
Keep an eye on how this game is officiated.
Arkansas’ aggressive defense is great at forcing turnovers but is also incredibly foul-prone, while its offense is shooting a meager 69.2% from the stripe.
If this turns into a free-throw shooting contest, that alone could dash the hopes of a Razorbacks upset.
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