Arkansas went into bully mode and made sure we didn’t get our first Cinderella of March Madness.
I blame the bracket makers.
Colgate should have been higher than a 14-seed. But the committee didn’t see it like that, and instead of getting a shot at upsetting an unsuspecting 4- or 5-seed, the Raiders had to take on an Arkansas team that just happened to be the worst possible matchup for them.
Initially, it looked like it wouldn’t matter. Colgate showed it was capable of matching Arkansas shot-for-shot, and one stretch of hot shooting helped build a 14-point lead in the first half.
And then Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman realized he had the far more talented team, turned up the pressure and immediately sparked a 20-0 run. A mini-surge to start the second half put Colgate back in the lead but Arkansas’ pressure just overwhelmed the underdogs down the stretch in an 85-68 win in the first round of the Men’s NCAA Tournament.
But we’ll always have that 14-point lead. The crazy thing is, Colgate’s best player, Jordan Burns, didn’t really help build it. Despite some impressive displays of ball-handling, the small guard didn’t make a single shot during the first half. Luckily, contributions from true freshman Jeff Woodward and sharpshooters Nelly Cummings and Jack Furgeson helped to make up for the team’s star laying an egg over the first 20 minutes.
The lumbering big man Woodward was especially entertaining. His old school (slow) game threw off the Razorback bigs, who probably did see a lot of up-and-under moves and hook shots during the regular season. After one post bucket, the Colgate big man lowered his hand to the floor, telling the near-empty Bankers Life Field House that these Arkansas dudes were too small to guard him.
It turned out, the Razorbacks weren’t too small. They started getting the ball inside where they got easy buckets or kick-out opportunities for open 3s. That combined with the full-court pressure was too much for Colgate, which committed 22 turnovers and sent the favorites to the line 29 times. Both are out of character for this Raiders team, which finished fifth nationally in offensive turnover rate and 34th in defensive free throw rate, per Ken Pom.
That first stat is especially impressive because the Raiders play so fast. They played at the 25th-quickest pace in the country, and that speed typically overwhelmed opponents. But Arkansas plays even faster (17th in pace) so it was perfectly suited to handle it, and may have even had the advantage. Its swarming defense forced Colgate to turn it over on 28.2% of its possessions, a season high.
The SEC runners-up also had a pair of pestering guards, Davonte Davis and J.D. Notae, who could make things more difficult on Burns. He eventually adjusted and hit a few DEEP 3s in the second half, but this was always going to be a tough matchup for him. It’s just a shame we won’t see more of this…
With a lead guard who can score and distribute, a pair of 3-point shooters on the wing, a skilled big man with a funky game AND a unique style of play that would be hard to prepare for on shirt notice, Colgate had all the ingredients to go on a deep run.
But an awful first-round matchup prevented it from ever getting started, which will make this March a little less entertaining.
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