Get excited. We're playing in a nationally televised game against the #16/#18 ranked team in College Basketball, and we're being touted as a team playing more for seeding than for an NCAA lifeline.
That's what the last ten days bought us.
Now, that's not to say that tonight's game isn't big. Because while we are indeed sitting far more comfortably than we were the morning after the Georgia game, tonight's game is about removing all doubt. It's about the difference between a chill Selection Sunday and a "pretty chill but oh man they do love big wins and we don't have any I need another drink" Selection Sunday.
Win, and we're in. Lose, and we're still very likely in as long as we avoid disastrous losses. But enough about the bubble, you'll see more from us in that regard over the next couple of weeks
Tonight we have big-time Aggie Hoops, and it's happening a year ahead of schedule.
Let's break it down.
The Hogs Support Basketball Very, Very Well
With a capacity hovering near 20,000, an average attendance (including non-conference games) above 14,000, and a 22-3 record in their past 25 SEC home games, there's really no debating that Bud Walton Arena is the second best basketball arena in the SEC. And calling it second best doesn't really do the gap between second and third justice... it's the only basketball arena besides Rupp that moves the needle on a national scale.
ESPN moved the game to their flagship network, and it is being touted as the game to watch at the 8PM timeslot. The Hogs haven't formally announced a sellout yet, but given that three other Arkansas games have sold out, it's safe to assume that a nationally televised game against a fellow top four SEC squad will get pretty close.
That gym is going to be rocking.
The Battle For Tempo
A big part of the Hogs' success at home this year comes from the Mike Anderson brand of basketball. Arkansas pushes the pace at an insane level (leading the SEC in PPG), and gambles with extremely high pressure defense for almost the full 40 minutes (3rd worst in the SEC in PPG against). If you break their pressure and get an easy bucket, they shrug their shoulders and sprint up court as fast as possible. Because to them, basketball is nothing more than a race to 80 points.
The race, of course, is led by Michael Qualls (15.4 PPG, 36% 3PT) and likely First-Team All-SEC forward Bobby Portis (17.4 PPG; 8.7 RPG; 1.5 BPG; 56% FG), but the Hogs get regular offensive contributions all the way down their ten-man rotation (20+ PPG from the non-starters).
The crowd feeds off of that style / energy-level, and it's going to be an awful lot for our guys to handle. We're going to need a composed, deliberate evening from our guards, something along the lines of our effort at Tennessee. Break the pressure, then slow down and run some sets.
We aren't winning a track meet in Arkansas.
We Can't Ask The Starters to be Superhuman
So, we've established that we're playing the highest-scoring team in the SEC that plays at a breakneck pace in an incredibly hostile environment. The starters will need some rest. Let's check in on our ben- ABORT ABORT ABORT
- vs. Georgia Bulldogs: 2 points; 0-8 FG
- vs. LSU Tigers: 6 points; 2-12 FG
- vs. Florida Gators: 5 points: 2-7 FG
- @ South Carolina Gamecocks: 6 points; 2-6 FG
Yeah. That's pretty paltry. The starers have provided 92% of the scoring over the past four games, and I can't imagine that's sustainable for too much longer. Arkansas' pace/style will force substitutions, and guys from the second unit are going to be thrown into the fire. If we're going to win, they have to step up.
Unlike Saturday, when I couldn't really figure out why SC was favored, I have no qualms with the Vegas opinion of this game.
Your Texas Aggies are 6.5 point underdogs at Arkansas tomorrow night, per bookmaker.eu. pic.twitter.com/3VAwcScmbK— Doug Keegan (@doug_keegan) February 23, 2015
Arkansas is objectively a slightly better basketball team, and they're playing at home in one of the best environments in the conference. It's a game they can, and should, win. And if I had to pick, I'd take the Hogs tonight.
But I think we'll see a good effort from our Aggies, and we'll play a tight game that keeps confidence levels high heading into a finale of Auburn/@Florida/Alabama. And if our bench shows up, who knows... we might just win the dang thing.