Only two players on the 8-seed Arkansas Razorbacks roster have played in the NCAA tournament before, and that experience will be much needed for Thursday’s matchup against a 9-seed Illinois team that has a roster of those who play Have passed after the season.
Junior guard Devonte Davis and senior forward Kamani Johnson were the only two returning players for the Hogs entering this season, and both stayed along for the ride during two straight Elite Eight runs.
While Johnson was not eligible during the 2021 postseason and played a very limited role in 2022, Davis was a key piece for the Razorbacks in both years.
Davis averaged 31 minutes, 7.8 points and three rebounds per game for Arkansas during last season’s four NCAA tournament games. As a freshman in 2021, the Jacksonville native played some of the best basketball of his Razorback career, averaging 33.8 minutes, 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in four tournament games.
Not only having tournament experience, but achieving a high level of success on the biggest stage will benefit Davis and allow him to teach younger players.
“I think just knowing that the game won’t make it any easier,” Davis said. “You have to fight for it. It’s win or go home. It’s a lot of teams that aren’t playing right now. I know a lot of people that are on teams that aren’t playing right now and it’s not a good feeling.” Is.
“They talk to me about their season and how it feels. I don’t want to, not just me, but the guys who aren’t coming back, they’re not coming back to feel that way. After the season is over, that could be University of Arkansas history. We’re just going to try as hard as we can to keep playing.”
The only newcomer to Arkansas who has experience playing in the NCAA tournament is Ricky Council IV, who played nine minutes and did not score as a freshman during Wichita State’s first-round exit against Drake in the 2021 postseason. Did.
“Of course, they don’t know what to expect,” Davis said of his teammates. “Even some of the freshmen aren’t in this position to go to March Madness. I talked to them and told them it’s going to be fun, but it’s also going to be tough, rough basketball. Get ready right after that and start working.”
Arkansas will need to prepare early and prepare quickly, as it is taking on an Illinois team that has plenty of players with post-season experience. Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon Jr. played in five tournament games with the Red Raiders and Matthew Meyer has appeared in 10 NCAA tournament appearances with Baylor, where they also won a national championship in 2021.
The trio of Coleman Hawkins, RJ Melendez and Luke Goode have also seen NCAA tournament action with Illinois.
“They’re a good team,” Freshman Anthony Black said, “They’re tall. They can shoot the ball. They have some shot-blockers and talented upperclassmen. A couple transfers from the Big 12 that are good players. They’re a good team, and we’ve got to get a good ” Have a game plan and come prepared.”
Even though they are short on experience, the Razorbacks are loaded with young talent in Black, Nick Smith Jr. and Jordan Walsh, along with transfers like Paris, the Mitchell Twins and Jalen Graham who bring value.
After playing a tough SEC schedule that included matchups against seven teams that earned NCAA tournament bids — Tennessee, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky and Auburn — the Razorbacks are pretty much battle-tested.
“You look at our schedule in the SEC as a whole, it was as tough as any conference program in college basketball.” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said, “Then you add the fact that who we played at the end. Really tough games, even the two games we played in the SEC tournament. I mean, we played two teams that are now in the NCAA tournament. So our team has been. Challenged all year long and we will be challenged against a team like Illinois.”
While there is still a question as to how Hogg will perform on the big stage at the big dance, there is no question that he believes he can compete with anyone.
“(We’re) real confident,” Black said. “We have the talent, the coaching and now we just have to put it together. We have shown what we can do against top teams. Even if we don’t win the game, we will almost win this season.” Every game is fiercely competitive. It’s about putting it all together at the right time and scoring a run.”
After scoring two consecutive runs, Davis said he believed the team was up to the task.
Davis said, “Once you get to the Elite Eight, of course I’ve been there, and it’s not about body blows and things like that.” “You’ve got to put it in God’s hands sometimes, you know, because everybody gets tired when it gets to that point. And I think I can say that for everything that’s going on in front of us.” We will definitely be ready.”
Arkansas and the Illini will tipoff at 3:30 p.m. CT inside Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. The game will be televised on TBS.