How Pace Could Impact Saturday’s Kansas vs. Arkansas Round of 32 Matchup

How Pace Could Impact Saturday’s Kansas vs. Arkansas Round of 32 Matchup article feature image
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Michael Reaves/Getty Images. Pictured: Arkansas’ Makhi Mitcherr (15), Nick Smith Jr. (3), Ricky Council (1) and Jordan Walsh (13).

DES MOINES, Iowa — It didn’t take long for the first-round NCAA Tournament game between No. 1 seed Kansas and No. 16 seed Howard to resemble the motion of a seesaw.

Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down.

In what ultimately turned out to be a 96-68 tune-up victory over Howard, the Jayhawks had no problems engaging in a track meet. In fact, Kansas recorded 76 possessions on the day, up from their season average of 69.4 per game and well above the Division-I average of 67.2.

“[Howard] played faster than I think even we thought they would,” acting Kansas coach Norm Roberts said. “In that second half, there wasn’t a foul called for about five minutes, and it was up and down. Our guys were begging to come out, and I think their guys were just as tired.”

The result was a 96-point explosion that saw five different players score double figures, led by Jalen Wilson’s 20 points and Gradey Dick’s 19 and 11 rebounds.

Oh, and Kansas scored 18 fastbreak points — its most since a Feb. 20 win over TCU.

“We always want to play fast,” Roberts said. “We’re better when we play fast.”

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The Jayhawks’ opponent in the Round of 32, Arkansas, didn’t mind getting out in transition on Thursday either.

The Razorbacks, who average 69.9 possessions per game, put up 78 in their 73-63 win over Illinois.

All four teams in these two matchups — Kansas, Howard, Arkansas and Illinois — rank inside the top 100 in Adjusted Tempo, per BartTorvik. That means the Jayhawks and Hogs could be in for more of the same when they meet on Saturday.

“It was a fast-paced game for sure,” Wilson said. “They got up and down — that was a key we had to do in transition is get back and kind of stop the ball. It was huge for us to play a good team like that in Howard that can score the ball and run at a high volume. It’s going to help us in the tournament.”

While defense has been the calling card of these teams all season, there’s no lack of stars who can get hot offensively to help put some points on the board quickly. In addition to Wilson and Dick combining for 39 points, Ricky Council IV dropped 18 for the Razorbacks in the win over the Illini.

Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black didn’t produce at that level Thursday, combining for just 18, but they rank second and third on the team in scoring, respectively, while Black leads the Hogs in assists.

Scoring points in bunches might not be what these squads are known for first and foremost, but the presence of these stars makes each offense a little more potent in a tournament setting like March Madness.

“They’ve got a lot of good players, but we’ve got a lot of good players too,” Smith said. “We just got to go out there and compete with the top guys. That’s why we’re here, right? It’s March Madness.”

Because of the way these teams played on Thursday — against teams that typically play slower than them — it wouldn’t be a shock to see something that resembles a track meet in Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday given the success they found with that style in the opening round.

“They play really fast, but we play fast too,” Black said Thursday after the Razorbacks' win. “Playing against each other all summer, we kind of know how to get back and stop the transition. Illinois is a really good team, and they play really fast. We’ve gotta start scouting Kansas and figure out ways to stop them in transition like we did Illinois.”

With Saturday’s total set at 143.5 at FanDuel, the willingness of the Jayhawks and Razorbacks to push the pace shouldn’t be ignored.

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Doug Ziefel
Jun 23, 2024 UTC