The Colgate Raiders can see the writing on the wall.
They know they are in for a heaping of trouble on Friday when Arkansas vs Colgate tips off at 11:45 am in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Practically everywhere the 14th-seed Raiders look, they see a superior Arkansas basketball squad. The 3-seed Razorbacks are deeper, more talented, more athletic, more versatile and perhaps even more hungry. They understand the urgency in returning the program to its first Sweet 16 since 1996.
It’s only Arkansas’ fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 13 years, an unimaginable dry spell for those who recall the program’s three Final Four appearances in the 1990s. For head coach Eric Musselman, it’s the fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five years.
Before taking over the Arkansas basketball program in 2019, he had led Nevada to three straight appearances.
On paper, the Raiders are the better three-point shooting club. But they also averaged their 86.5 points a game against teams who respectively rank 186, 211, 228, 256, and 292 in the nation.
Producing at that clip against a Razorback defense that is among the nation’s best (when adjusted for strength of schedule) will be a tough task. It will be all the more difficult considering the Hogs benefit from five days of planning by a master tactician like Musselman.
“Athletically, [Colgate] has got no chance to hang in there,” Hogs analyst Matt Zimmerman said on the Razorback Daily Podcast. “I just think the athleticism of the Razorbacks will wear this team down and the depth.”
“There’s no way that Colgate playing in the Patriot League has a 9th or 10th man like Ethan Henderson. They don’t have a 9th or 10th man [the caliber] of a Jaylin Williams.”
Here’s what The Athletic had to say about the Hogs: : “These guys fit the profile of a team that can make a run. They’re top 40 nationally in offensive efficiency and top 20 in defensive efficiency.”
“They have a star playmaker in SEC Freshman of the Year Moses Moody and a deep collection of role players, almost all of them veteran transfers.”
“Rebounding leader Justin Smith (Indiana), assists leader Jalen Tate (Northern Kentucky), steals leader JD Notae (Jacksonville) and blocks leader Connor Vanover (California) all came from other programs. Of note: The Razorbacks are 22-2 with Smith in the lineup.”
A few days ago, CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis infamously picked Colgate to topple Arkansas. But he didn’t provide many solid reasons for how Colgate will counteract Arkansas’ size, skill and depth.
“He’s got to do that in his job, he’s got to stir some stuff up,” Zimmerman said. “You’ve got to say some stuff like that and you’ve got to pick some upsets, that’s part of being in the media.”
“That’s why I say Purdue will beat Baylor, but I think he probably read that one really wrong. He’s getting caught up in Colgate being 14-1.”
“Colgate had a pretty good NET. At one point they were like in the top 10 in the country in NET, or top 15, and they’d played three games.”
“Everyone else had played like 15 games.”
The Athletic’s Kyle Tucker and Matthew Gutierrez make the argument that Colgate is still dangerous despite its laughably weak sauce schedule.
“Playing Army, Boston, Holy Cross and Bucknell isn’t exactly a power lineup, but a closer look reveals the majority of Colgate’s victories have come in a big way,” they wrote.
“Ten of the Raiders’ 14 wins have come by double digits. They played through the league with a top-60 offense, per KenPom, on the backs of five players who average at least 8.0 points per game.”
“Coach Matt Langel, in his 10th season, has embraced analytics, the power of the 3-point shot and advanced shot quality statistics to lead the league’s most consistent club.
Colgate Seeks Help against Arkansas Basketball
While Seth Davis’ pick may give the Colgate some confidence against Arkansas, they also know it provided bulletin board material for the Hogs. In order to actually pull of the upset that Davis predicts, Colgate’s going to need all the help it can get.
So, on Wednesday, it reached out to another Patriot League team, Bucknell, with a history of beating the Hogs.
In the below Tweet, Colgate references Arkansas’ opening round loss to Bucknell in the opening round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
— Colgate Men's Basketball (@ColgateMBB) March 16, 2021
That Arkansas team, however, wasn’t nearly as good as this one.
These Hogs aren’t about to shut down when it comes to half-court offense, go 2-for-12 on three-pointers and miss 8 of 13 free throws during a critical second-half stretch. That’s something Stan Heath-coached teams may do, but not Eric Musselman-coached teams at full strength.
Colgate’s call for help spurred some fun Tweets in response from a confident Razorback fanbase:
y’all really telling me this team is gonna beat us? the disrespect is crazy 😂 pic.twitter.com/OG8319VLSt
— TOOTHPASTE HATE ACCOUNT (@brycejallday) March 15, 2021
Despite the many Arkansas basketball advantages in this one, beating a 14-1 team — no matter how inbred its schedule might have been — won’t be a cakewalk.
Arkansas vs Colgate Preview
The fact Colgate only played five opponents all year because of a COVID-restricted schedule makes it very challenging for advanced metrics to gauge exactly how good these Raiders are.
This is most evident in the difference between their NET ranking and their KenPom ranking where they finished the regular season 9th and 84th, respectively. This was likely an outcome of the two different analytical approaches.
The NET relies on information solely from this season. It determined Colgate’s strength of schedule solely based off of two teams in the conference that competed in non-conference play — Army and Navy. KenPom takes into account all stats from this season but also brings in data from recent years to predict how strong the Patriot League is.
When Colgate Has the Ball
This is where the Raiders’ mysteriousness is a little scary for the Hogs.
At 57%, Colgate holds the 5th-best effective field goal percentage in the country. They pair this with the 25th-fastest tempo and they are a threat to put up big numbers in any game they play.
They are particularly a fan of the three-ball where they shoot at an impressive 40% clip to rank 3rd in the country. These are the stats that have dominated the storylines and fueled Arkansas vs Colgate becoming the most likely 3/14 upset among many national media.
The Raiders’ best player is senior guard Jordan Burns. Burns has shot over 40% from beyond the arc for nearly 18 points a game on his way to nabbing the Patriot Conference’s player of the year award.
He has also chipped in about five assists and more than 1.5 steals a game.
Colgate has three other players averaging over 10 points per game, all of which are upperclassmen guards who played Tennessee close in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament before falling 77-70.
If anything about this team should cause some fear among Hog fans, it’s how hot Burns showed he can get against another good SEC team in that game.
After that game, in which the 6-foot Burns scorched the nets for 32 points, Tennessee coach Rich Barnes said, “It looked like he had a magnet on that ball.” This speedy, quick and explosive Patrick Mills-like player is now back for one more shot at an NCAA Tournament victory.
One stat not being talked about as much is Colgate’s turnover percentage.
The Raiders only turn the ball over on 13.7% of their possession to rank 5th nationally. A combination of three-point shooting and taking care of the basketball is a great recipe for an upset.
That being said, Colgate is yet to face an opponent even close to the caliber of Arkansas.
They racked up these numbers playing against teams that ranked 149th-335th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Razorbacks boast the nation’s 14th-best defense and will look to slow the Raiders down with superior athleticism and defensive scheme.
Still, the majority of predictive analytics and Vegas predict Colgate to score between 70-80 points in this fast-paced affair.
When Arkansas Has the Ball
The Razorbacks continue to improve on the offensive end of the ball and will benefit from the return of Jaylin Williams in March Madness.
Colgate is yet to see an offense of Arkansas’ caliber and has definitely not faced combination of speed, quickness, length and strength that the Hogs have this season. It is important to note that the vast majority of their players have seen comparable competition in past seasons so this won’t be completely new territory for the veteran team.
Still, the athleticism of the Arkansas guards should serve them well as both teams look to push the tempo and attack in the fast break.
The Razorbacks will likely rely on attacking the rim as Colgate ranks 1st in the country in defensive three-point percentage. Shooting from beyond the arc is not a strength of the Hogs to begin with, and they should have a great advantage in quickness to help them get into the paint on offense.
Look for athletic guards such as Devo Davis and Desi Sills to utilize their speed to break down this defense and force the ball inside.
While the Arkansas basketball team hasn’t been noticeably good or bad at taking care of the ball over the course of the season, this was a problem in the SEC tournament where they turned the ball over a combined 36 times over two games.
Fortunately for the Hogs, Colgate ranks 300th in turnovers forced percentage and should not pressure Arkansas too much in this regard. Look for the Hogs to get Colgate into some foul trouble as they penetrate the Raiders defense and push the ball in the open court.
If this game were to turn into a shootout, the Razorbacks would have to knock down some shots from the outside to fend off a dangerous Colgate offense.
Arkansas vs Colgate Prediction
Despite the fans’ bravado, the Razorbacks definitely should not look past this Colgate team. While the Raiders did face an impressively poor schedule, they have do have the pieces for a Cinderella team in March Madness.
I expect Eric Musselman to ensure the Hogs stay focused over the course of the week and take care of business early Friday in Indianapolis. Arkansas has proven they can take care of lesser opponents this season, winning all but two games they were favored in.
Between the obsession of Anthony Ruta and Eric Musselman, the Arkansas basketball staff has likely been watching tape on potential opponents like Colgate since they got on the bus in Nashville.
Expect Musselman to have a plan to slow down the high-powered Raider offense as the Hogs move on to the Round of 32 to face either Texas Tech or Utah State.
Arkansas 84, Colgate 75
Seth Davis isn’t the only national pundit who is taking Colgate over Arkansas. The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman just opened himself to the wrath of Razorback Twitter with this:
Get even more Arkansas vs. Colgate preparation here:
How to Watch Arkansas vs Colgate
When: Friday – Mar. 19 – 12:45 pm (ET) / 11:45 am (CT)
Where: Indianapolis, Ind. – Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Learfield IMG College Razorback Sports Network (Chuck Barrett and Matt Zimmerman)
^ Listen to Razorback Sports Network Online: CLICK HERE
Westwood One (Kevin Kugler and P.J. Carlesimo)
^ Sirius/XM: XM Channel 207 – Sirius Channel 137 – Streaming Online 967
– Live Stats: NCAA Live Stats
Arkansas vs Colgate game notes
- Arkansas earns its 34th NCAA bid and is playing in its 33rd tournament (the 1944 team earned a bid but could not play due to an automobile accident). Arkansas is 42-32 in the NCAA.
- ^ 1994 NCAA Champion
^ 1995 NCAA Runner-Up
^ Final Fours: 1995, 1994, 1990, 1978, 1945, 1941
- This is the second time in program history Arkansas has earned a No. 3 seed and the 12th time to be a top-4 seed since the NCAA began its current seeding process in 1979.
- The only other time Arkansas was a No. 3 seed was for the 1992 NCAA Tournament. Arkansas was a No. 1 seed in 1994 and 1991; a No. 2 seed in 1995, 1984 ad 1979; and a No. 4 seed in 1999, 1993, 1990, 1983 and 1982.
- This will be the first meeting between Arkansas and Colgate.
- Arkansas has only played three current members of the Patriot League and are 2-1 including 1-1 versus Bucknell and 1-0 versus Holy Cross.
- Eric Musselman has never faced Colgate as a collegiate head coach nor has he faced a team from the Patriot League.
(via the University of Arkansas)