Arkansas faces Kansas for spot in Sweet 16

DES MOINES, Iowa — No college basketball team has lost more second-round NCAA Tournament games as a No. 1 seed than Kansas.

The Jayhawks have won two national championships as a No. 1 seed — in 2008 and last season — but they also have three second-round losses from that lofty spot.

Kansas, a No. 1 seed for the 16th time, is 15-3 in its previous second-round matchups against a No. 8 or No. 9 seed.

Since the NCAA expanded to a 64-team field in 1985, Stanford and Villanova have the second-most losses by No. 1 seeds in the second round with two each.

The University of Arkansas Razorbacks (21-13) hope to add to Kansas’ second-round loss total when they play the Jayhawks (28-7) at 4:15 p.m. today in Wells Fargo Arena.

“It’s March Madness for a reason,” Kansas senior guard Kevin McCullar said. “Anybody can get beat and everybody is in the tournament for a reason.

“Really doesn’t matter your seed once you get here. You’ve got to worry about your next matchup and go out there and play.”

No. 1 seeds are 126-21 in second-round games since 1985, but a No. 8 or No. 9 seed has beaten a No. 1 nine times in the past 12 NCAA Tournaments.

One of Kansas’ second-round losses as a No. 1 seed came in 1998 when Rhode Island beat the Jayhawks 80-75 in 1998.

That game was played before Arkansas senior forward Makhi Mitchel was born, but the transfer from Rhode Island could appreciate the magnitude of his former school knocking off Kansas.

“Oh my God!” Mitchell said when shown the Rhode Island-Kansas score from 25 years ago. “That proves it can be done. It can be done [today] for sure.

“We’re not backing down from any game. We’re a team that’s had some tough ups and downs, but we learned and we’ve grown from that.

“We’re well connected and ready.”

The Jayhawks’ other two second-round losses as a No. 1 seed were to Texas-El Paso 66-60 in 1992 and to Northern Iowa 69-67 in 2010.

“We all believe we can win,” said junior guard Ricky Council, who led the No. 8 seed Razorbacks with 18 points and 10 rebounds in their 73-63 first-round victory over Illinois on Thursday. “Not just believe we can, but we all know we can win.

“We’re ready. We’re excited. We have nothing to lose.

“Everybody thinks the No. 1 seed is going to win, so we might as well surprise people.”

Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts has been filling in for Coach Bill Self, who is recovering from a heart procedure and wasn’t on the bench when the Jayhawks beat Howard 96-68 on Thursday.

“I think when you get in the NCAA Tournament, any team is dangerous,” Roberts said. 

“Howard gave us all they could early in the game, and then we were able to get breathing from them.

“Arkansas comes from the SEC. They know how to play in big games.”

A No. 1 seed has lost to a No. 8 seed in the second round each of the previous two years with Loyola Chicago beating Illinois in 2021 and North Carolina beating Baylor last season.

In 2004 two No. 1 seeds lost second-round games when Alabama-Birmingham — led by future Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson — beat Kentucky and Alabama beat Stanford.

“Yeah, Kansas is a No. 1 seed and they’re very talented,” Razorbacks freshman point guard Anthony Black said. “But I feel like when we’re playing our best, we can hang with any team.

“If we stick together and play our best, I think we can beat any team we play.”

It’s the third consecutive year Arkansas will play a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Two years ago Baylor beat the Razorbacks 81-72 in an Elite Eight matchup on the way to winning the national championship. It was the closest game the Bears played in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

Last season Arkansas beat No. 1 seed Gonzaga 74-68 to earn another Elite Eight appearance before losing to Duke. It was the Razorbacks’ first victory over a No. 1 seed in 11 matchups.

“I think we need to play with a free mind,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “We need to not feel pressure.

“I don’t think we felt pressure [against Illinois]. I don’t think we will feel pressure going into the Kansas game.

“We know that this is a team that’s the defending champions and a No. 1 seed. Our guys are smart. They’re on Twitter. They’re on Instagram. They know what we’re playing against. We have incredible respect for them.”

As a sign of respect for the Razorbacks, according to Chris Fallica of Fox Sports, Kansas is a 3.5-point favorite over Arkansas. It’s the smallest line for a No. 1 seed in a second-round game since 1996 when Purdue was a 2.5-point favorite and lost to No. 8 seed Georgia 76-69.

“I don’t think anybody in the country has as many athletes as Arkansas,” Roberts said. “They’ve got three to four potential NBA guys.”

Arkansas freshman guards Nick Smith and Anthony Black are listed as lottery picks in most mock NBA Drafts, Council is projected to be picked late in the first round or early in the second round and freshman forward Jordan Walsh also shows up on some lists.

“It’s a great compliment,” Musselman said of Roberts’ comment about Arkansas having more athletes than any other team. 

“We do have some great athletes, obviously, and they are at different positions.

“That’s kind of the style of play that we have. It dictates your personnel, and I think the way we play is to try to accentuate our athleticism.”

Council smiled when Roberts’ comment was repeated to him.

“We’re definitely an athletic team and we play in probably the most athletic league in the country in the SEC,” Council said. “We’re probably going to be more athletic than any team we play.”

Whether the Razorbacks have enough athleticism to hand Kansas a fourth second-round loss as a No. 1 seed will be determined today.

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