FAYETTEVILLE — His Razorbacks could have been placed in NCAA Tournament venues closer to Arkansas like Wichita, Dallas or Nashville, but Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson and senior guard and North Little Rock High grad gladly called Detroit home Sunday night for their Friday NCAA Tournament game against the Butler Bulldogs.
The seventh-seeded 23-11 Razorbacks, one of eight SEC teams in this season’s Big Dance, and the 10th-seeded 20-13 Bulldogs of Indianapolis, Ind. and the Big East, learned on Sunday night’s NCAA Tournament selection show that they are matched in Friday’s first round East Regional in Detroit.
Tip-off is 2:10 p.m. CDT and televised on Tru-TV.
The Arkansas vs. Butler winner advances to Sunday’s second round in Detroit against Friday’s first-round winner between second-seeded Purdue and 15th-seeded California State-Fullerton with that winner advancing to the East Regional semifinal next week in Boston.
“Obviously like most teams we want to be a little closer to home,” Anderson said. “But our fans can travel to Detroit. As a matter of fact I’ve got some family up there. One of my mom’s sisters live up there and hopefully I’ll have the chance to visit her.”
Beard, media available Sunday along with fellow 4-year senior letterman and Forrest City High grad Trey Thompson, smiled when asked if he has ever been to Detroit.
“I’ve actually got family in Detroit,” Beard said. “My dad’s side of the family is from Detroit. I’m actually going home.”
Besides, even while working to make the NCAA Tournament, the “Arkansas standard” as it became in 15 of the 17 years that Anderson assisted Nolan Richardson and that his Razorbacks now have achieved 3 of the last 4 years, Anderson implied you call anywhere home when it’s a NCAA Tournament site and said it’s a thrill to hear the Hogs officially announced tournament bound regardless of destination.
“The one thing you always want to do is hear your name called,” Anderson said. “Now we get the chance to play for a national championship. So I know our guys are super, super excited about having a chance to play in this event and having a chance to play against an outstanding Butler team.”
Although opening the SEC just 1-3, Arkansas’ 10-8 SEC finish and winning two SEC Tournament games in St. Louis before Saturday’s loss to regular-season SEC co-champion Tennessee had an at large well in hand before Sunday’s pairings were announced.
Between playing seven SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament plus nonconference playing NCAA Tournament teams Bucknell, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Houston, the Razorbacks went 8-8 against 11 teams in the field of 68 deciding the national championship.
“I thought we played one of the more competitive schedules you ever could play that’s been in place since I’ve been here,” Anderson in his seventh season head coaching the Hogs, said. “And I thought our guys performed really well and won 23 games.”
He expects playing well to become playing better in Detroit and advancing where his 2015 and 2017 Razorbacks didn’t at two and through in the NCAA Tournament losing second round tournament games to North Carolina.
“I don’t want to be just one-stepping and two-stepping,” Anderson said. “So our mindset is to go in and really get after the first game. The first game is the most important game and we’ve got to get prepared to go against a really good Butler basketball team.”
Thompson said respecting the opposition is a must but second to respecting their own abilities.
“I feel like we can make a big run in the tournament,” Thompson said. “We’ve just got to stay focused and locked in. If we come out and play 40 minutes for every game, I feel like we’re a tough team to beat.”
“We’ve been working on this all year,” Beard said. “Been preparing, had one of the hardest schedules in Arkansas history and we’re going to be ready for it this time.”
Having won late night SEC Tournament games against South Carolina and Florida Thursday and Friday in St. Louis before Saturday afternoon’s loss to Tennessee, the Razorbacks just met as a team upon Sunday night’s NCAA Tournament selection.
They will practice today and Tuesday at Walton Arena and fly Wednesday to Detroit.