FAYETTEVILLE — Some teams in tournaments unraveled against former Coach Nolan Richardson’s Razorbacks that Mike Anderson assisted and the Razorbacks that Anderson has coached since 2011-2012.
They unraveled because they were unaccustomed to the defensive pressure that those Arkansas teams sometimes applied.
Don’t necessarily expect the Butler Bulldogs to join the ranks of the by Razorbacks unraveled. Butler, 20-13 of the Big East, and Arkansas, 23-11 of the SEC, clash in Thursday’s 2:10 p.m. tru-TV televised East Regional NCAA Tournament game at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
“Obviously teams don’t apply it the way we do it,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said Tuesday before the Razorbacks practiced at Walton Arena. “But they’ve been pretty good. As the stats say, they only turn it over like nine or 10 times a game.”
Arkansas is the favored seventh-seed with the veteran coach and Butler the 10th-seed with a young first-year coach, LaVall Jordan.
But the Bulldogs are geared to withstand pressure. They have 6-7 senior forward Kelan Martin, averaging 20.8 points, 23.8 in the 18 Big East games, as a go-to scorer.
But starting guard Kamar Baldwin and sixth-man guard Paul Jorgensen not only prolific scorers, too, averaging 15.5 and 10.5 points but joining freshman starting guard Aaron Thompson as adept ball-handlers.
In 33 games the Bulldogs have turned it over 369 times vs 462 for their opposition. So they are in Arkansas’ ballpark, 374 miscues vs. 492 opponents’ miscues in 34 games.
Averaging 79.1 points to Arkansas’ 81.1, the Bulldogs also have taken care of the ball even while playing at a fast offensive pace.
And they are as battle tested in the tough Big East, headed by No. 1 East Regional seed Villanova whom the Bulldogs have played three times and beat once, as Arkansas playing in the tough SEC and splitting 1-1 each with SEC co-champions Tennessee and Auburn.
Anderson and his star senior guards, Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford most compare Butler in style with Auburn.
“I can see a lot of Auburn (in Butler),” Macon said Tuesday. “They shoot a lot of threes, and that’s what Auburn does. They like to run. They can get scrappy on defense.”
On Butler taking care of the ball, Anderson said, “I think they are a team that has multiple guys that can handle the basketball. “I think their strength is their versatility. Guys that can handle the ball inside and outside. They open up the floor. They are a skilled team.”
The Butler guards not only pass it and handle it well but Baldwin and Jorgensen join Martin as 3-point scoring threats.
“The Baldwin kid is really, really good,” Anderson said. “He’s a left-handed kid. He can go left; he can go right. He can score. He can distribute. Thompson’s more of a distributor/defender. Both of those guys have gotten over 100 assists throughout the year. The Jorgensen kid, he’s got that 30-foot range of shooting the basketball and he plays really hard.”
Butler 6-6 starting small forward Sean McDermott, 41 percent, and reserve guard Henry Baddley, 47 percent, actually are the most 3-point shooting efficient.
“Our defense has to be an all-time high in this particular game,” Anderson said of applying pressure intensely yet prudently. “You can’t put them on the free throw line. They shot 80 percent in conference play. So defensively we are just going to have to dig down deep and we’re going to have to really rebound the basketball. I think the guard play is going to be critical in this game here, how we defend their guards and obviously they’re going to say how they defend our guards.”
Barford, 18.0 average, Macon, 16.9, and Daniel Gafford, the 6-11 freshman center from El Dorado averaging 11.9 points, 6.2 boards and blocking 73 shots, will keep Jordan and his staff glued to Arkansas video just like Anderson and his staff continue glued to video of Martin, “He’s a guy that has unlimited range,” Anderson said, and the Butler guards.
One plus for Arkansas. Though the favored seed, it seems Arkansas is less apt to look beyond to Sunday’s second round for Friday’s survivor than does Butler.
The winner of Friday’s Purdue vs. Cal State-Fullerton plays the Arkansas vs. Butler winner Sunday in Detroit. Second-seeded Purdue of the Big Ten, a heavy favorite Friday over its 15th-seeded opponent, is an instate rival to Indianapolis based Butler at nearby West Lafayette, Ind.
So media covering Butler already quiz Jordan about Game Two Sunday.
“We’ve got to worry about Arkansas,” Jordan said. “They’re a really good, really talented team. We’re worried about that one, and that one only. And then whatever comes after that we’ll be prepared for when the time comes.”
The Razorbacks practice this morning at Walton then fly to Detroit with a Thursday press conference and practice awaiting at Little Caesars Arena.