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Tobacco roadblock: Hogs look to advance to Sweet 16 for 1st time since 1996

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Photographs by J.T. Wampler

Arkansas' Moses Kingsley drives to the basket between Seton Hall's Angel Delgado and Madison Jones (30) Friday Mar. 17, 2017 during the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. Arkansas won 77-71 and will advance to the second round, playing Sunday at the same location.

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The Arkansas Razorbacks are trying to advance to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996.

North Carolina is standing in the way.

Again.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville won its third consecutive NCAA Tournament opener by beating Seton Hall 77-71 on Friday, and now the Razorbacks must face the Tar Heels in a second-round game for the third consecutive time.

The No. 8 seed Razorbacks (26-9) play the No. 1 seed Tar Heels (28-7) at 5:10 p.m. today at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, with the winner advancing to the South Regional semifinals in Memphis.

North Carolina beat Arkansas 108-77 in 2008 and 87-78 in 2015 in the teams' previous two second-round matchups.

The Razorbacks said they're looking forward to another shot at the Tar Heels, not dreading it.

"I think it's fun," Arkansas senior guard Manny Watkins said. "It's an opportunity. They're a 1 seed, so what more fun can you have than knocking off a 1 seed and moving on in the tournament?"

Watkins said he has no concerns about the NCAA Tournament selection committee seeding Arkansas to play another second-round game against North Carolina.

"I don't know how the committee does things," he said. "But it's what they did."

David Worlock, the NCAA's director of media coordination and statistics, said the committee sent Miami -- another No. 8 seed that plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference with North Carolina -- to Tulsa and Arkansas to Greenville because there couldn't be a North-Carolina Miami game in the second round because the Hurricanes and Tar Heels had played twice this season.

"The fact Arkansas is paired with North Carolina again is just a sheer coincidence," said Worlock, a Henderson State graduate and former Reddies sports information director. "In this case, it happened because the committee won't move teams off their seed line just to send them to a certain city."

Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, No. 1 seeds are 112-18 in second-round games, including 54-12 against No. 8 seeds -- with Wisconsin's 65-62 victory over Villanova on Saturday -- and 58-6 against No. 9 seeds.

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson pulled off one of those second-round upsets.

Anderson was Alabama-Birmingham's coach when the No. 9 Blazers beat No. 1 Kentucky 76-75 in Columbus, Ohio, in 2004.

So what will it take for Anderson's team to pull off another memorable upset?

"We've got to play outstanding basketball," Anderson said. "I draw back on those experiences I had at UAB.

"To me, it was not necessarily about seeds. It was just two teams playing each other, and we were the underdogs. I mean, no one gave us a chance. Just like now, no one's giving us a chance."

Anderson said the key was the confidence his UAB players had playing Kentucky.

"Those guys believed, and they came out and gave themselves a chance," Anderson said. "It was David versus Goliath. I'll never forget it. We thew a mighty big blow with a big rock.

"It's going to take one of those kinds of efforts. You've got to play almost perfect basketball."

Arkansas junior guard Jaylen Barford said he believes the Razorbacks have a good chance to upset North Carolina.

"I think we're a pretty good team, honestly," Barford said. "We can play with anybody in the country."

The Tar Heels said they won't be overconfident despite the success of No. 1 seeds in second-round games.

"We don't pay attention to those stats," junior guard Joel Berry said. "I guess those stats are for [the media], but we've just got to continue to play."

North Carolina senior center Kennedy Meeks said the Tar Heels respect the Razorbacks.

"Our main focus is not to worry about what seed we are, what seed they are, because they're a great team," Meeks said. "They're here for a reason. We can't overlook them at all."

Arkansas senior guard Dusty Hannahs said the Razorbacks don't feel inferior to North Carolina.

"We're both high-major programs," Hannahs said. "That's how I'm looking at it. We're in the same tournament. We've just got to bring our A-game."

Anderson, 128-73 in his sixth season at Arkansas, has the Razorbacks in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons. The Razorbacks didn't play in the NCAA Tournament from 2009-2014 during John Pelphrey's last three seasons as coach and Anderson's first three seasons.

Anderson, a Razorbacks assistant to Nolan Richardson for 17 seasons, took UAB and Missouri to a combined six NCAA Tournament appearances before returning to Arkansas.

Richardson's Razorbacks won the 1994 national championship and went to Final Fours in 1990 and 1994 among his 13 NCAA Tournament appearances.

Williams got to know Richardson and Anderson well when he played in Richardson's charity golf tournament several times.

"Michael coming back and replacing Nolan -- not replacing him -- but that's what everybody thought," Williams said. "There were a couple of coaches in the middle there, too, I think.

"But everybody thought Arkansas basketball is back, and that was a pretty big burden for him to start with. But he's a guy that just keeps plodding along, plodding along, plodding along."

Williams said he admires Anderson's steady approach to rebuilding Arkansas' program.

"He looks more like a sprinter, but I happen to think he's a marathon guy that has stuck to his philosophy, stuck to what he believes in," Williams said. "The way that he worked with Nolan when Nolan was the head coach. He's added his own personal traits to it, but I think he's comfortable coaching that way."

Watkins said the Razorbacks have confidence in Anderson to lead them to an upset over a No. 1 seed, just as he did at UAB.

"What he did is big because it means he obviously knows how to do it," Watkins said. "That's our leader.

"It's good having the guy steering the ship that's been there and done that before."

Sports on 03/19/2017

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