The University of Arkansas is not only happy to be back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, but a little ticked off as well.
That's because just a minute after it was announced that eighth-seeded Arkansas (22-9) and Patriot League Champ and ninth-seeded Bucknell (26-4) would play Friday in Dallas, CBS analyst Seth Davis announce the Bison would beat the Razorbacks.
That didn't set too well with the Arkansas players, who were looking on during a watch party in the locker room.
"I don ‘t have to say a word to my guys," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "They heard it loud and clear. That will just be a little extra thing that I am sure will get their attention. I don't think it mattered who we played, we knew we were going to have to play against a good basketball team."
Junior guard Ronnie Brewer, who claimed the SEC individual scoring title, was actually happy for the prediction from Davis.
"It gives you some extra motivation and is just going to make us work harder in practice and focus more on our opponent," Brewer said. "Our team is going to take that to heart and we weren't going to take them lightly anyway. This is a great opportunity for our team and I don't think we are going to let it slip through our hands."
Senior guard Jonathon Modica, who was in his last chance to make it to the tournament, just took Davis' comments in stride and says he wasn't the first to question these Razorbacks.
"He's a commentator and that's his job," Modica said. "Everybody has the right to voice their own opinion, say what they want to say and make their own predictions, but what it really comes down to is what this team wants. People been saying stuff about us the whole year. When we lost to Ole Miss, people said we were headed to the NIT. No, I don't think so."
Landing in Dallas and playing at American Airlines Center - where Arkansas beat Texas Tech earlier this season - was easily the best and closest site the Razorbacks and their fans could have hoped for out of the eight possible.
"I think our team, our fans, just everybody is real excited about not only being in the tournament, but going to Dallas," Heath said. "It is a great spot for us to be in. We have a lot of fans in the Dallas area, we have already played one game there."
Bucknell, who upset Kansas in last year's tournament before falling to Wisconsin, has all five starters back from that team, beat Syracuse early in the season, has won its last seven games and 17 of 18 since a 84-50 loss to Duke.
They are led by 6-3 Patriot League Player of the Year Charles Lee (12.9 points per game), 6-11 German-born center Chris McNaughton (12.9) and 6-2 sharpshooter Kevin Bettencourt (12.6), the school's all-time leading 3-point shooter.
"I do know that this year they have had an outstanding year," Heath said. "They have played some tough teams. They lost to Villanova, they lost to Duke, but they beat Syracuse and also beat St. Joe's and I know recently in that Bracket Buster they lost to Northern Iowa.
"Going 14-0 in their league play with a lot of veterans back from last year is very good," Heath added. "I know when you have an experienced team like that what kind of damage can do in the tournament."
Bucknell coach Pat Flannery said his team was flattered to get the highest seed ever for a Patriot League team.
"To be given a 9 seed, the highest ever for a team from the Patriot League, shows that our program earned the respect of the selection committee and college basketball followers across the country," Flannery said. "To be honest, we don't know a whole lot yet about Arkansas, other than that they played very good basketball down the stretch, but our staff is going to get to work very quickly and we'll be prepared and ready to play our best on Friday in Dallas."
A win on Friday would find Arkansas facing either No. 1 seed Memphis (30-3) or ORU (21-11) - coached by former Fayetteville resident Scott Sutton - in the second round on Sunday.
"We don't want to just be a happy team to get into the tournament," Heath said. "We want to get in there and win some games."
While some thought Arkansas could have been a seventh seed - and they may have been initially because the NCAA Selection commitee has the right to move a seed down for location purposes - it landed in the so-called dreaded eight spot which funnels into a second round matchup with a number one seed.
"The No. 8-9 seed is a dangerous spot," Heath said. "That is always a tough part of the bracket. In this field, everything is wide open. Nobody has really dominated our team. We have been in every game this year, even in Maui."
Heath, whose team is one of six SEC squads in the field, had a big old smile on his face while waiting for his team's name to be put up on the television screen.
"I felt like we had done enough to get in the tournament, but it is always good to see your name on the board and I didn't want to wait to the end of the TV program,`" Heath said. "It's been a building process and it was the next stage that we had to get to. That's an accomplishment. Our team fought and were tough down the stretch winning games, close games, That was huge for us. It showed a lot of resiliency on our part.
"I just think the hard work the guys put in after last season and in the pre-season this year - it pays off for them," Heath added. " If you work hard good things will happen for you."
It was the final chance to seniors Modica, Eric Ferguson and juco transfer Dontell Jefferson to make the NCAA Tournament and maybe for junior Ronnie Brewer, who might leave for the NBA after this season.
"I'm really happy for our seniors, especially Jonathan Modica and Eric Ferguson because they have been here since day one and went through the whole rebuilding process," Heath said. "They were the catalysts down the stretch in SEC Conference play...They really deserve it, I am happy for them and look for them to be the guys to continue to carry the torch for us as we go into NCAA Tournament play. "
Modica expressed pure joy at how his senior season is ending up.
"It feel great after all that hurt and paid I went through in three-and-a-half years," Modica said. "It finally has paid off. I've finally got a chance to experience what I came up here for. I am really relieved and now I am ready to go out there and prove to the world are a great basketball team."
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