NCAA Tournament 2023: Previews of Texas/Penn State and Kansas/Arkansas

NCAA Tournament Round Two Games in Des Moines feature the defending champions and three other outstanding teams.

Kansas versus Arkansas – 4:15 pm – CBS

Kansas is playing without head coach Bill Self, but the top-seeded Jayhawks look like they deserve that top seed as they head into Saturday’s game with Arkansas. The defending national champions easily handled Howard (96-68) and their offensive precision will be a challenge to Arkansas.

The Razorbacks survived an ugly offensive performance to defeat Illinois 73-63. Neither team shot the ball well and the two teams recorded twice as many turnovers (28) as assists (14). It was a rugged defensive effort between two athletic and physical teams. Eric Musselman’s team forced 17 turnovers and produced 12 steals.

Kansas (28-7) looked dynamic on offense led by Jalen Wilson’s 20 points and freshman Gradey Dick’s 19-point, eleven rebound and five assist performance. The Jayhawks handed out 22 assists and made 50 percent of their shots.

Musselman loved his team’s defensive grit and praised freshman Jordan Walsh for his defensive activity.

“I thought he put great heat on the ball, great pressure on the ball,” said Musselman. “He rushed the quarterback. His plus/minus tonight was by far our highest while he was on the floor. He’s been a starter for most of the year. We brought him off the bench tonight.”

Look for Walsh to matchup with Kansas’ Gradey Dick on Saturday.

Arkansas (21-13) boasts of four double-digit scoring players and seven that average over 5.5 per game. Thursday’s win was something of a cleansing for the Razorbacks. UARK had lost four of its last five games. All of those losses were to NCAA Tournament teams.

Ricky Council IV and Nick Smith are the Razorbacks’ top two scorers. Council scored 18 points on Thursday, including making 11 of twelve free throw attempts.

Thursday’s victory was important for Kansas too. Since Bill Self’s hospitalization, the team had lost its only game without him on the bench. Norm Roberts has taken up the head coaching reins in his absence.

KU also has four double-digit scorers in Wilson, Dick, Kevin McCullar, and K.J. Adams. Statistically, these two teams look identical, except in one critical category, and it showed up Thursday. While Kansas was handing out those 22 assists, Arkansas dished out four. The Razorbacks’ season-long assist-turnover margin is one you’d expect from a poorer team and Kansas’ numbers are gaudy.

If Arkansas doesn’t take care of the ball, Kansas will win easily.

Texas vs Penn State

Game Time: 6:45 pm – CBS

Texas has already defeated both Arkansas (in an exhibition) and Kansas at last week’s Big Twelve Tournament. At 27-8 the Longhorns are a versatile team and put on a long-distance display Thursday making 13 triples on just 23 attempts.

Those were impressive numbers until Penn State stepped on the floor and won a game of H-O-R-S-E against Texas A&M. The Nittany Lions put the game away early with timely and back-breaking bombs of their own. Andrew Funk made eight of ten attempts (and scored 27 points) and PSU obliterated A&M 76 to 59. Micah Shrewsberry’s team is 23-13.

The Longhorns defeated Colgate 81-61 as Sir’Jabari Rice connected on seven of ten shots from long distance and finished with 23 points. Texas is led by interim head coach Rodney Terry who took over in mid-December. The Longhorns are 19-7 under Terry.

Marcus Carr leads Texas in scoring (15.9 ppg), assists (138), three-pointers (73) and minutes played (33.6 per game). He is the undisputed leader for this battle-tested team. Texas’ brutal schedule in and outside of the Big Twelve has them well prepared for a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Penn State’s Jalen Pickett is as unstoppable of a player as there is in this pod. Like Carr, he leads his team in scoring (17.9 ppg), rebounds (7.3), and assists (234). The second-team all-American was far too physical and commanding on Thursday. He scored 19 points, grabbed five boards, and handed out eight assists.

Texas is a more physical team than the Lions saw on Thursday, but slowing down a PSU team that made .385 of its long-distance attempts all season, will not be easy. This game will be won by the team that plays the better defense.

They can both fill it up.