Mar 16, 2023 - Sports

Arkansas Razorbacks set sights on Fighting Illini

Nick Smith Jr. dribbles against the Texas A&M Aggies in the quarterfinals of the 2023 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on March 10. Photo: Carly Mackler/Getty Images

The Arkansas Razorbacks face Illinois in a first-round game of the NCAA men's basketball tournament today in Des Moines, Iowa.

  • We compared notes with our Axios colleagues for insight you won't get elsewhere.

Justin Kaufmann, co-author of Axios Chicago, writes: The Illini have some big wins this year, including against UCLA and Texas. Guard Terrence Shannon Jr. is the star since transferring from Texas Tech.

  • Yes, but: Shannon and the rest of the team are erratic. They played ugly during the Big Ten tournament and it's getting hard to watch postgame interviews with coach Brad Underwood, who uses the word "disappointing" way too much.

Our thought bubble: The Razorbacks had a great recruiting class, so fans’ expectations were high, but the team is inexperienced. Head coach Eric Musselman was challenged to put the puzzle together and get them working as a team.

  • On top of that, the squad has been plagued by injuries and inconsistencies in play.
  • It's time for Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black to step up and focus on this game as Razorbacks.

Threat level: Musselman is familiar with NCAA tournaments — this'll be his sixth straight year he's taken teams to March Madness.

The intrigue: The last time these two teams played was in 2004. The Illini won that game and are 5-0 lifetime against the Razorbacks. The teams have never met in the postseason.

Watch the game: Thursday at 3:30pm on TBS.

What's next: If Arkansas defeats Illinois, they'll face the winner of No. 1 seed Kansas and No. 16 seed Northern Kentucky on Saturday.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios NW Arkansas.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More NW Arkansas stories

No stories could be found

NW Arkansaspostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios NW Arkansas.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more