What’s faster, a Lion or a Razorback?
The basketball world will find out today when Loyola Marymount faces Arkansas in the opening round of the NCAA Midwest Regionals at Indianapolis.
The game will be telecast on Channel 2 and ESPN at 11:30 a.m.
Fans who like their basketball at fast forward are expected to enjoy this match-up. Loyola is averaging a collegiate-record 112.8 points, and Arkansas is averaging 99.8 over its last seven games--all of which it has won by at least 10 points.
Both teams press to force tempo and turnovers and try to outrun opponents.
If it becomes a road race, note that few teams in the last two seasons have outrun the Lions.
If anyone is capable, it might be the 24-6 Razorbacks, who appear to be deeper and quicker than Loyola.
It may also be a question of attrition. Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson consistently plays 10 men. Loyola Coach Paul Westhead has used an eight-man rotation much of the season but goes into the tournament without his best athlete, Enoch Simmons.
Simmons will watch the game with a cast on his left hand and several surgical pins in a broken knuckle, suffered in the Lions’ victory over Santa Clara in the West Coast Athletic Conference tournament. Simmons’ absence takes 18.7 points from the Lions’ attack and, more importantly, changes Westhead’s substitution patterns.
The spotlight has been on scoring stars Hank Gathers, Jeff Fryer and Bo Kimble for much of the season, but Simmons’ injury at the key position in Westhead’s system casts the playoff glare onto Tom Peabody, Terrell Lowery and, perhaps, Terry Mister.
Peabody, who started 20 games when Kimble was injured, will open in Simmons’ point guard spot and will also play other positions. Lowery, a talented freshman who sometimes has turnover tendencies, is the backup point guard and will have to handle Arkansas’ trapping pressure. And Mister, a sophomore who played capably early in the season but has played little since the start of conference play in early January, may be called on to spell Peabody and Lowery.
Westhead, however, says his 20-10 team is “more explosive” offensively than last year’s 28-4 squad that won a 119-115 NCAA opener against Wyoming, and he professes confidence in the altered lineup.
“We’ve inserted Tom Peabody into the point, and we’re revving up Terry Mister,” he said. “I’m very confident Tom can give us 20-plus minutes at the point guard position. He’s our utility player, so we won’t be using him exclusively at the point.”
Gathers said practices have gone well without Simmons: “We look very sharp with Tom Peabody. I like the way he pushes the ball. We don’t expect a lot of points from Tom, but he’ll get it into everyone’s hands, that’s for sure.”
He also has to keep it out of the quick hands of the Razorbacks. Several coaches compare Arkansas favorably to Oklahoma and Illinois, teams that have been ranked No. 1 at times this season.
Texas Coach Tom Penders, whose team was ripped by Arkansas, 100-76, in the Southwest Conference finals, said, “They have unbelievable ammo. They could go a long way in the tournament.”
Penders compared Arkansas guard Keith Wilson to the Sooners’ Mookie Blaylock, who bedeviled the Lions in December. The 6-2 Wilson is one steal away from tying pro star Alvin Robertson’s school season record of 92.
Tulsa Coach J. D. Barnett compared Arkansas to Illinois in athletic ability. “Arkansas may have the best athletes in the country, at least even with Illinois,” said Barnett, whose team played both.
The three-pointer may also be a decisive factor. Loyola leads the country in three-point shooting, averaging 9.3 per game. Arkansas doesn’t rely on the three-point shot but tries to take it away from opponents.
Texas, which shoots its three-pointers off the run, like Loyola, was held to eight attempts and made only one in the SWC championship. If the Razorbacks swarm Fryer and Kimble, the Lions may need outside shooting from Per Stumer, Peabody and Lowery to open things up.
Loyola likewise offers challenges for Arkansas. “We’ve never played a team we have to try to slow down,” said Richardson, who likes to call his approach run-and-execute as opposed to Westhead’s style--shoot first and ask questions later. Richardson also said the Razorbacks “have got to do something” about Loyola’s ability to get the ball down court and in the basket in four or five seconds.
Look for a match-up zone Richardson learned from Villanova’s Rollie Massimino. Richardson’s team plays it with more quickness and extends farther from the basket.
It may come down to which team can impose its style on the other, or pull off an offensive explosion. Call it the Westhead System vs. Hogball.
Gentlemen, start your engines.