OPINION | WALLY HALL: Hogs need to break out their track shoes

DES MOINES, Iowa -- This a friendly city. Cold with snow on the ground as far as the eye can see, but courteous.

People hold doors open and try to help with your briefcase as if this was the heartland of America.

Of the eight NCAA Tournament teams here, exactly half will get a couple of more days, and there is no doubt the Arkansas Razorbacks want to be one of those.

According to Davonte Davis and Anthony Black, the two who drew Wednesday's assignment of meeting the press, they know they have had ups and downs and have learned from them.

Today, they will be tested but in a different way.

Illinois is tall, very tall. It is as if head coach Brad Underwood has a height requirement.

The starting line-up goes 6-10, 6-9, 6-9, 6-7 and 6-6. Heck, the sports information guy, Kent Brown, is about 6-8.

Of course, the Hogs aren't exactly short, and if the Mitchell twins start, the Fighting Illini's total advantage would be 6 inches.

When it came time for Eric Musselman to address the press, he said Illinois is tall and athletic. He had to say that second part because he doesn't want to say anything to motivate who is standing between him and a shot at No. 1 Kansas which faces Howard in its opener.

In his fourth season at Arkansas, everyone knows Musselman has an eye for detail and had started breaking down Illinois last Saturday.

He even factored in that Champaign, Ill., is an hour closer to Wells Fargo Arena than Fayetteville, and the Illini might have a better turnout of fans, but he said he seriously hopes not.

After listening to the news conferences, the guess here is that Illinois is going to try and slow the ball down, control the tempo and make it a half-court game, which is anything but the Razorbacks' strength.

Musselman mentioned that the Illini use more of the shot clock than his team.

Illinois shoots a lot of threes -- probably more than the Illini should since they only make 31% -- but that also opens up the middle and lets his bigs go to work.

A huge factor in this game could be the referees. If they let them play, Arkansas wins. If they are inconsistent or call a bunch of ticky-tack fouls, it will favor Illinois.

Underwood openly admitted that his team is not used to seeing teams as "extremely athletic as Arkansas."

He compared them to the Texas Longhorns, who are a No. 2 seed playing here and who they beat in overtime 85-78 on Dec. 6. On Nov. 18, the Illini beat UCLA 79-70 and the Bruins are also a No. 2 seed.

Arkansas lost an exhibition game to Texas in October, 90-60, but Chris Beard was still its head coach, and the Razorbacks had 23 turnovers that the Longhorns converted into 26 points.

Illinois had turnover problems earlier in the season but seem to have made some good adjustments and cut down on them, although as Underwood said, it has not seen quickness like Arkansas.

Calling the Illini big and slow might be a bit of exaggeration. To go along with their average of 6 blocks per game, they average 6.8 steals. The Razorbacks average 5.2 blocks and 8.3 steals.

Obviously, the Razorbacks can't allow the Illini to control the tempo. Arkansas has to make it a track meet, and at the same time the Hogs need to take high percentage shots and not have scoring droughts.

In seven games this season, the Hogs have lost a lead by going five or more minutes without a field goal.

To finish things off tonight, the No. 7-seeded Texas A&M Aggies are here, too, facing Penn State in the final game of the night. The Aggies finished second in the SEC ahead of Tennessee and Kentucky. The Vols are a No. 4 and Kentucky a No. 6 seed.

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