OPINION Hog Calls

OPINION | NATE ALLEN: No offense, but defense is key to NCAA success

FAYETTEVILLE -- The great Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson Arkansas teams sported some great offensive players.

But their teams delving deepest into the NCAA Tournament most delivered defensively.

Defense trademarked Sutton's Final Four, Elite Eight and Sweet 16 teams.

Defense trademarked Richardson's "40 Minutes of Hell" Razorbacks with three Final Fours including a national championship and national runner-up, one Elite Eight and two Sweet Sixteens.

Ditto for Eric Musselman's Elite Eight Razorbacks in 2021 and 2022. Ditto for Musselman's Razorbacks opening the NCAA Tourney's West Regional defeating the University of Illinois 73-63 Friday afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa.

Asked TV postgame by the TBS sideline reporter what has sustained these offensively inconsistent Razorbacks, guard Devo Davis replied "Defense, defense, defense."

"That's our team," Davis said. "Just getting stops and getting on a run with our fast break game. I think we did that."

Devo should know. As the lone Razorback playing for all three Musselman NCAA Tournament teams, the 6-4 junior from Jacksonville again Friday played a major part.

"My hat's off to Arkansas," Illinois Coach Brad Underwood said. "I thought early their defense was the difference. We had a hard time getting into offense."

Davis made four steals and grabbed six rebounds. He also played key offense, too, scoring 16 points. On both ends he steadied a listing Arkansas ship as Illinois cut a 17-point deficit with 10:45 left to five.

"Man, Devo is March Madness!" Arkansas freshman guard Nick Smith said postgame. "He does a lot of stuff."

Smith, the pro experts predicted one-and-done NBA lottery pick, impressed Friday just like he impressed at the season's outset.

Impressed? Scoring a meager six points on 2 of 10 shots, zero rebounds and yanked during some second half crunch time?

And how could Smith impress early season idled by an injured knee?

That's the point. Friday's postgame locker room video showed Smith smiling like a guy who had scored 30 instead of six while candidly answering a reporter's question about his performance.

"I played terrible but we at the end of the day won the game," Smith said. "So I can't feel too messed up."

It reminded of the early season and later season reinjury induced absence amid social media conjecturing Smith's knee merely was a pretext saving himself for the draft.

Ears heard rumors but these eyes saw the Jacksonville native/North Little Rock High alum risk aggravating the injury so enthusiastically cheering on his teammates while street clothes clad.

He vowed to return and obviously did.

Smith missed 19 games but these 21-13 Hogs would not be dancing in Des Moines minus their second-leading scorer, 13.5 average overall/ 14.6 in the SEC.

He critiqued himself candidly but with confidence to resurge at 4:15 p.m today on CBS in Des Moines vs. West top seed Kansas.

"I wasn't making a lot of shots and gave up a few points," Smith said. "But I'll be able to fix that. I've got to be more prepared to play."