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2016 NCAA Tournament Round 1: Arkansas-Little Rock Preview, Odds, How to Watch

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Purdue opens the 2016 NCAA Tournament with the champions of the Sun Belt.

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Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

We have waited months for this. That is the problem with the NCAA Tournament in all its glory. You can wait for it for an entire season only to have it cruelly end in the span of a few hours. That's what the 2012 baseball season felt like for Purdue. The Boilers were excellent for four months, better than any team in previous history. Then, in 24 hours, they were done with consecutive losses in tight ballgames.

That's how this weekend feels. There has been great anticipation for this tournament even before the season began. In fact, for most Purdue fans, the expectation got much higher because the football team was so bad. As excited as we are, it could all be over by 6:30 on Thursday. Even then, by Saturday evening the Boilers will have either reached their preseason expectation (at least the Sweet 16) or their season will be over.

Let us hope this team really is peaking at the right time. There is no shame in a four point loss to Michigan State on a neutral floor in a game that was down to the final seconds, but we're going to have to beat the Spartans (or at least someone who beat them) to finally reach a Final Four. Purdue is just going to have to be better, starting on Thursday against Arkansas-Little Rock

Opponent

Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans

Location:

Little Rock, AR

Date:

3/17/2016

Venue:

Pepsi Center, Denver, CO (18,007)

TV:

TBS

Radio Stream:

TuneIn

Satellite Radio:

SIRI 136, XM

Odds:

Purdue by 8

Tickets:

As low as $289 on Stubhub

Tipoff:

4:30pm

KenPom Ranking:

47 of 351

RPI:

42

Blog Representation:

Michaelspappy's Little Rock Basketball Blog

2015-16 Record:

27-4, 17-3 Sun Belt

All-time series

Purdue leads 1-0

Last Purdue win:

102-88 at Purdue on 11/20/1987

Last UALR Win:

None

2014-15 Record:

13-18, 8-12 Sun Belt

Last NCAA appearance:

2011 (5 appearances, reached Second round in 1986)

Coach:

Chris Beard (29-4 in 1st Year at UALR)

Purdue met Arkansas-Little Rock only once, and it was arguably the best team in Purdue history. The two played to open the 1987-88 season in Mackey Arena during the preseason NIT and the Boilers won 102-88. The Boilers were ranked No. 2 at the time, but lost their next game four days later to... Iowa State.

Obviously we can't take a lot from that game when none of the players on either side were even born yet, but it is an odd coincidence that Purdue can play Iowa State right after Little Rock against 29 years later.

This season saw a huge turnaround under first year coach Chris Beard. Little Rock might have been an at large team had they lost the Sun Belt Tournament (and if the committee obviously did not hate mid-majors while getting blown by the likes of Syracuse). They were a damned impressive 29-4. That was good enough to get them into the top 50 of both the RPI and KenPom. They had some impressive wins at San Diego State (only top 50 win, should have been in the tourney) and at Tulsa (a tournament team). Their one non-conference loss was by 12 at Texas Tech (also a tournament team).

Against the Sun Belt they were dominant. It is asking a lot for any team to go undefeated in its conference. Losses at Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe were not bad as they won both of those games at home. They also beat ULM by 20 for their conference title. They did close the season with an odd 69-63 loss at Appalachian State that served as one of the final career games for the long lost Jacob Lawson. Appy State was just 9-22 and didn't even qualify for the Sun Belt Tournament, while Lawson had 9 points, 3 rebounds, and an assists in the defeat.

For the most part this has been a team that has gotten it done all season long. KenPom ranks them 35th nationally in adjusted defense, and they are one of the slowest teams in the country at 345th in adjusted tempo. Purdue is practically an old school Loyola Marymount team at 208th in tempo by comparison.

The Trojans have just two players averaging in double figures. 6'1" senior guard Josh Hagins averages 12.8 points and 4.7 assists per game and has been a solid contributor for four years. He also shoots almost 38% from three and hits at 84% from the line. 5'11" guard Marcus Johnson Jr. is a transfer from Hill College in his first Division I year and he averages 12.7 points per game while shooting an impressive 46.1% from long range. Purdue offers more size in the backcourt, but the Trojans get more production.

The frontcourt is led by 6'11" Serbian Lis Soshi, who averages 6.8 points and a team high 5.8 rebounds. Mareik Isom, a 6'9" junior form Texas, can play inside and out. He averages 6.2 points and shoots 42.3% from three. On paper this is a team that looks like it is going to settle in the halfcourt and try to grind it out against Purdue, which plays right into our hands. A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas should dominate Soshi, but I am concerned with Caleb Swanigan following around Isom.

Rogers Woods and Jalen Jackson round out their scoring at 9.8 and 8.9 ppg, respectively. Both can shoot the three as well. This is also a team that loves to force turnovers. They get 7 steals per game, but only three blocked shots.

Little Rock is a very good team. You don't get to 29-4 and in the discussion for an at large from the Sun Belt without being very good. That said, this is a game Purdue should win. The Boilers are playing their best basketball right now. The last six games have been very impressive with the only loss coming by 4 points in the final seconds to a team that many think can win the national title. We have also been waiting for this day for months. Becoming the victim of a 12/5 upset, even to a solid team like Little rock, would be incredibly disappointing bordering on disastrous.

Unfortunately, we have seen it before. Little Rock forces turnovers and Purdue's ball security has been shaky at times. They can hit threes (39% as a team) and Purdue's perimeter defense is not the best. We're playing at altitude with lumbering centers that sometimes struggle to get up and down the floor at lower elevations. Also, we're Purdue and it is March. That phrase alone, given our tragic history in the tournament, is enough to give me pause.