Arkansas looking for another sweet NCAA Tournament run after years in the wilderness

Scattered throughout Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Arkansas fans rose to their feet and shimmied their arms through their air, celebrating an 86-68 win over Colgate with a Hog Call, the iconic cheer that used to be a staple of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. 

“Woooooooooo, Pig! Sooie!”

“Woooooooooo, Pig! Sooie!”

“Woooooooooo, Pig! Sooie!”


In case, you forgot, that’s how it goes. Hey, a quarter-century is a long time. 

Arkansas, one of the nation’s dominant programs from the late 1970s through the mid-90s, is now just 40 minutes away from ending one of college basketball’s most confusing droughts. Now that the No. 3 seed Razorbacks have survived a bit of a first-round challenge from Colgate, they need to win just one more game to return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996.

“You know what, there was no celebrating in the locker room tonight,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “The other tournaments we’ve been able to advance in there’s a lot of celebration, even after Game 1. There was none when I walked in and asked if they were happy and alright. They said, ‘Coach, we were supposed to win.' We know this next game is going to be even more of a challenge."

The Razorbacks, to be sure, have the kind of team that can reach deeper in this tournament than the Sweet 16. A break here or there, and they could absolutely find themselves winning the South region and making a Final Four. 

But first things first, and for Arkansas, breaking this 25-year hex is a requirement for returning to national prominence. It might look good on paper for the Razorbacks against No. 6 seed Texas Tech on Sunday, but sometimes these historical hurdles can be trickier than they seem.

And there's no great explanation for why it happened. 

Though the acrimonious way Arkansas parted with Nolan Richardson during the 2001-02 season can be debated, nobody could have foreseen on the day he was fired that the program wouldn’t reach the Sweet 16 again by 2021. 

Under Eddie Sutton, Arkansas turned into one of the best programs in the country. Under Richardson, it became a durable power that reached the second week of the NCAA Tournament six times in a stretch of seven years with a national title and another runner-up finish. 

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