Forty minutes from the Final Four.
A place Baylor hasn’t been since 1950, when it was an eight-team NCAA Tournament.
Forty minutes to the Final Four.
A place Arkansas hasn’t been since 1995.
Close to midnight in the South Region on Monday night, one gets to return.
One ponders what might have been.
Both Baylor’s Scott Drew and Arkansas’ Eric Musselman are sons of coaches. There is more pressure on Drew, who resurrected the scandal-scarred program when he took the job no one else seemed to want in 2003.
Drew has gotten to the Elite Eight twice, in 2010 and 2012, and could not get over the hump. He lost to No. 1 Duke in 2010 and No. 1 Kentucky in 2012.
This is his chance to get that monkey off his back. His chance to prove he can win The Big One. This is only Musselman’s second season in Fayetteville.
The No. 3 seed Hogs won the 1994 national championship over Duke and lost to UCLA the following year. Those Nolan Richardson Arkansas teams were known for their 40 Minutes of Hell.
Which will define what both teams confront inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night.
There are two ways to look at Baylor surviving and advancing against Villanova and Arkansas surviving and advancing against Cinderella Oral Roberts:
Both appeared vulnerable.
Both found ways to win.
The top-seeded Bears needed a second-half comeback to overcome Villanova, which finished with 16 turnovers, almost double its average.
“They really got into our guards and prevented us from initiating offense,” Nova coach Jay Wright said. “They just contested every pass, every cut. It actually took us out of running offense, and we had to try to just kind of drive the ball and try to get some post-ups, but we didn’t do a good job of that.”
It was also an adjustment Drew and the prolific Bears made on the offensive end when they began attacking the rim after an uncharacteristic 2-for-12 first half from downtown Waco; they lead the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage (40.8).
“They played really four guards in the second half, which opened up the floor a little bit more,” Wright said. “When they had the two bigs in, there wasn’t as much space, but going to four guards and then creating that space, it did allow them to get to the rim, I thought. And we didn’t do as good a job in the second half, obviously, of containing them. But partly, it was because they had us spread out with four guards.”
The Razorbacks have been forced to be Comeback Kids all season, and certainly in this tournament, but a slow start against Baylor’s top-five scoring offense could spell doom.
“We have got to take great care of the basketball against Baylor,” Musselman said. “They’re very physical defensively. They reach, swipe at the basketball, and you’re going to have to be strong with the ball and make secure decision-making when you play.”
Appearing on Sunday morning on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” Musselman reiterated: “We can’t have any catastrophic turnovers, which means live-ball turnovers, because the live-ball turnovers get them out in transition and easy baskets.
“And so, I thought Villanova — for the most part — did a great job of controlling pace and not turning the ball over until that last eight-minute stretch. And once the turnovers started happening, the tide turned very, very quickly in Baylor’s favor.”
The Razorbacks, ranked 11th in scoring (81.7 ppg), will try to push the pace, but beware: The Bears (83 ppg) are ranked sixth.
Jared Butler (16.9 ppg), MaCio Teague (16) and Davion Mitchell (14.2) give Drew a formidable backcourt, although Butler has cooled off shooting 3s (21.2 percent) over the last five games.
Musselman can call on any one of four thoroughbreds to do damage — Moses Moody (17.1 ppg), inside presence Justin Smith (13.9 ppg), Jalen Tate and Davonte Davis, who hit the game-winning shot against Oral Roberts. Moody and Tate are 6-foot-6 guards.
An old Southwest Conference rivalry renewed.
Forty Minutes of Hell on Monday night.
Forty Minutes of Heaven for only one.