By Kevin McPherson

LITTLE ROCK — You know how it goes: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Well, the Arkansas Razorbacks are hoping what happened in Des Moines (as in Iowa) travels with them next week to Las Vegas where the 8th-seeded Hoop Hogs will be making their third consecutive NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance.

Arkansas does not yet know which opponent it will face — 4-seed UConn or 5-seed St. Mary’s (those teams play on Sunday) — in the West Region semifinals (a.k.a Sweet 16) next week (Thursday, March 23), but after erasing a 12-point second-half deficit in a dramatic 72-71 win over defending national champion and No. 1-seed Kansas on Saturday the Hoop Hogs are on a heater rolling into Sin City.

In the spirit of Arkansas’ NCAAT journey moving on to the gambling mecca of the world — where numbers and high stakes decide fortune or shame — here’s a Vegas-themed accounting of what has helped define the Hoop Hogs’ 2-0 early run in the NCAAT …

Devo-ohhhh, Las Vegas (in my best Elvis-voiced Viva Las Vegas rendition)! Junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis was already a primetime postseason performer when looking back at his freshman and sophomore seasons during which he helped lead Arkansas to back-to-back NCAAT Elite Eights, but he’s pushed a larger pile of chips to the center of the table in the ’22-23 Dance by averaging 20.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.0 steals while shooting 55.2% from the field, including 37.5% from 3, and 85.7% from the free throw line in Arkansas’ wins over Kansas and 9-seed Illinois (73-63). Davis scored 21 of his game-high 25 points against the Jayhawks in the second half, which included a stretch when he had 14 of the Hogs’ 18 points. Davis moved into 9th place all-time at Arkansas in NCAAT scoring (129 points in 10 games).

Double-down. Arkansas has now beaten two No. 1 seeds in its own region spanning the past two NCAATs (Gonzaga in ’21-22 and Kansas in ’22-23), becoming only the fourth school in NCAAT history to accomplish the feat (Duke 1988-90, UCLA ’06-07, and Butler ’10-11).

Double-down 2.0. Arkansas defeated Kansas in the postseason in both football and basketball — the first two-game post-season sweep in two different sports in school history — and both outcomes went down to the wire. The Football Hogs won 55-53 in three overtimes in the Liberty Bowl on December 28, and the Hoop Hogs overcame a 12-point deficit in the second half to win by a point in the closing seconds, 72-71.

Long shots pay off bigger! Only once before had Arkansas knocked off a defending national champion in the NCAAT — it was U.S. Reed’s famous buzzer-beating half-court shot in the second round that lifted the Hogs to a 74-73 win over Louisville in ’80-81.

Long shots 2.0. The Jayhawks had TWO (2) dog shots drop into the basket, yet it wasn’t all bad for the Hogs. The first was a 40-foot three-point heave to beat the shot clock buzzer that lifted Kansas to an 18-11 lead in the first half. The second was meant to be an over-shot off the backboard and rim on a free throw attempt with 0:03 remaining and Arkansas ahead 72-70 for a chance at an offensive rebound and game-tying putback, but the Kansas FTA banked cleanly off the glass and through the rim for an unwanted conversion that relegated the Jayhawks to watching helplessly as the Hogs inbounded the ball and ran out the clock to preserve a one-point win.

Maybe poker’s just not your game, Ike. Sub in three-point shooting for poker and Hoop Hogs for Ike, and you get the point that bombing from distance does not favor the Hogs whereas consistent, determined downhill drives to the paint and rim do. Well, trailing 51-41 with 12:15 to play Arkansas had managed a pitifual 2-of-13 effort from 3 (15.4%). From that point on, the Hogs practically abandoned their three-point temptations, going 1-of-2 from distance the rest of the way while unleashing an all-out attack on the paint and rim that resulted in Arkansas outscoring Kansas 31-20.

Lifetime achievement awards. The Razorbacks notched their 50th NCAAT victory all-time with their win over the Jayhawks on Saturday. They also secured their 14th Sweet 16 appearance, and its only the second time in program history that Arkansas strung together three or more consecutive Sweet 16s (Naismith Hall of Fame coach Nolan Richardson had four consecutive Sweey 16s, 1993-96).

Free(bie) buffet for high-roller Fourth Council. Junior guard and All SEC performer Ricky Council IV was slumping in every way inaginable in Arkansas’ last four pre-NCAAT games, but he’s bounced back in a big way in the Dance, averaging 19.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.o block in wins over Illinois and Kansas. Most impressively, Council has made a combined 21-of-23 free throws (91.3%) as the catalyst for the Hogs’ collective 43-of-55 at the foul line (78.2%). That’s nearly 10 percentage-points better than Arkansas’ season free throw shotting efficiency entering the NCAAT (69.0%).

Sweet 16 in the desert, former Red Raiders need not pack their bags. Arkansas disposed of Texas Tech in the NCAAT Round of 32 two seasons ago — a Red Raiders squad featuring Terrence Shannon, Jr., and Kevn McCullar, Jr. — while advancing to the first of three Sweet 16s. Fast-forward two seasons later, and both Shannon (transfer to Illinois) and McCullar (transfer to Kansas) were once again foiled as Sweet 16 hopefuls by the Hogs.

You got a hand strong enough to beat three aces? Eric Musselman does. NCAAT wins over three of the top coaches / programs in the college game spanning the past three seasons — Chris Beard’s Texas Tech team in ’20-21, Mark Few’s Gonzaga crew in ’21-22, and Bill Self’s bunch in ’22-23.

Always bet on Black! It’s not roulette, it’s Arkansas freshman guard and All SEC performer Anthony Black who did not allow a nagging foot injury that had to be re-wrapped during the game keep him out. Black was noticeably limited and hampered by the injury, but he forged ahead and had 4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and only 1 turnover in 37 gutsy minutes.

Bad beat. Kansas was 26-0 this season when leading at halftime, but now the Jayhawks are 26-1 in such games. Kansas is now 47-1 in its NCAAT history when leading by 8 or more points at halftime.

The Cooler. Every casino has a guy who’s sent onto the floor and to the tables to sit next to a gambler on a heater with the sole purpose of cooling him off with a stifling vibe meant to reverse good luck to bad. Arkansas’ cooler in this NCAAT has been freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh, who’s relentless ball-hawking defense has allowed him to get deflections and steals, force turnovers, and wall off drives while frustrating the opposition in the process. His efforts battling on the offensive glass for putbacks or to keep possessions alive, plus his length and physicality aiding him around the basket for close-range shots has had the same effect. Walsh is averaging 8.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals in the Dance.