LIVE UPDATES – Arkansas vs Alabama
Eric Musselman has made a change to his starting lineup: leading scorer Ricky Council IV will come off the bench for the first time this season and Makhel Mitchell is making his first start. He has appeared in only 11 of the first 15 games and is averaging 6.9 minutes in those appearances. That includes just eight total minutes in SEC play.
11:27, 1H – Alabama 17, Arkansas 12
The game started with a bang, as Makhel Mitchell dunked over an Alabama player for a three-point play that gave Arkansas an early 5-3 lead. That was one of the only highlights of the first several minutes of the game, as it was a slugfest early.
Things started getting chippy less than six minutes into the game, as there was some pushing and shoving after a foul on Arkansas. There was a replay review and technicals were assessed to Jahvon Quinerly and Anthony Black.
Alabama has started to heat up offensively, making 4 of its last 5 shots to take a five-point lead.
HALF – Arkansas 33, Alabama 33
The foul fest continued the rest of the half, as the teams combined for 28 total fouls. Jahvon Quinerly, Charles Bediako and Noah Clowney have three apiece for Alabama, while Anthony Black, Jordan Walsh, Kamani Johnson, Makhel Mitchell, Jalen Graham and Makhi Mitchell have two apiece for Arkansas.
The Razorbacks managed to retake the lead with a 9-0 run and looked like they might take a lead into halftime, but Dom Welch managed to get a layup just before the buzzer.
Jalen Graham provided an offensive spark for Arkansas, leading the way with 8 points on 4 of 5 shooting. Mark Sears is the leading scorer for Alabama with 12.
FIRST HALF STATS – Arkansas vs Alabama
11:59, 2H – Alabama 55, Arkansas 48
Brandon Miller finally took a shot on Alabama’s first possession of the second half and followed his own miss with a put back for his first points of the game. The Crimson Tide actually scored the first five points of the half.
A rare 3-pointer by Davonte Davis – who came into the night shooting 17.9% from beyond the arc – pulled Arkansas within 2 at the 16:04 mark. The Razorbacks actually tied it up on a Council jumper, but the Tide responded with a 9-2 run. That matches their largest lead of the night.
The ticky-tack fouls have continued in the second half and Arkansas’ players – and Musselman – are starting to show signs of frustration.
FINAL – Alabama 84, Arkansas 69
Alabama eventually stretched its lead to 12 thanks to a 13-2 run, but the Razorbacks answered by going on a 13-3 run to make it a 2-point game. Jalen Graham was a major catalyst during the run. Bud Walton was going crazy, so Nate Oats called a timeout.
That proved to be the turning point of the game because Alabama came out of the timeout and hit three 3s in a span of 49 seconds to suck the air of the arena and essentially clinch the victory.
FINAL STATS – Arkansas vs Alabama
|#0 – G Jaden Bradley||#0 – G Anthony Black|
|#1 – G Mark Sears||#4 – G Davonte Davis|
|#15 – F Noah Clowney||#13 – G/F Jordan Walsh|
|#24 – F Brandon Miller||#15 – F/C Makhi Mitchell|
|#14 – C Charles Bediako||#22 – F/C Makhel Mitchell|
Arkansas vs Alabama Preview
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas basketball will have history on its side heading into Wednesday’s top-15 showdown with Alabama.
The No. 4 Crimson Tide will be trying to drop the No. 15 Razorbacks to a disappointing 1-3 in conference play when they visit Bud Walton Arena, but to do so, they must do something no other SEC team has accomplished.
Since joining the league more than three decades ago, Arkansas has hosted 11 ranked SEC foes as a ranked team itself and it has won every single one — the last eight of which have been at Bud Walton Arena.
“Our win against Auburn (last year), against Alabama (two years ago), against Missouri this year, I think anytime that somebody’s playing really good basketball and you get a win, there’s probably an extra excitement level for the fanbase when the opposition is ranked,” head coach Eric Musselman said.
Including non-conference games, the Razorbacks are 18-4 all-time in AP top-25 matchups in Fayetteville. This will be their first top-15 matchup at home since Scotty Thurman hit a game-winner to lift No. 9 Arkansas over No. 5 Kentucky on Super Bowl Sunday in January 1995.
Even if Arkansas doesn’t get a similar result Wednesday night, it might still be too early to hit the panic button because Musselman is no stranger to early-season adjustments after rocky starts to open conference play.
Just last year, the Razorbacks lost their first three SEC games before rattling off 14 wins in their next 15 games. The year before that, they started 2-4 before a 12-1 stretch. Both seasons ended with trips to the Elite Eight.
With one of the youngest teams Musselman has ever coached – along with injuries to two of his top players in Nick Smith Jr. (out indefinitely) and Trevon Brazile (out for the season) – it should come as no surprise that the Hogs are struggling out of the gate once again. Arkansas sits at 12-3 overall, but 1-2 in SEC play with losses in its only true road games (at LSU and Auburn) sandwiched around a home win over Missouri.
“First of all, just because it’s happened that way the last two years doesn’t mean that that’s going to happen this year,” Musselman said. “The biggest key is, are you still trying to improve your team? How do we keep getting better and tinkering?
“It was around this time last year when we put Trey Wade in the starting lineup. Not an easy decision, but we put Trey Wade in who we thought would give us some defense and toughness. We’re going to keep figuring it out as best we can.”
The four games Arkansas played in Europe over the summer were intended to help minimize these early-season struggles – and they did to an extent – but Arkansas isn’t the same team right now that it was back then, or even when the regular season started.
Injuries happen at every level of sports, but Musselman’s offense was originally built around Smith and Brazile. That doesn’t mean these injuries are insurmountable, but they essentially push Arkansas back to square one when it comes to figuring out the offensive game plan, team identity and individual identities without the pair of star players.
The Razorbacks have another chance to work on that at 6 p.m. CT Wednesday in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPN2.
What to Expect from Alabama
Alabama is one of the younger teams Arkansas has faced this year, with four true freshmen playing at least 16 minutes per game. This is a stark contrast to some of the more experienced mid-major teams Arkansas faced earlier in the season like Fordham and UNC Greensboro.
The Crimson Tide offense is heavily centered around one of those true freshmen – arguably the best in the country so far this season – Brandon Miller. The 6-foot-9 wing is an elite three-level scorer with the physical tools necessary to contribute defensively and on the glass. He’s currently averaging 19.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks while boasting impressive shooting splits of 44% from 3-point range and 83% from the free throw line.
Miller was the No. 9 prospect in the 2022 class, joining Razorback guard Nick Smith Jr. as the only top-10 recruits from that class to join the SEC. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see this freshman matchup this time around as Smith remains out indefinitely managing a knee injury, though perhaps the two will go head-to-head when these teams meet again in late February. Instead, the Hogs will likely deploy the defensive services of a different freshman in Jordan Walsh to slow down Miller.
Mark Sears, a 6-foot-1 junior, is second on the team in scoring at 14.7 points on 42% 3-point shooting, followed closely by Noah Clowney (6-foot-10 forward) and Jaden Bradley (6-foot-3 guard) – a pair of true freshmen averaging 9.6 and 8.9 points per game respectively. Bradley also leads the team in assists at 3.7 per game, but his production has seen a notable bump since he became a starter in mid-December due to an injury to Nimari Burnett. Since being named a starter six games ago, Bradley has averaged 9.8 points and 4.8 assists.
Senior Jahvon Quinerly has the most experience playing against the Hogs of any, having faced them three times during his time at Alabama. In those games, the 6-foot-1 guard averaged 8.7 points and 4.0 assists. Quinerly now comes off the bench for Alabama, providing an offensive spark with his 6.9 points per game on 33% long-range shooting.
As a team, Alabama rebounds the ball extremely well. It ranks No. 1 in the country with 46.1 per game. By comparison, Arkansas ranks No. 137 with 36.5 rebounds per game. However, since SEC play started, that script has flipped somewhat with the Hogs ranking No. 2 in the SEC with 40.3 RPG while Alabama has dropped to No. 4 in the conference with 37.0 RPG.
“I think we’re a really good rebounding team,” Musselman said. “Offensively, we’ve improved. We didn’t think we were offensive rebounding nearly enough until maybe the last couple of weeks, and I think we’ve increased the pressure that we put on the rim from an offensive rebounding standpoint.”
Kamani Johnson in particular has been a monster on the offensive glass, grabbing more offensive rebounds (24) than defensive rebounds (23) so far this season.
“It takes heart, it takes grit,” Johnson said of his offensive rebounding efforts. “You’ve got to want to do it for sure – not a lot of people want to do it. A lot of people focus on other parts of the game and I’ve always tended to watch the Kevin Garnetts and Dennis Rodmans growing up. I focused on the high-energy players.”
What to Expect from Arkansas
In their 72-59 road loss to Auburn on Saturday, the Razorbacks once again struggled to maintain any sort of offensive consistency against a zone defense. They shot 2 of 16 (12.5%) from long range as a team and failed to reach 60 points for the second time in three games.
“No one likes losing on this team,” Johnson said Monday afternoon. “Everybody’s in the gym working super hard to figure it out, every correction that’s being made. If anybody wasn’t bought in, I bet they’re bought in now.”
The Hogs’ lack of scoring could be partially attributed to the early foul trouble of lead guards Anthony Black and Davonte Davis. Both had two fouls before the half and the latter found himself in foul trouble within the first couple minutes of game time, causing the Hogs to run a unique lineup consisting of Ricky Council IV and Joseph Pinion in the backcourt.
“That’s a little bit unique for us,” Musselman said. “That lineup has never even really happened in practice … That’s going to affect your transition (scoring) because we have a third point guard that’s not playing right now. There’s not a lot of teams that have four point guards on a 13-man roster.”
The inexperience of this Razorback team has manifested itself in the worst way over their first two road games, but Black provided a bit of a spark for the Hogs in the second half against Auburn. He came out of the halftime break determined to attack the basket and create shot opportunities for himself inside Auburn’s zone defense.
He didn’t come off the floor in the second half and finished the game with 23 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and 1 block on 46% shooting despite coming up short in the comeback attempt.
“If (Black) wasn’t in foul trouble I guarantee you he would have played 40 minutes,” Musselman said. “He’s just played really good basketball. He’s in great shape and is able to do that. I thought he was phenomenal offensively, much like he was for us in Maui. Where we needed some points and he was extremely aggressive both in the half-court and in transition.”
After playing a big role in Arkansas’ 17-point come-from-behind victory over Missouri, Joseph Pinion saw 14 minutes of action against Auburn on the road. It’s understandable for a true freshman to struggle in a raucous road environment, but the Tigers didn’t even give Pinion a chance to hurt them with his long-range shooting. They clearly had a sense of his abilities after his 13-point outing against Missouri and made a point of not letting him get any good looks at the rim.
The freshman guard was held to just one rebound, one steal and one missed shot attempt. As the team’s best 3-point shooter this season (43%), it’s worth paying attention to Pinion’s role as Musselman works through his teams’ struggles both from a scheme and personnel standpoint.
Council was once again held in check on the road, scoring 14 points on 33% shooting from the field, including going 2 of 6 from 3-point range. He’s now averaging 13.5 points on 29% shooting in road games compared to 18.1 points on 54% shooting at home and 20.0 points on 46% shooting in neutral site games.
Jordan Walsh also struggled offensively in his 32 minutes against Auburn, though he did manage to turn in a well-rounded box score with a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with two assists and a block despite scoring only 6 points on 2 of 10 shooting.
His offensive production is vital for the Razorbacks, especially without Smith in the lineup. When Walsh scores at least 7 points, the Hogs are 6-1 this season – the lone loss coming against LSU when he went 6 of 14 (43%) from the field for 13 points while the rest of the team was a combined 18 of 51 (35%) for 44 points.
“The areas Jordan has been great at have been rebounding and defending,” Kamani Johnson said. “He’s coming along offensively. With Jordan, it’s a confidence thing and I think as long as he’s confident, he’s going to be a great player for us. Things still haven’t clicked all the way for him, but it will click all the way for him and I’m 1000% sure of that.”
What to Watch in Arkansas vs Alabama
Alabama ranks No. 9 in KenPom’s adjust defensive efficiency rating, making it the best defensive opponent Arkansas has faced this season, according to that metric — ahead of Auburn (No. 15) and San Diego St (No. 16). Arkansas ranks No. 7.
As a team, Alabama ranks 12th in the country in opponent field goal percentage (37.8%) and seventh in opponent 2-point percentage (42%). In conference play, the Tide rank No. 1 in the SEC in both of these defensive stats, holding SEC opponents to 33% from the field and 38% from inside the arc.
“I think, like with all of us, it’s personnel driven,” Musselman said. “Clowney is a phenomenal prospect who’s got a really bright future. Both centers block shots. Miller at the three spot has great size at 6-foot-9 and Bradley’s got really good size at the point guard spot.
“Add in the fact that they’re very well coached on both sides of the basketball, you have a really good team. You’ve got good personnel and you’re well coached, then you’re going to be pretty good on both sides of the ball.”
The Auburn Tigers – much like the LSU Tigers – deployed a 2-3 zone against the Razorbacks that highlighted their biggest weakness: 3-point shooting. Zone defenses are typically designed to keep opponents out of the paint and off of the offensive glass, in turn giving up better looks to perimeter shooters. Against LSU and Auburn, Arkansas was unable to provide any sort of outside threat, shooting a combined 6 of 41 (14.6%) from beyond the arc.
Joseph Pinion was able to spark the Razorbacks’ outside shooting against Missouri, though, when they tried a similar defensive scheme against Arkansas. It still shot only 6 of 21 (29%) from long range in that game, but the threat that they could hit some 3s along with their interior attack forced Missouri to adjust defensively and limited their ability to pack the paint, allowing Arkansas to get closer to the rim where they excel at making plays thanks to their length and athleticism.
If the outside shot still isn’t falling for the Hogs – 19.4% in three SEC games – they will have to find another way to attack the zone. Perhaps the most effective option would be to attack the inside of the zone rather than swinging the ball around the perimeter.
This is much easier said than done, but if Arkansas can attack the interior of the zone – either by driving to the paint or working the ball into the high post to playmakers like Black or Walsh – the Hogs could force their opponents away from zone defenses and get back to attacking like they’re accustomed to.
Arkansas will find slightly more success shooting the ball on its homecourt compared to below 15% long-range average on the road, but that doesn’t guarantee a good shooting night. Alabama’s defense will match Arkansas’ blow for blow in what will turn into a heavyweight defensive battle. Though the Tide are ranked higher in the polls and many metrics, the Hogs’ hometown crowd will give them a much-needed boost in this top-25 showdown.
As a team, Alabama averages the 18th-most turnovers in the country at 15.9 per game, including three games on the season with 20-plus turnovers. However, against SEC opponents, it has done a better job of taking care of the ball with only 11.0 turnovers per game, including 8.0 in its last two games.
It’s worth paying attention to if the Razorbacks can be disruptive on defense and cause Alabama to revert to its early-season struggles taking care of the ball. Whichever team is able to generate the most points off of turnovers will have a major advantage in a tight game.
Alabama’s offense, however, will show why it ranks 24 spots ahead of Arkansas in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating, as the Tide do just enough to earn yet another resume-building road win over a young and talented Razorback squad still struggling to find its identity as a unit.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Alabama
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 11
Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 6 p.m. CT (ESPN2)
ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 58.3% chance of winning, favored by 2.4 points
Watch Eric Musselman and Kamani Johnson preview the Arkansas vs Alabama matchup:
More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…