A three-game skid capped by an ugly home loss to Kentucky is not how Arkansas basketball would have liked to enter the postseason, but the silver lining of that brutal final stretch is that the Hogs appeared to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament according to the latest Sports Odds.
Now, after beating Auburn 76-73 in the first round of the SEC Tournament, the Hogs are more than guaranteed a spot. It was only the second time Arkansas and Auburn have faced each other in the SEC Tournament, with the first time coming in 2000 when Arkansas claimed their only SECT title.
This was the first time Arkansas started the below lineup. Kamani Johnson earned only his fourth start of the season.
|Auburn Basketball||Arkansas Basketball|
|#1 – G Wendell Green||#0 – G Anthony Black|
|#12 – G Zep Jasper||#3 – G Nick Smith Jr.|
|#22 – G Allen Flanigan||#4 – G Davonte Davis|
|#2 – F Jaylin Williams||#1 – G/F Ricky Council IV|
|#4 – F Johni Broome||#20 – F Kamani Johnson|
15:16 1H | Arkansas 10 – 5 Auburn
Four straight possessions to start the game ended in missed shots and turnovers before Auburn knocked down a pair of free throws and Nick Smith Jr opened scoring for the Hogs with a backdoor cut and layup.
Kamani Johnson picked up two fouls less than 3 minutes into the game. He was replaced by Makhi Mitchell who promptly drew a foul on a dunk attempt and knocked down both free throws.
The Arkansas guards – primarily Smith and Anthony Black – did a good job of cutting without the ball early, earning a few easy looks at the rim.
Wendell Green drew a foul on a 3-point attempt and knocked down all three free throws to make it 10-5, Arkansas.
07:22 1H | Arkansas 24 – 19 Auburn
Devo Davis and Wendell Green traded 3-pointers before Ricky Council IV got free for an explosive jam on the break. Green quickly answered with his second triple of the first half to make it 17-13, Arkansas
Makhi Mitchell responded well to coming off the bench early, tallying 6 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist in 7 minutes of action.
Jalen Graham committed a hard foul on West Memphis-native Chris Moore who seemed to hit his chin hard on the floor. He went back to the locker room immediately to deal with bleeding.
Graham then outran everyone on the court on an ensuing fast-break opportunity to earn an uncontested slam dunk.
Several sloppy possessions by both teams led to nearly two minutes of scoreless basketball before the under-8 media timeout.
03:43 1H | Arkansas 34 – 25 Auburn
Johni Broome started to make his presence felt in the paint, drawing two quick fouls on Makhi Mitchell with aggressive post moves. Broome went only 1-of-4 from the charity stripe on those possessions, though. He then picked up his second foul on the other end with just under 6 minutes to play in the half.
An putback-rebound from Black and nifty backdoor-cut leading to a slam from Council extended the Razorback lead to 10 before Dylan Cardwell quickly converted an And-1 opportunity on the other end.
Arkansas entered the bonus with 4:03 left to play in the half. Black earned back-to-back trips to the free throw line because of this, going 4-of-4 from the stripe in these possessions.
END 1H | Arkansas 37 – 33 Auburn
Jordan Walsh began to make his presence felt, earning a trip to the free throw line one possession prior to slamming down a monstrous put-back slam. Unfortunately, he seemed to injure his back on this play and immediately sought an Arkansas trainer on the bench.
KD Johnson then went on a 4-0 run of his own to cut the lead to 37-33, Arkansas.
Arkansas scored 34 of their 37 points from the paint or the free throw line. They did an excellent job of attacking the rim, both off the dribble and without the ball. They also shot 10-of-12 from the free throw line.
Kamani Johnson and Makhi Mitchell both finished the half with 2 fouls each, but they were the only Hogs in foul trouble. Johnson started the second half for the Hogs after playing less than 3 minutes in the first half.
Arkansas did not allow a single offensive rebound in the first half.
15:45 2H | Arkansas 48 – 39 Auburn
Arkansas came out of the halftime break similarly to how they started the game: on fire.
The Hogs went on a 11-2 run out of the break, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Nick Smith Jr, a pair of layups from Kamani Johnson, and an incredible sequence consisting of a Johnson block leading to a Black-to-Smith alley-oop slam.
A sloppy Razorback possession leading to an Auburn layup off of a turnover stifled the run before Black earned a trip to the free throw line.
11:50 2H | Arkansas 57 – 46 Auburn
Arkansas’ extended their lead to 15 points with high energy and effort plays. A near turnover lead to a floater from Smith, soon followed by an offensive rebound and putback for Black.
Auburn took advantage of a pair of Razorback turnovers to go on a rapid 6-0 run, leading to a rare timeout from Eric Musselman.
Sloppy play from both teams led to several fouls, free throw attempts, and turnovers leading up to the under-12 media timeout.
06:42 2H | Arkansas 66 – 60 Auburn
KD Johnson gave Auburn life with a big corner three, followed by Kamani Johnson drawing a foul on the other end. However, Johnson gave Auburn’s Jaylin Williams a slight shove on his way down after being fouled, sending Williams careening to the floor. Johnson was whistled for a technical foul – his 3rd personal foul – giving Auburn free throws and the ball.
KD Johnson hit both technical free throws and scored an acrobatic layup on the ensuing possession. Smith and Flanigan then traded corner 3-pointers before Anthony Black scored an acrobatic layup of his own in a wild flurry of offensive from both teams.
END 2H | Arkansas 76 – 73 Auburn
Allen Flanigan hit a massive, contested 3-pointer over Anthony Black to cut the Razorback lead back to five points. Both teams traded second-chance putback layups before Black was called for an offensive foul – his 3rd personal foul.
A pair of turnovers from Black and Walsh led to a 6-0 Auburn run. Makhi Mitchell took advantage of a smaller player in the post, though Jaylin Williams quickly answered with an inside shot of his own, leaving the Arkansas lead at 72-71 with roughly 1:00 to play.
Allen Flanigan finished a tough layup over Mitchell to give Auburn it’s first lead since 2-0 early in the game. Smith quickly answered with a midrange jumper to give Arkansas back their lead. Wendell Green then turned the ball over after driving the lane out of control.
Devo Davis recovered the loose ball and was immediately fouled. He went 2-for-2 to give Arkansas a 76-73 lead. Auburn took a timeout with 3.5 seconds to play.
Auburn’s last second 3-point attempt clanged off the front of the rim, giving Arkansas a three-point victory.
Full Game Box Score
NB: Makhi Mitchell had a significant bounce-back game, especially on the offensive end of the floor, after seeing his production plummet recently (more on that below)
The following is a preview of Auburn vs Arkansas written prior to tipoff.
Arkansas vs Auburn Game Preview
Even with a 19-12 overall record and 8-10 mark in SEC play, the Razorbacks entered the game sitting at No. 18 in the NET rankings. The loss to the Wildcats dropped them only three spots – a notable slide this late in the season, but certainly not one that should impact their tournament hopes. They are No. 19 on KenPom and firmly in the field of 68 as an 8 seed on BracketMatrix.
Before jumping into the big dance, though, Arkansas will have one more chance for final adjustments in the SEC Tournament. Winning or losing games in the conference tournament likely won’t change where it stands in the NCAA Tournament, barring a run to the championship game.
Regardless, Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman will likely treat his team’s upcoming game against Auburn as potentially the last game of the season in an attempt to prepare for the true win-or-go-home scenario looming about a week away.
The 10th-seeded Razorbacks and seventh-seeded Tigers will tip off at 6 p.m. CT Thursday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., and on the SEC Network. The winner will play 2 seed Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals at 6 p.m. CT Friday.
What to Expect from Auburn
Wendell Green is the heartbeat of the Auburn offense. Despite shooting a career-low 29.1% from beyond the arc, he’s still averaging 13.9 points and 4.2 assists this season, plus had a resounding four-point play by drawing a foul on Davonte Davis and knocking down a 3 in the first Arkansas vs Auburn matchup.
Arkansas basketball fans might remember Green from the infamous part he played in the iconic dunk by Davis that came just after the buzzer in last year’s win over No. 1 Auburn at Bud Walton Arena.
Eric Musselman knows that Green is one of many big threats for the Tigers. He noted that Green is one of five players Auburn has that can get hot and go for 20-plus points in any given game.
“Green has deep range,” Musselman said. “He likes to take big shots with the game on the line. He can dribble-drive as well. That’s what makes him a tough cover.”
Among the other offensive threats mentioned by Musselman was star big man Johni Broome. The 6-foot-10 transfer leads Auburn in scoring at 14.0 points per game to go along with 8.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. He was also one of eight players recently named to the All-SEC second team.
“Broome is an all-league type of player, in my opinion,” Musselman said. “He’s a hard cover… We need our front court to play better than they’ve played of late. How we defend Broome is still a work in progress.”
Musselman proceeded to call out each of his four bigs by name – Kamani Johnson, Makhel and Makhi Mitchell, and Jalen Graham – when talking about defending Broome.
Allen Flanigan – a 6-foot-6 senior and Arkansas native – is another member of the group of five Tigers Musselman highlighted as potential problems for the Hogs. He averages 9.9 points and 4.7 rebounds on 35% 3-point shooting this season, including 18 points and 8 rebounds off the bench against Arkansas earlier in the season. In five career games against the Hogs, Flanigan averages 10.6 points and 5.4 rebounds.
The other two players Musselman praised in his Auburn preview are Jaylin Williams (not that one) and K.D. Johnson. Williams is a 6-foot-8 senior shooting nearly 37% from long range to go along with 11.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Johnson averages only 8.5 points, but he’s more than capable of an offensive explosion.
What to Expect from Arkansas
Arkansas has been relatively inconsistent all season offensively, but it showed promising signs of life for a three-game stretch, averaging 88.0 points against Florida, Georgia, and Alabama just a few weeks ago before averaging just 68 in losses to Tennessee and Kentucky to end the season.
Surprisingly, the poor offensive streak had nothing to do with the Hogs’ long-range shooting. They shot a combined 15 of 44 (34%) in their final two games and 31 of 74 (42%) in their final four games. Instead, it was an inability to finish at the rim and from the free throw line – arguably the two easiest shots in basketball – that killed Arkansas offensively.
Against Tennessee and Kentucky, Arkansas combined to shoot 28 of 75 (37%) from inside the 3-point arc, including a miserable 6 of 29 (20.7%) on layups, and 35 of 56 (63%) from the charity stripe. Had they just shot above 50% on layups and 70% on free throws, the Razorbacks would have scored another 23 points over the two games. It’s hard to beat any team leaving that many points on the floor, much less two of the top teams in the SEC.
“You want guys to step up to the line and have great confidence,” Musselman said. “Because a lot of free throw shooting is confidence and blocking out anything other than you, the ball and the rim.”
Nick Smith Jr. was one of the few bright spots for Arkansas in its most recent loss to Kentucky. The freshman guard scored 25 points on 44% FG and 38% 3-point shooting. Smith wasn’t in the lineup the last time these teams met, and he’s been a difference maker for the Razorbacks’ offense at times over the last five games.
Anthony Black and Ricky Council IV both finished with solid stat lines against the Wildcats, but both were notably inefficient from the field. They combined to shoot 6 of 21 from the field, including 5 of 16 from inside the 3-point line.
Black tallied 14 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and 1 block with only 1 turnover – but he also went 7 of 12 from the free throw line. Council contributed 16 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist while missing both of his 3-point attempts in the loss.
These three guards absolutely have to play well for Arkansas to have any hope of advancing in either tournament in March. They don’t all have to have monster games at the same time, but if two of the three are inefficient – like they were against Kentucky – it could provide a death blow to the Razorbacks’ season.
Musselman noted that Council specifically has done a good job, for the most part, with adjusting throughout the season — first to the new level of competition after transferring in from Wichita State, and then to his new bench role after Smith was reinserted into the starting lineup.
“I think his adjustment has been phenomenal,” Musselman said of Council. “Obviously, third in the SEC in scoring and he basically doubled up his scoring and his assists totals from last year. You would say that he transferred up maybe a little bit. We’ve relied on him a lot… We need Ricky, now that we’re in postseason play, to have good games for us.”
Devo Davis’ season might look like an inconsistent roller coaster to the naked eye, but in reality, he’s continually done what the team needed to win. Without Smith in the lineup for the bulk of the regular season, Davis went on a nine-game stretch in which he averaged 16.4 points and he’s drastically improved his 3-point shooting – all while continually disrupting the opposing team’s best player defensively.
In the loss to Kentucky, Davis lost his cool for a split-second after a call he felt should’ve gone against Kentucky. A fist pump of frustration toward the ref – followed by continued arguing of the call – resulted in two technical fouls and an ejection.
His absence was certainly felt down the stretch as Arkansas struggled to string together consecutive stops in an attempt to claw out of its deficit. Staying on the court will be vital for Davis as the Hogs near the end of their season – both for his unique skillset and voice of leadership in tight games.
Watch for Davis to be matched up with Wendell Green on both sides of the ball in this matchup – both because of their on-court skillsets and for the potential friction that might occur between the two players after Davis’ famous dunk last season.
What to Watch in Arkansas vs Auburn
In one of the weirder games you’ll see across the country last time out, Arkansas was hit with three technical fouls – including a Devo Davis ejection – while Kentucky also amassed two technicals, a Flagrant 1 foul and had two players foul out.
Despite the Wildcats playing without either of their two best point guards, the Razorbacks were unable to slow down their wings in the 88-79 loss. Antonio Reeves – recently named SEC co-Sixth Man of the Year by the conference – had the best game of his collegiate career. The Illinois State transfer scored a career-high 37 points on 12 of 17 shooting.
Perhaps this was just a talented offensive player catching fire on one of the biggest stages of the season and the Hogs were simply the unfortunate victims — except this was the Razorbacks’ third straight game allowing its opponents to have a big scoring game.
After spending most of the season as a top-15 defensive team, the Razorbacks have taken major strides in the wrong direction in their last three games. Prior to their final three-game stretch, the Hogs were holding teams to 63.2 points over 10 previous games. They were 7-3 in that stretch.
Then, in their last three contests, they allowed an average of 83.0 points per game – including games of 88 and 86 points allowed. Granted, the final three teams on their schedule were arguably three of the best teams they’ll play all season, but the Hogs’ defense kept them alive in many close games against quality competition all season long up until then.
March is the worst time for a team to go cold offensively, but it’s even worse for this Arkansas team – which has struggled with offensive consistency all season – to lose its defensive identity. A big part of its defensive downfall has come in their inability to contain the dribble drive.
When the primary defender gets beat, it forces every other defender on the court to make a snap decision to either help or stick to their man while also communicating with the rest of their teammates – often leading to open looks due to miscommunication or poor decisions by help defenders.
The Mitchell twins have also seen a steep drop off in their rim protection after a promising stretch earlier in the season. Makhel, specifically, had a six-game stretch in the middle of SEC play in which he averaged 3.8 blocks. He’s averaged just 0.5 over his last six games.
On the offensive side of the ball, Arkansas had a stretch of games where it played through Makhi and Makhel Mitchell via dribble hand-offs, pick-and-rolls and even a few post up opportunities. Before the current skid, Makhi Mitchell averaged 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on 69% shooting in his previous 17 games and Makhi often scored the Razorbacks’ first basket, perhaps getting him comfortable and involved early in the game.
In his last three games, he’s averaging 1.3 points and 2.0 rebounds on an abysmal 17% shooting. This drop off is simply stunning. It’s not likely that the Mitchells will magically find their touch offensively again, though it’s certainly possible the rest of the Razorbacks could start looking for the big men again. Perhaps getting them re-established in the offense could provide the spark Arkansas needs offensively.
The defensive side of the ball is where the remaining games will be won or lost, though. The Hogs have some offensive firepower, but they can’t afford major defensive lapses like they’ve had in their last two games.
Which Arkansas basketball team shows up defensively will be a huge indicator of how this team finishes its overall frustrating season. If they bring great energy and effort and improve their point-of-attack containment, the Hogs could make noise for multiple games in both the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. If they continue their recent trend, though, they’re in serious jeopardy of closing out their season on a five-game losing streak.
Game Prediction – Arkansas vs Auburn
Arkansas is 3-1 in neutral site games this year, all of which came against high-level competition. It went 2-1 at the Maui Invitational before later defeating Oklahoma in Tulsa. Nick Smith Jr was part of only one of these games, scoring 21 points on 50% shooting against the Sooners.
Perhaps their early success in neutral atmospheres will bode well for the struggling Razorbacks as they take on Auburn in Nashville. They clearly need some sort of spark to get back on the right track on both ends of the court.
“We need the team to feel confident,” Musselman said. “We need the team to believe that we can win, and I think this team has that. I thought yesterday’s practice was good. I think they are looking forward to getting to Nashville and getting settled in and having an open shooting in the arena we’re going to play because (Wednesday) will be the only time… I’m hopeful and think this team is excited to go play.”
That’s why we believe Smith once again proves his ability on offense, while Council steps up in a big way to shoulder much of the scoring load, likely with double-digit free throw attempts for the fifth time in his last nine games. Arkansas as a team will show notable improvement from the charity stripe after a concerted effort from Musselman in practice this week.
Ironically, the Tigers also faced Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee in their final three games of the season – though they got a depleted Tennessee squad at home and had to face the Wildcats in Rupp Arena. Auburn went 1-2 in this brutal final stretch, though it went just 4-8 over their last 12 games.
Arkansas musters just enough defensively to slow down the Tigers in their first SEC tournament game, earning a third matchup against Texas A&M – the same team that knocked them out of the tournament last season.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Auburn at the SEC Tournament
Date: Thursday, March 9
Location: Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, Tenn.)
Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 6 p.m. CT (SEC Network)
ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 56% chance to win
Arkansas vs Auburn Game Notes
- This will be the 59th meeting between Arkansas and Auburn. All but one (a meeting in the 1967-68 season in Oklahoma City) have come since Arkansas joined the SEC. The Razorbacks own a 37-21 advantage in the series.
- This will be the second neutral site meeting between the schools. As mentioned, Auburn won the first-ever meeting 65-58 in Oklahoma City on 12/28/68. The other came on 3/12/00 when Arkansas defeated Auburn, 75-67, in Atlanta to win the SEC Tournament championship.
- Earlier this year, Auburn snapped a three-game Razorback win streak but Arkansas has still won 13 of the last 18.
Check out what Eric Musselman had to say about the upcoming Arkansas vs Auburn matchup at the 2023 SEC Tournament:
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