Arkansas vs Florida: Injury Gods Finally Smite One of Hogs’ Foes Even Worse

Colin Castleton, Arkansas basketball, Florida basketball, Arkansas vs Florida
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Florida Athletics

LIVE UPDATES – Arkansas vs Florida

Pregame Tidbits

Eric Musselman has changed up his starting lineup, inserting both Jordan Walsh and Nick Smith Jr. They replace Makhel Mitchell and Ricky Council IV, respectively.

11:27, 1H – Florida 13, Arkansas 10

It was a pretty ugly start by both sides, with Florida missing its first five shots from the field. The Gators have made 4 of their last 6, though, and have led by as many as five. Six different players have scored for them.

Arkansas is 4 of 12 from the floor, with Jalen Graham accounting for two of those buckets, one of which was a tip-slam. He leads all players with 4 points. Something worth noting: Davonte Davis picked up his second foul at the 11:27 mark.

HALF – Arkansas 37, Florida 31

Arkansas went on a 11-0 run beginning at the 8:10 mark and regained the lead with 6:25 left in the half. It was the first time the Hogs led in more than eight minutes. The run finally ended when Florida was fouled on a 3-pointer and made 2 of 3 three throws. During that stretch, the Gators missed 10 straight shots.

Florida was extremely streaky in the first half. It start 0 of 6, then made 7 of 9, and then ended the half by making just 2 of 15, including 10 straight misses. To counteract that, the Gators stayed in the game at the free throw line, going 12 of 16 at the stripe.

Jalen Graham was sensational in the first half, scoring a game-high 14 points on 6 of 7 shooting. He even made a pair of free throws on his only trip to the line. Nick Smith Jr. looked a lot more comfortable in the first half than he did his first two games back and had 8 points, including a pair of three-point plays.

HALFTIME STATS – Arkansas vs Florida

11:32, 2H – Arkansas 59, Florida 38

Arkansas scored the first seven points of the second half and outscored Florida 11-2 before the first media timeout. The Hogs have also amped it up on defense, forcing three turnovers – including one shot clock violation.

Todd Golden called a timeout at the 14:10 mark with Arkansas on a 10-0 run and his team looking like it doesn’t want to be there. The timeout followed a dunk by Jalen Graham that gave him 18 points – which came after Florida missed a dunk on the other end.

Graham got another bucket thanks to a goal tend, giving him 20 points. That’s a career high.

FINAL – Arkansas 84, Florida 65

Arkansas led by as many as 25 with about nine minutes left and put it in cruise control the rest of the way.

Jalen Graham finished with a game-high 26 points on 12 of 15 shooting, but he was just one of five Razorbacks in double figures. Ricky Council IV (15), Anthony Black (14), Nick Smith Jr. (10) and Makhi Mitchell (10) also did it.

The walk-ons were able to check in for the final 45.9 seconds.

FINAL STATS – Arkansas vs Florida

Starting Lineups

#0 – G Myreon Jones#0 – G Anthony Black
#5 – G Will Richard#4 – G Davonte Davis
#11 – G Kyle Lofton#3 – G Nick Smith Jr.
#24 – G Riley Kugel#13 – G/F Jordan Walsh
#33 – C Jason Jitoboh#15 – F/C Makhi Mitchell

Arkansas vs Florida Preview

A road loss to Texas A&M on Wednesday night leaves Arkansas basketball in a curious situation. Not factoring in any potential success in the SEC Tournament, the Razorbacks essentially need to win all three of their remaining home games to secure at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament

That starts with a matchup against Florida on Saturday, which has a 1 p.m. CT tip and will be televised on ESPN2.

The Gators have been relatively average all season, failing to string together more than three wins in a row on their way to a 14-12 record, including 7-6 in conference play. However, all of their previous success goes out the window when they roll into Fayetteville this weekend without star big man, Colin Castleton.

Shortly after Florida beat Ole Miss on Wednesday night, it was announced that Castleton suffered a broken hand in the victory. This late in the season, and for a team fighting to just be on the NCAA Tournament bubble, it’s likely that the senior forward is done for the year.

The Razorbacks are no stranger to injury troubles, as they remain without breakout big man Trevon Brazile (torn ACL) and appear to be slowly integrating Nick Smith Jr. (knee) back into the fold – though he played only four total minutes against the Aggies, including zero in the second half.

When asked about the decision to sit his five-star freshman, Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman kept things short and vague, saying only, “We’re just trying to win a game and keep our season alive.”

With both teams hovering around the bubble – as well as fighting through injuries – this Arkansas vs Florida matchup could have huge implications for how the rest of the season plays out.

Arkansas will likely find themselves as a 10- or 11-seed if it is able to protect its homecourt and finish 3-2, depending on how other teams around them fair to end their seasons. It could still work its way up to a single-digit seed if it pulls off a major upset at either Tennessee or Alabama to go along with their home wins, though this would be no easy task.

Should the Razorbacks go under .500 down the homestretch, however, they might require a couple of wins in the SEC Tournament to ensure they hear their names called on Selection Sunday.

What to Expect from Florida

Honestly, I’m not sure anyone knows what to expect heading into the first Florida basketball game without Colin Castleton. Prior to exiting the game against Ole Miss early because of injury, the 6-foot-11 center was averaging 16.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game – including 24.8 points and 9.5 rebounds over his last four games. He was clearly their focal point on both sides of the ball, and the Gators have only one player standing 6-foot-8 or taller that has averaged more than 10 minutes per game this season.

Sophomore guard Will Richard will presumably be Florida’s leading scorer moving forward. The 6-foot-5 transfer had averaged 10.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 40% from downtown prior to Castleton’s exit, including 13 points to lift the short-handed Gators over Ole Miss. He will likely draw Devo Davis at some point in the game. If Davis can neutralize the only healthy Florida player currently averaging double figures, the game should never be in doubt.

Kyle Lofton and Riley Kugel will likely be the next biggest threats to score the ball. At 6-foot-3, Lofton has averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 assists this season. If Davis isn’t hounding Richard, he’ll likely be applying ball pressure to the Gators’ point guard. Otherwise, expect the length of Council to play a role in slowing down Lofton.

Kugel, on the other hand, is a legitimate threat from long range. He’s averaging 7.6 points on 35% shooting from distance. In recent games, Musselman has leaned on Black to bother shooters with his long wingspan. Don’t be surprised if he deploys a similar strategy here against Kugel.

Even with an apparent size advantage, the Hogs can’t afford to walk into this game expecting Florida to lay down and give up on its season. Even though the Hogs should have a major height advantage on paper, the Gators were attempting only 64.3% of their field goals from inside the 3-point arc with Castleton healthy – only the sixth-highest percentage of 2-point attempts in the SEC.

Florida will have other ways to score the ball and maintain a possibility of making the NCAA Tournament — they’ll just be fighting for their lives.

What to Expect from Arkansas

The Hogs put together a fantastic first 19:58 of basketball, leading Texas A&M by 12 points on the road and limiting the Aggies – known for their offensive rebounding prowess – to only two offensive boards in the first 20 minutes of action. However, with 1.4 seconds on the clock, Arkansas gave up an uncontested, buzzer-beating 3 that started a 17-4 run for the Aggies.

Arkansas still held its own for much of the second half, but went ice cold for nearly six minutes to end the game, scoring only 3 points in the final 5:54 — and those points came with just 12 seconds left.

Devo Davis got back on track with 14 points on 40% long-range shooting. Anthony Black had an impressive 8 assists to go along with 9 points. Arkansas tallied 17 assists on 22 made field goals and managed to get out-rebounded by only three. None of that mattered in the final six minutes of regulation, though.

If the Hogs can’t figure out how to close games, none of the positive things they do in the first 35 minutes will make much of a difference in a win-or-go-home tournament setting.

“Well, I don’t think we’re a three-point shooting team, and we went 1 of 10 from three in the second half,” Musselman said. “Paint points are what we live on. Free throws attempted are what we live on. So, that was an issue. Sharing the ball was not an issue. We had 17 assists to their nine. It’s frustrating. I thought we had a really good game plan. I thought we followed it perfectly in the first half. Game gets close and we’ve got to be able to counter when another team makes a run.”

In his second game back from injury, Smith logged only four first-half minutes before reclaiming his spot on the bench for the entirety of the second half. Musselman didn’t mention anything about his knee, but indicated that he just opted to go with a different lineup down the stretch.

It’s unfair to assume that Smith would’ve changed the entire outcome of this game, but it does make for an intriguing storyline to watch should Smith’s minutes continue to be limited for the rest of the regular season.

The Mitchell twins had another strong outing, playing a major part in slowing down Texas A&M’s ability to grab offensive rebounds. After giving up an absurd 24 offensive boards in the first matchup, Arkansas – led by the 13 combined rebounds from the Mitchells – held the Aggies to only 9 offensive boards this time around.

The next game against Florida could prove to be the biggest of the season for Makhel and Makhi considering the untimely loss of Colin Castleton. The 6-foot-11 big man was averaging 34 minutes over his last 14 games. In other words, the Gators haven’t put much weight on another center’s shoulders essentially all season long.

The Hogs can’t just assume that the Mitchell twins will dominate and relax elsewhere, but getting them involved on both sides of the ball will likely be a major point of emphasis in Musselman’s game plan.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs Florida

Arkansas knows all too well what it feels like to lose a star big man after losing 6-foot-10 sophomore Trevon Brazile to a season-ending ACL injury. When asked about the impact of Florida losing Castleton, Musselman showed no indication that the matchup just became more favorable.

“If you look at injuries, it allows opportunities for other guys to play,” Musselman siad. “Florida played a really good last 15 minutes of the game against Ole Miss. Todd Golden is a very good coach. They have a talented roster.

“Somebody else will get an opportunity, and their style of play…I thought they adjusted really well. They still have a big guy inside in No. 33 (Jason Jitoboh) — a big, strong player. They’ll have a little bit more probably perimeter players on Saturday.”

Prior to the injury to their star big man, Florida had maintained the same starting five over their last seven games, consisting of:

  • Kyle Lofton (6-foot-3 guard)
  • Myreon Jones (6-foot-3 guard)
  • Will Richard (6-foot-5 guard)
  • Riley Kugel (6-foot-5 guard)
  • Colin Castleton (6-foot-11 center)

The most logical options to replace Castleton in the lineup – at least, from the perspective of someone not on Florida’s coaching staff – would be 6-foot-8 forward Alex Fudge or 6-foot-11 Jason Jitoboh.

Fudge has started 11 games this year and averages 6.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in more than 20 minutes per game, though this would leave the Gators severely undersized – especially against a Razorback team that has grown accustomed to starting both Makhel and Makhi Mitchell, each standing at roughly 6-foot-10.

Jitoboh would be the best option to combat the size Arkansas presents on the interior, but the senior forward averages only 9.0 minutes and has just four career starts in four years at Florida. He did, however, log 17 minutes in Florida’s win over Ole Miss – most of which came after Castleton went down with injury. He tallied 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in the win.

Musselman hinted that the Gators would probably have a bit more perimeter players on Saturday, perhaps indicating he believes Fudge will get the majority of the minutes left available by Castleton.

Could we see Musselman revert back to Jordan Walsh as his starting four to combat this smaller Gator lineup? Or perhaps he could go even smaller with Smith in the starting lineup alongside Black, Davis and Council? Perhaps the most likely scenario would be for Musselman to simply roll with the usual starters and use the height mismatch to his advantage on the offensive end of the court.

While there are very few ways to positively spin Florida losing its best player, it does leave Arkansas somewhat blind to what its game plan will be moving forward. There’s little to no film of this Florida team without Castleton on the court. Musselman and his Hogs can’t afford to assume this game has been won before it begins. Their ability to control the paint and utilize their height should put this game out of reach, but Arkansas has lost more than one game this season it likely “should” have won.

Game Prediction – Arkansas vs Florida

Now reeling from a two-game losing streak, it might feel like the sky is falling for Arkansas basketball fans. Well, this team hasn’t been the title-contender it once hoped to be for a long time now, and the road loss to Texas A&M didn’t change much about where they sit in the NCAA Tournament projections.

Arkansas still has a lot to fight for, and facing a depleted Florida squad in Bud Walton Arena could be just the remedy it needs right now. The Hogs trail the all-time series against Florida 14-26, though they’re currently riding a two-game winning streak. They’re 2-1 overall under Musselman, including a win in their only home game back in February 2021.

The Hogs will dominate the paint against a presumably smaller frontcourt for the Gators, though it won’t come without a fight from Florida’s backup big men. Makhel and Makhi Mitchell will once again show off their importance to this team.

Nick Smith Jr will see more action on the court in what projects to be a much more manageable matchup than their previous loss to the Aggies, and he will contribute a bit more to the scoring column as he continues to get acclimated to playing in the SEC.

Arkansas will get back on track, halting their skid with a much-needed home victory over Florida.

Arkansas, 71-59

How to Watch Arkansas vs Florida

Date: Saturday, Feb. 18

Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 1 p.m. CT (ESPN2)

ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 77.8% chance to win


What should Arkansas basketball fans expect out of freshman phenom Nick Smith Jr now that he’s missed most of the season? Well, the expectations should be much different than how they looked before the year, writes our own Evin Demirel:


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