A star-studded crowd was treated to a blowout victory by Arkansas basketball inside Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.
Not only were former Razorbacks Stanley Umude, Justin Smith, Isaiah Joe and Jaylin Williams in attendance for the 84-65 win over Florida, but so was a surprise guest: Jessica Alba.
It’s unclear why the actress was in Fayetteville — something Walmart-related seems to be the most likely reason — but Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman used the occasion to further market his program, retweeting a Barstool Sports account giving him props for selling his program to anyone.
More importantly, Arkansas held serve on its home court, which remains vital to it staying firmly in the race for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The win moved it up to No. 19 in the NET rankings and the Razorbacks even picked up another Quadrant 1 win thanks to Texas A&M moving into the top 30.
Now with a 3-6 record in such games, Arkansas currently has two Q1 opportunities left on its schedule — road games at Alabama (Saturday) and Tennessee (Feb. 28) — before closing the season with a rematch against Kentucky in Fayetteville, which could become a Q1 opportunity if the Wildcats move up five spots from their No. 35 NET ranking.
Before this grueling final home stretch, though, Musselman must turn his team’s full attention toward Georgia basketball. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CT Tuesday and will be televised on SEC Network.
The Bulldogs are 16-11 (6-8 SEC), but just 1-8 on the road – including 1-6 against SEC teams. Their one road win came against Ole Miss, which is currently ranked No. 129 in the NET rankings. However, they have put together a handful of impressive performances against solid teams, including going 3-5 against top-50 NET teams.
“(Georgia) has done a great job,” Musselman said. “You look at total wins, they’ve won some big, big SEC games. I think (Georgia basketball coach Mike White) has done as good of a coaching job as anyone in the league, quite frankly.”
White took over the program this offseason after Tom Crean led the Bulldogs to a 6-26 (1-17 SEC) record last season. In his first year, he’s done a good job of making Georgia competitive again, but the Bulldogs are clearly not yet among the best teams in the league, as Saturday’s 49-point loss at Alabama showed.
Still, on paper, the Razorbacks are heavily favored in this matchup, especially on their homecourt in Bud Walton Arena. Multiple times this season, though, the Hogs have struggled in games directly before or after big matchups (more on this later). Arkansas must stay focused on the task at hand — it can’t afford another slip-up this late in the season.
What to Expect from Georgia
Terry Roberts, Georgia’s leading scorer, hasn’t started a game since he suffered a concussion against Auburn on Feb. 1. He missed two games before coming off the bench in the last three.
On the season, the 6-foot-3 senior averages 14.2 points, 4.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds, though he has dropped to 8.7 points, 3.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds – including shooting 1-of-8 from downtown – since returning from injury. One of Nick Smith Jr. or Ricky Council IV will be the most likely matchup for Roberts coming off the bench.
The Bulldogs’ second leading scorer is 6-foot-4 junior Kario Oquendo. The strong guard averages 12.6 points and 3.0 rebounds, though he’s been the definition of streaky. Oquendo has nearly the same number of games scoring fewer than 10 points (8 games) as he does scoring more than 15 points (9 games). He shoots only 28% from distance, but his strong frame could present problems in the paint if left unchecked. Council might be the best matchup for Oquendo to start the game.
The rest of the Bulldogs’ starting five consists of:
- Justin Hill: 6-foot-0 guard | 8.1 PPG, 3.0 APG, 2.7 RPG, 33% 3P
- Jusaun Holt: 6-foot-6 guard | 3.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG
- Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe: 6-foot-7 forward | 6.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 55% FG
- Braelen Bridges: 6-foot-10 forward | 8.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 59% FG
The inside presence of both Moncrieffe and Bridges could cause Musselman to revert back to starting both Makhel and Makhi Mitchell after starting Jordan Walsh in place of Makhel against Florida for the sake of matchups. KyeRon Lindsay – a 6-foot-7 forward who averages 5.2 rebounds, including 2.2 offensive rebounds – adds firepower to the Bulldogs’ side in the rebounding battle.
Jabri Abdur-Rahim is another big threat off the bench for Georgia. At 6-foot-7, he leads the 3-point attack for the Bulldogs. He shoots over 38% from long range on 4.0 attempts per game on the season – including 8 games with at least three 3-pointers made. Expect the length of Anthony Black or Jordan Walsh to disrupt this lethal sharp shooter.
What to Expect from Arkansas
The Hogs put together a much-needed 19-point victory over Florida last time out, though that game should be taken with a grain of salt. It was Florida’s first game without star big man Colin Castleton after he broke his hand. Still, Arkansas has lost a few games that it was supposed to win this season – including a recent home loss to Mississippi State – so dominating a team both on paper and on the court was a refreshing sight.
Jalen Graham in particular took full advantage of a great matchup against Florida’s backup big men. He tallied a career-high 26 points in a season-high 27 minutes while shooting an efficient 12 of 15 from the field and 2 of 3 from the free throw line.
There’s no denying how impressive this monster game was, but it’s worth remembering that Graham was essentially facing backup big men on both sides of the ball. His offensive prowess alone warrants significant playing time, but Hog fans should understand the strategy of leaning more into the defense and rebounding of both Mitchell twins against more talented SEC big men when Graham doesn’t get 20-plus minutes every night.
“Jalen Graham had great matchups tonight,” Musselman said postgame. “And he certainly capitalized big time from an offensive standpoint. I thought he did a really good job on the boards with 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.”
That being said, Graham could potentially have another big opportunity against the Bulldogs. Their top three forwards from a playing time standpoint have combined for a total of 0.9 blocks per game and they rank outside the top-100 in adjusted defensive efficiency. They’re also allowing SEC opponents to shoot nearly 59% from inside the 3-point line in away games. That bodes very well for Graham, who could take advantage of one-on-one matchups in the paint area again.
Makhi Mitchell also took advantage of a weaker interior opponent in Florida, recording a double-double for the first time since Dec. 6 against UNC Greensboro. Along with his 10 points and 10 rebounds, he contributed 2 blocks, 1 steal and 1 assist.
For the first time since December, Devo Davis failed to tally a single point, though he attempted only one shot all game. The absence of scoring was more than accounted for by the breakout performance of Graham, and Nick Smith Jr. also seemed to settle a bit further into his post-injury role.
The freshman guard looked more fluid and confident than he has since returning, though his 10 points came on only 33% shooting. Fortunately, he should have another prime opportunity to put up shots with a bit of a cushion against Georgia in case he has another inefficient outing. His defensive intensity and scoring arsenal open up a new dimension for this team on both sides of the ball, so his integration back into the rotation could be vital for a potential run in March.
Musselman noted that his team does not hold live scrimmages during the season, mainly in an attempt to keep their legs fresh for March, which makes it difficult for players like Smith to build up rhythm in anything other than a real-game setting. He got that with 32 minutes against the Gators.
“It’s hard for Nick to play 3-on-3 after practice and get rhythm,” Musselman said postgame. “Really happy he got the minutes that he got tonight. Happy how his teammates responded with him. He gives us a little bit of an edge. He’s competitive and verbal and I think that helps us tremendously.”
Perhaps forgotten amid the scoring outburst from Graham and improved play of Smith was yet another impressive all-around performance from Anthony Black. In 35 minutes, the star freshman tallied 14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals while shooting 50% from the field, 88% from the charity stripe and hitting his only 3-point attempt.
Ricky Council IV also had a bounce-back game with 15 points and 7 rebounds on an efficient 60% from the field. Black and Council need to continue providing a steadying presence for the Hogs down the stretch.
What to Watch in Arkansas vs Georgia
Arkansas has a handful of big wins on the season, including two neutral site wins at the Maui Invitational and a double-digit road win over Kentucky, but it also has its fair share of bad losses on the season.
Some of these losses – and even a few narrow victories – came on the heels of a big win or in the lead up to a potentially big matchup. This young Arkansas basketball team has had trouble finishing winnable games before and after notable matchups all season.
Upon returning from marquee matchups in the Maui Invitational, Arkansas found themselves losing by two to Troy (currently No. 137 in NET) with under seven minutes to play before ultimately winning. After scoring 99 points against San Jose State in the next game – and with a Power 5 matchup looming against Oklahoma – Arkansas struggled to take down UNC Greensboro at home, trailing by 12 in the first half and finally taking the lead with under five minutes to play.
When Alabama beat the Hogs on their homecourt, Arkansas had a chance to bounce back with a stretch of wins – including a rematch with Missouri looming – but they failed to defeat Vanderbilt on the road despite leading handedly in the first half. Most recently, the Hogs fell asleep on their homecourt against Mississippi State after dominating Kentucky by 15 points on the road in the previous game.
“I’ve always been under the belief that each game has its own identity,” Musselman said. “The ‘magic dust’ from (the win over Florida) is not going to be sprinkled into our bloodlines come Tuesday (against Georgia). Every game has its own flow.”
Nothing on paper suggests the Bulldogs should be able to pull off an upset over the Hogs in Fayetteville, but that doesn’t always matter in SEC games. Dangling dangerously close to the NCAA Tournament bubble, Arkansas simply cannot afford a home loss to the No. 131 team in the NET rankings — especially when the three games after that are on the road against No. 1 Alabama and No. 10 Tennessee, followed by a vengeance-minded Kentucky team coming to Fayetteville.
Game Prediction – Arkansas vs Georgia
Arkansas leads the all-time series with Georgia 25-16, including winning 5 of the last 6 matchups and 2 of 3 under Eric Musselman. It has also won five consecutive home games against the Bulldogs since 2013.
The Hogs will learn from their previous short-comings in potential trap games and come out ready to play against Georgia – especially with their NCAA Tournament hopes hanging in the balance. Smith will continue to play aggressively and find his rhythm on both sides of the ball, even if it’s not overly efficient yet.
The Razorbacks will put together another complete game on both sides of the ball, holding the Bulldogs under their average of 61.4 points per game against teams with top-15 defensive efficiency. Arkansas puts this game away relatively easily in their final game before the hardest three-game stretch of the season.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Georgia
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 21
Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 8 p.m. CT (SEC Network)
ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 93.7% chance of winning
Before the Arkansas vs Georgia matchup, get caught up on last Saturday’s SEC action…
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