Arkansas vs Kansas: Chess Match Begins with This Decision

Jordan Walsh, Jalen Wilson, Arkansas basketball, Kansas basketball, Arkansas vs Kansas, NCAA Tournament
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Kansas Athletics

LIVE UPDATES – Arkansas vs Kansas

Pregame Tidbits

Arkansas is sticking with the same lineup it used against Illinois, keeping Kamani Johnson and Ricky Council IV in the starting lineup. That allows Jordan Walsh and Makhi Mitchell to come off the bench.

11:55, 1H – Kansas 13, Arkansas 6

It took more than 1.5 minutes for either team to score, with Ricky Council IV knocking down a jumper to start the scoring. However, Kansas scored the next nine points before the media timeout. Anthony Black limped off the floor for the timeout.

Arkansas has resorted to chunking up 3s and long jumpers. They finally get it inside and Black makes a layup, snapping an 11-0 run by the Jayhawks.

At the U12 media timeout, half of the Hogs’ shots have been from beyond the arc. They are 0 of 5 from deep, but 3 of 5 inside the arc. They’ve also turned it over four times.

HALF – Kansas 35, Arkansas 27

Arkansas looked like it might be building some momentum when Council knocked down a 3 to pull within four. It was playing great defense on the next possession and forced Yesufu into a super deep 3 at the shot clock buzzer, but he nailed it. That came with about nine minutes left until the half.

Several other things went against Arkansas when it was trying to get going. Davis dribbled the ball off his foot, leading to an easy layup on the other end. Jordan Walsh had a bucket, but grabbed the rim before it fell through and it was waved off for goal tending.

Dajuan Harris Jr. for Kansas had to limp off the court and go to the locker room with 3:07 left.

Ricky Council IV has a game-high 10 points for the Razorbacks. He appeared to get fouled on a 3 in the closing seconds, but nothing was called. Musselman wasn’t happy about it and continued yelling at the refs even after Makhi Mitchell blocked a shot at the halftime buzzer.

HALFTIME STATS – Arkansas vs Kansas

11:19, 2H – Kansas 51, Arkansas 45

The Razorbacks scored the first four points of the half to cut their deficit in half, but Kansas answered with a 7-0 run. Davis snapped it with a three-point play, but Kansas got back-to-back layups, prompting a rare Musselman timeout with 15:17 remaining.

That actually started a stretch of 10 straight points by Davis, who did a great job of getting downhill and attacking the basket. He also made a 3. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, Kansas was also scoring during that stretch.

They finally got a couple of stops and managed to cut the deficit to six, with a chance to get even closer when play resumed after the media timeout.

FINAL – Arkansas 72, Kansas 71

Arkansas used an 11-0 run to get right back in it, with Jordan Walsh hitting a 3 with 8:54 left to give Arkansas its first lead since it was 2-0. That prompted a Kansas timeout.

The Razorbacks actually had a chance to extend their lead, but Makhi Mitchell was whistled for a charge – his fourth foul – with 8:22 remaining. He picked up his fifth foul shortly after, fouling out with 7:16 left.

Kansas went back ahead on a 3-pointer by Harris and Arkansas managed to tie it a couple times, but couldn’t regain the lead until a Kamani Johnson put back with about 50 seconds left.

Jalen Wilson got to the free throw line and made both to tie it back up with 39 seconds left. Council got fouled on the other end with 23.7 seconds left and made 1 of 2, but got the offensive rebound and was fouled again going to the basket with 20.4 seconds left. This time, Council made both to make it a 3-point game.

Kansas called a timeout with 16.1 seconds left. Wilson was fouled on a drive with 8 seconds left. Walsh fouled out on the play and Pinion checked in. He made both and Council was promptly fouled with 7.1 seconds left. Council made both.

Black is called for a foul – his fourth – with 3 seconds left. Wilson made both free throws and Kansas couldn’t foul before time expired.

Davis fouled out with 1:56 remaining, finishing with 25 points and 8 rebounds in arguably the best performance of his Arkansas career.

FINAL STATS – Arkansas vs Kansas

Starting Lineups

Kansas BasketballArkansas Basketball
#3 – G Dajuan Harris Jr.#0 – G Anthony Black
#4 – G Gradey Dick#2 – G Davonte Davis
#15 – G Kevin McCullar Jr.#3 – G Nick Smith Jr.
#10 – F Jalen Wilson#1 – G Ricky Council IV
#24 – F KJ Adams Jr.#20 – F Kamani Johnson

Arkansas vs Kansas Preview

Despite trailing for just 84 seconds, fans were having flashbacks as Arkansas basketball saw another double-digit lead slip to just five points in the closing minutes Thursday afternoon. This time, though, it hung on to survive and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season.

Even with the late run by Illinois, the Razorbacks never completely lost their lead and eventually pushed it back to double digits for a 73-63 win over Illinois by playing elite defense and making free throws down the stretch.

“We all wanted to win,” Davonte Davis said afterward. “We wanted it really bad, and me and coach, the other guys that have been in this position before have been teaching and preaching, like this is going to feel good if we pull it off. I’m glad the guys that haven’t experienced it got this experience.”

While any tournament win warrants a bit of celebration, the young Hogs won’t have long to revel in their victory because it earned them a date with 1 seed Kansas in the second round. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. CT Saturday and will be televised on CBS.

Bill Self’s Jayhawks squad finished the regular season with a 27-7 record, including a 15-6 mark in the gauntlet that is the Big 12. They earned 17 Quadrant 1 wins on the season – by far the most in the country this season – and didn’t lose a single Quad 3 or 4 game.

They cruised to an easy victory in their first-round matchup with 16 seed Howard, winning 96-68 early on Thursday. In the last Arkansas vs Kansas matchup on national television, the Razorback football team beat the Jayhawks in an all-time, triple-overtime game in the Liberty Bowl. Now, the two basketball programs will meet with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.

What to Expect from Kansas

The reigning National Champions return seven players from last year, including five currently playing at least 12 minutes per game. Leading that group is 6-foot-8 junior Jalen Wilson. The versatile forward was one of five players recently named a first-team All-American by the AP.

He is averaging 20.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.0 steals while shooting 43% from the field, 34% from long range and 80% from the charity stripe. Against Howard, he went for 20 points and 7 rebounds.

It will be worth monitoring how Eric Musselman chooses to try to slow Kansas’ superstar. The Hogs’ ability to limit Gonzaga stars like Chet Holmgren played a big role the last time Arkansas knocked off a No. 1 seed in March Madness and almost certainly will be critical for the chances of  doing that again. 

Musselman may opt to put his best defender in Davonte Davis on Jalen Wilson despite a near four-inch height difference, or he may instead deploy the length of Jordan Walsh or Anthony Black on the Jayhawks’ leading scorer. Davis has guarded his fair share of taller offensive players this season – and has had success doing so – but Wilson’s size could certainly cause problems for the smaller guard.

If the Hogs are able to slow down Wilson, they’ll still have star freshman Gradey Dick to deal with. At 6-foot-8, the young guard averages 14.1 points and 4.9 rebounds to go along with 39.9% shooting from long range.

Dick put up a well-rounded stat line in the Round of 64 against Howard, tallying 19 points on 7 of 13 shooting – including 3 of 5 from deep – plus 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Typically, Musselman assigns Anthony Black to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter shooter because he utilizes his length well to contest shots on the perimeter. Most recently, Black played a big role in limiting Illinois’ Matthew Mayer (6-foot-8 guard) to 0 of 6 shooting in their first-round matchup.

Senior guard Dajuan Harris is another key piece returning from Kansas’ championship run. He leads the team in assists at 6.2 per game, plus contributes 8.7 points and 2.1 steals. He’ll likely draw Nick Smith Jr or Ricky Council IV as a defensive matchup.

Rounding out the top five scorers for the Jayhawks are two more lengthy, versatile players in Texas Tech grad transfer Kevin McCullar (6-foot-6 guard) and true sophomore KJ Adams (6-foot-7 forward). McCullar contributes 10.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, while Adams provides a vertical threat to the Jayhawks offense with his ability to play above the rim, shooting 63% from inside the 3-point line.

The other two returning players from last year’s team are:

  • Joseph Yesufu: 6-0 | Jr. | 12.8 MPG, 4.0 PPG, 1.2 RPG
  • Bobby Pettiford: 6-1 | Soph. | 12.1 MPG, 2.2 PPG, 1.4 APG

As a team, Kansas shot 52% from the field – including 41% from long range – in its first-round win over Howard. Wilson led the scoring charge with 20 points on 50% shooting, closely followed by Gradey Dick with 19 points of his own. All five starters – including Adams, Harris, and McCullar – scored in double figures despite only Harris eclipsing 33 minutes of action.

Another thing to keep an eye on Saturday is the status of Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, who missed the Big 12 Tournament and the first-round game against Howard because he was hospitalized and required a heart catheterization and two stints. Assistant coach Norm Roberts has filled in as the interim and said Thursday that he wasn’t sure if he’d be on the sideline Saturday or not.

“He’s doing good,” Roberts said. “It’s all day-to-day on how he feels. It’s the doctor’s decision. He’s been able to spend time with the guys and practice and that type stuff. So he’s doing good.”

What to Expect from Arkansas

The Razorbacks put together an impressive performance against Illinois in the first round despite struggling with consistency for the latter half of the season. Ricky Council IV led the way with his first double-double as a Razorback, tallying 18 points and 10 rebounds – including shooting 1 of 3 from long range.

Council had been on a relatively cold streak, averaging 9.8 points over his last four games and only 6.0 points in the SEC Tournament. His ability to bounce back in the scoring column was huge for Arkansas in holding off the Fighting Illini, and it would be even bigger in its next game against the Jayhawks.

Devo Davis sparked the team more than once with his stellar play and leadership on both ends of the court. He scored the first bucket of the game after the Hogs came out with notable jitters and continually made huge plays – including a couple of huge 3-pointers and a timely steal late in the game to turn an Illinois fast-break opportunity into a Ricky Council layup and halt the impending Illini run.

“He’s got great mental toughness,” Musselman said of his junior guard, “And I think he knows that I really believe in him and really trust in him, whether he’s on the ball, whether he’s off the ball. There is oftentimes where there is just a connection and a belief that he’s going to come up in big moments, and certainly tonight was another one that he was able to do that for us with his scoring. And let’s face it, his defense as well.”

The junior guard finished with 16 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 4 steals while shooting 7 of 14 from the floor, including 2 of 4 from long range. His continued production and calming presence – even with his tendency to occasionally make a bad decision with an overly difficult shot or errant pass – will continue to be of the utmost importance for the Razorbacks as they attempt to extend their tournament run.

“Devo is always ready for the moment,” teammate Anthony Black said. “There’s not a moment too big for him. He did that as a freshman. He made really big shots in the tournament. He’s always a good defender. It’s expected. We expect him to make plays like that, and today he rose to the occasion.”

Kamani Johnson – the only player other than Davis and Council with actual NCAA Tournament experience on the roster – got the starting nod against Illinois, though he played only 12 minutes. Despite the limited minutes, he still managed to secure more offensive rebounds by himself (4) than the entire Illinois team (3) throughout the course of the game.

Musselman noted that Johnson earned the start primarily due to his experience and toughness, and now that everyone has had a first taste of the NCAA Tournament, he’s not sure what the starting lineup will look like moving forward.

Anthony Black also quietly had a big stat line with 12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals and 1 block. It was his freshman counterpart in Nick Smith Jr that actually drew more attention – and not in a good way. On an inefficient 2-of-10 from the field, the future lottery pick finished with only 6 points and 1 steal to show for his 28 minutes of game time.

Smith is still relatively new to this lineup compared to his teammates who spent much of the season defining their roles on both sides of the ball. The freshman guard clearly adds a new dimension to the offense with his ability to score from all three levels, but at times it seems like he’s still trying to find the balance between being aggressive offensively and letting the game come to him naturally. It’s not that he’s trying to show off or accumulate stats so much as trying to find the right balance of aggression – and it never helps when the shots aren’t falling.

He’ll need to have a much better game against the top-seeded Jayhawks if Arkansas wants a chance at pulling off the upset. Kansas ranks No. 7 in adjusted defensive efficiency, a metric in which Arkansas ranks No. 13.

The Hogs are currently 1-4 when playing teams ranked in the top-10 in defensive efficiency – including losses to Alabama and Tennessee with Nick Smith Jr back in the lineup. Arkansas will need big scoring nights from multiple players, and it would help tremendously if Smith was amongst those players.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs Kansas

Under Eric Musselman, the Razorbacks have held their opponents to 68.1 points per game in NCAA Tournament games – including their 73-63 win over Illinois on Thursday. Entering the Big Dance, the Jayhawks averaged 75.5 points overall and 72.6 points against a difficult Big 12 schedule.

The Jayhawks rank No. 29 in adjusted offensive efficiency and hit 34.6% of their long-range attempts as a team. The Hogs held a relatively poor shooting Illinois squad to 39% from the field – including 27% from long range – but they’ve given up big scoring performances to above-average offensive teams such as Creighton, Alabama and Kentucky.

Simply put, Arkansas has to continue its tournament-level defense for the entire 40 minutes against the Jayhawks. Any mental lapses could allow Kansas to go on scoring runs that could quickly become insurmountable for this Razorback team that occasionally struggles to score.

However, the Razorbacks might have the personnel necessary to slow down this potent Kansas squad. The Jayhawks are bigger at every position than most teams they play, but not Arkansas. Between Black, Walsh, Council and even the lengthy wingspans of Smith and Davis, the Jayhawks’ size on the perimeter should not bother the Hogs like it does other opponents.

Walsh in particular showed off his defensive prowess against the Illini, defending both Coleman Hawkins and Matthew Mayer for portions of the game. Walsh scored only 6 points off the bench, but he also contributed 4 rebounds and 3 steals along with posting a team-high plus-22 in 27 minutes.

“He did everything,” Musselman said of Walsh postgame. “He got loose balls, he altered shots, he ran the floor hard both offensively and defensively, gave great support defense to his teammates. I thought he put great heat on the ball, great pressure on the ball. He rushed the quarterback… I thought he was phenomenal.”

Even the big men for Kansas – it started Adams (6-foot-7) and Wilson (6-foot-8) at the forward spots in its first-round matchup – don’t quite match up with the Mitchell twins, who stand closer to 6-foot-10. Their size has certainly deterred many opposing big men defensively throughout the season, even if their overall production has tailed off compared to their elite stretch through SEC play.

Makhi Mitchell in particular is averaging 12.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.3 steals while shooting 83% from the field over his last three games – all of which came in tournament scenarios. This comes after a brutal three-game stretch in which he averaged 1.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks to end the regular season. His presence in the paint will be vital in slowing down the athletic Kansas big men.

On the other side of the ball, Arkansas can’t afford to take its foot off the gas like it did against Illinois. Late in their first-round win, the Hogs went more than three minutes without scoring, largely due to abandoning their usual offense and playing stall-ball with nearly six minutes left on the clock. That allowed Illinois to go on a 7-0 run and cut the deficit from 12 points to just five with 2:30 remaining. A scoring drought like that paired with poor defense would undoubtedly spell doom for the Hogs against such a talented Jayhawks roster.

Game Prediction

Arkansas basketball is 5-8 all-time against Kansas, including winning the last matchup at the Maui Invitational in 2005 — a game in which current assistant coach Ronnie Brewer Jr led the Razorbacks with 23 points in the win. The last time these teams met in the NCAA Tournament was back in 1991, when the Hogs fell 93-81 in the Elite Eight.

Now, with arguably its most talented roster since the mid-90s, Arkansas will come out with a newfound determination against the Jayhawks with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. Devo Davis will again lead his team into battle with timely plays on both sides of the ball.

The combination of Smith, Black and Council will do enough offensively to keep the Hogs alive throughout the game, likely even leading at some point in the second half.

However, this young Arkansas team that has struggled to close out games all season will meet its match against an experienced, versatile and talented Kansas squad. The Hogs’ season ends with a valiant effort against the No. 1 seed in their region – a team that had a legitimate bid to be the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.

Kansas, 74-70

How to Watch Arkansas vs Kansas at NCAA Tournament

Date: Saturday, March 18

Location: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, IA

Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 4:15 p.m. CT (CBS)

ESPN BPI: Kansas has a 59.6% chance to win, favored by 2.6 points

Check out highlights from the last Arkansas vs Kansas matchup:


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