Arkansas vs Missouri: Hogs Have Gone Where No Eric Musselman Team Has Gone Before

Eric Musselman, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs Missouri
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

LIVE UPDATES – Arkansas vs Missouri

Pregame Tidbits

For the third straight game, Arkansas has shuffled its starting lineup. Eric Musselman has moved Makhel Mitchell back to the bench, but is still going with somewhat of a big lineup by starting Kamani Johnson in his place. It is his second start of the season.

11:58, 1H – Arkansas 12, Missouri 5

The Razorbacks are playing smothering defense early on. They kept Missouri – which came in with a top-10 offense in multiple metrics – from scoring the first five minutes. Kobe Brown finally scored to get the Tigers on the board and then Mohamed Diarra – who was just 0 of 2 on the season – knocked down a 3.

Meanwhile, Council and Walsh have each made a 3 for the Razorbacks. However, Walsh immediately picked up his second foul on the next defensive possession.

HALF – Arkansas 35, Missouri 34

The Razorbacks have made things ugly, which works in their favor. Both teams were in the double bonus with about 5 minutes left, as there were 25 combined fouls.

Freshman Darrian Ford actually played some meaningful minutes and chipped in 4 points. Davonte Davis actually knocked down a couple of 3s and has a team-high 10 points. The second of those came in the closing seconds and put Arkansas up at the break.

Missouri has gotten some unlikely 3s by Aidan Shaw (2 of 2) and Mohamed Diarra (1 of 1), who came into the game 2 of 10 and 0 of 2 this season, respectively. The second of Shaw’s 3s actually gave the Tigers their first lead of the night. It was the first of 12 first-half lead changes.

Turnovers were a major issue for the Razorbacks. They had 14 that led to 18 points for Missouri.

HALFTIME STATS – Arkansas vs Missouri

12:21, 2H – Arkansas 49, Missouri 47

Missouri opened the half on a quick 9-2 run and Musselman calls a rare timeout at the 16:38 mark. It comes after a careless pass that led to yet another turnover and easy dunk for the Tigers.

That seemed to settle Arkansas down some, as it managed to cut that deficit to a single possession a few times – including getting as close as 1 – before finally tying it up on a Council dunk. A few possessions later, Black threw down a powerful fast break dunk, leading to a timeout by the Tigers. Walsh also had a dunk in the middle of that, giving Arkansas three straight.

FINAL – Missouri 79, Arkansas 76

A phenomenal sequence by Walsh – a 3-pointer, poking the ball away for a turnover, then a dribble drive for a bucket – pushed the Razorbacks’ lead to 10. However, he immediately fouled out on the next defensive possession.

The Tigers responded with a 10-0 run to tie it up, leading to a hectic finish. Four Razorbacks eventually fouled out, but they still had a chance at the buzzer, but Anthony Black’s deep 3 wasn’t particularly close.

FINAL STATS – Arkansas vs Missouri

Starting Lineups

#2 – G Tre Gomillion#0 – G Anthony Black
#5 – G D’Moi Hodge#4 – G Davonte Davis
#10 – G Nick Honor#1 – G Ricky Council IV
#13 – F Ronnie DeGray III#20 – F Kamani Johnson
#24 – F Kobe Brown#15 – F/C Makhi Mitchell

Arkansas vs Missouri Preview

A three-game skid has Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman in arguably the toughest position of his Razorback career – and perhaps even the toughest of his entire college career considering he never lost three in a row during his four years at Nevada.

It’s not entirely fair to the 11 other healthy players on the team to only dwell on the two who are injured, but it’s fair to say that Nick Smith Jr. (out indefinitely) and Trevon Brazile (out for the season) had the two most irreplaceable skill sets on the roster. Without them, the Razorbacks have visibly struggled to find their identity on both ends of the court.

Over the first four games of SEC play, Arkansas looked discombobulated offensively — averaging 64.8 points on 40% shooting from the field and 19% from beyond the arc — but its defense was at least serviceable, holding opponents to just 71.0 points on 44% shooting overall and 34% from deep.

However, in their road loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday – the Hogs’ fourth loss in their last five games – the roles reversed.

The Razorbacks had one of their better shooting nights, making 49% of their field goals and 39% of their 3-point attempts, resulting in 84 points. It was their defense that ultimately failed them.

Despite still checking in at No. 25 in this week’s AP Poll and No. 22 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, the the Hogs allowed a season-high 97 points — including a whopping 63 points on 67% shooting in the second half — to a Commodores squad that had been averaging just 71.4 points this season.

That defense will be put to the test again when Arkansas travels to Columbia, Mo., to face a Missouri team it beat just two weeks earlier. The Tigers have a top-10 offense that is putting up 84.4 points per game this season, including 90 points per game on their home court.

Although the Razorbacks held them to 68 points in Bud Walton Arena earlier this month, Musselman likes to say that every game takes on its own identity. Round 2 of Arkansas vs Missouri is set to tip off at 8 p.m. CT Wednesday on the SEC Network.

Arkansas is hopeful for a similar result, as it is looking to snap a three-game losing streak in which it lost each game by double digits — a first in Musselman’s career as a college coach.

What to Expect from Missouri

Eric Musselman has been known to essentially eliminate the best player on opposing teams thanks to his detailed defensive game plans. This was the case when Arkansas first met Missouri back on Jan. 4.

Kobe Brown was coming off 31- and 30-point efforts in his last two games, but Arkansas’ defense — led by Makhi Mitchell who served as Brown’s primary defender — held the senior forward to 11 points on 43% shooting to go along with 4 fouls and 2 turnovers. It was his lowest point total over the past six games and he’s averaging 17 points in the three games since.

However, Brown’s numbers at home have been vastly different from his numbers on the road this season. In only four true road games, Brown has averaged 12.5 points and 4.2 rebounds on 45% shooting and 29% from beyond the arc. In his 11 home games, those numbers take a notable leap up to 15.9 points and 6.2 rebounds on 58% and 39% shooting splits.

“Kobe Brown is an all-league player,” Musselman said in Tuesday’s press conference. “He’s trying to make a statement every game. He can make threes. He can beat people off the dribble-drive. We already know he’s going to be ready to play, as is their whole team. They’re a competitive team and they play hard.”

Expect a much better outing for Brown in Round 2 against Arkansas, though he might see a different look defensively with Musselman playing taller lineups in the last few games, including starting both Mitchell twins.

The first time these teams met, a pair of Missouri guards unexpectedly carried most of the offensive load: junior Sean East and senior Nick Honor. They scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, each surpassing their season averages of 8.0 and 9.2. The two guards combined to shoot 56% from the field and 50% from long range – something Musselman will surely take note of especially after the Vanderbilt guards scored at will in the second half of Arkansas’ most recent loss.

As a team, Missouri shot roughly 37% from 3-point range against non-conference opponents, but that number has dropped to 30% in conference play – including going 6-of-19 (32%) against the Hogs. That average is heavily weighed down, however, by the Tigers’ 24% long-range shooting in SEC road games. In their two SEC home games, they’ve shot an impressive 39% from distance in wins over Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

After allowing the Commodores to shoot 10 of 18 from distance (6 of 9 in the second half), the Hogs will need to show considerable improvement if they stand a chance of coming away with their first road win of the season.

What to Expect from Arkansas

Arkansas seemed to finally put things together offensively in their loss to Vanderbilt. Its 84 points were the most against an SEC team and fifth-most against any opponent all season. More encouraging than the point total was the Razorbacks’ 39% long-range shooting, led by Ricky Council IV and Anthony Black combining to go 5 of 10 from beyond the arc.

Black finished the game with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block on 47% shooting overall, though his overblown antics between the whistles will likely be all those outside of the Razorback fanbase will notice in the loss. The taunting is not a good look for Black or Arkansas, but it was far from an egregious action that warranted the type of attention it did.

Council led the team offensively, as has come to be expected, with 24 points on 67% shooting. He went 5 of 7 from the free throw line, most of which came in the sequence that gave the Hogs seven consecutive free throws following a flurry of Commodore technical fouls and the aforementioned taunting from Black.

Musselman tried several combinations of players throughout the loss, several of which came in the final 10 minutes of the game when Arkansas was hanging on for dear life amidst a lethal 33-9 run from Vanderbilt.

Ten different players saw action against the Commodores, including Derrian Ford who was credited with a career-high 17 minutes, though he came away with only a questionable offensive foul call to show for it. Joseph Pinion supplied a late-game surge with his offensive prowess, scoring six points in nine minutes by knocking down a 3-pointer and completing a traditional three-point play.

Whether Pinion can get on track or not against Mizzou, against whom he had his best game of the season in Fayetteville, is a story line worth monitoring as he provides the outside shooting the Hogs so desperately need.

“He’s gotta defend at a high level,” Musselman said. “Joseph is still learning a lot of things from a conceptual standpoint, just as many of our guys are. The thing that’s most impressive about Joseph is every game he goes in with a self-belief that he’s going to impact the game and he doesn’t take a long time to come in and get a flow or a rhythm offensively.”

Just as Pinion appeared to break out against Mizzou, so did Jalen Graham show out against Alabama last week. But, against Vanderbilt, back-to-back bad decisions after only 5 minutes of first-half action saw him return to the bench for the rest of the game. Makhel Mitchell started his second consecutive game, tallying 8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 assist in 17 minutes of action.

Musselman and his team are clearly still trying to figure out their best combination of players in the aftermath of losing both Smith and Brazile. Each game seems to present a new opportunity for a new player, though none outside of the main five of Council, Black, Davis, Walsh and Makhi Mitchell have shown any form of consistency. Even those five have had their fair share of dry-spells.

With a loss on the road threatening to drop their record to 12-6 (1-5), Musselman and his team are becoming pressed for time to figure things out and put together a run to salvage their season.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs Missouri

Surprisingly, it was the Razorback defense that faltered in a major way in Arkansas’ loss to Vanderbilt. The whole game was serviceable offensively for the Hogs, though they still struggled from the foul line, shooting below 70% as a team for the fifth straight game.

Still, scoring 84 points should be enough to win most games. Arkansas was 3-1 when scoring 84 or more points prior to their matchup against Vanderbilt – with the only loss coming against Creighton at the Maui Invitational.

One potential reason for this defensive collapse could be the youth and inexperience of this Razorback team not being able to adjust to a tight whistle. It’s difficult to blame referees for losses when – for the most part – they’re consistently inconsistent in SEC play, but these young Hogs aren’t used to that yet.

Several times in the second half against Vanderbilt, the Razorback guards were unable to contain the Commodores’ dribble-drive attack. Then, the Arkansas big men weren’t providing any help on the backside of the defense – both due to trying to avoid foul trouble and the outside shooting threat of 7-footer Liam Robbins, who was hot the entire second half.

Despite having what was considered to be an elite defense thanks to their length and versatility at every position, the Razorbacks have struggled against good offensive teams all season. Four of their five losses have come to teams inside the top-75 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, going 3-4 in such matchups. Their only loss to a team outside of the top-75 in this metric came in their first true road game of the season, when they fell 60-57 to LSU, currently ranked No. 119 in offensive efficiency.

Ironically, Arkansas is currently 1-0 against teams in the top 10 of that statistic — beating Missouri (No. 9) in Fayetteville. Now, the Tigers will look for revenge on their homecourt where they’ve been notably better offensively – especially in SEC play.

Game Prediction

Arkansas will continue its offensive output after taking a step forward against Vanderbilt. Council and Black will carry the load offensively again as Musselman continues to search for the right rotation pieces, though Pinion will make it hard to keep him off the court because of his offensive prowess.

Missouri, however, will have the upper hand this time against Arkansas as it seeks revenge. The Tigers are 0-3 on the road in SEC play and 2-0 at home thanks to a drastic bump in their offense on their homecourt. This will hold true for Round 2 of Arkansas vs Missouri. The Tigers pick up their third SEC home win of the season, while Arkansas hits its lowest point in the last three seasons.

Missouri, 85-80

How to Watch Arkansas vs Missouri

Date: Wednesday, Jan. 18

Location: Mizzou Arena (Columbia, Mo.)

Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 8 p.m. CT (SEC Network)

ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 59.1% chance to win, favored by 2.6 points


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