FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas was without star freshman Nick Smith Jr. for its season opener against North Dakota State because of a knee injury, but it didn’t matter too much as the Hogs took care of business 76-58.
The No. 1 overall player in the 2022 class, according to 247Sports, Smith is “going through right knee management and is being withheld for precautionary measures,” according to a press release, and there is no timetable for his return. The announcement came less than four hours before the first game of the 2022-23 season.
It’s unclear when the Jacksonville native sustained the injury, but he did miss a large chunk of the Razorbacks’ fourth and final game in Europe this summer. However, he has since played in the Red-White Game and two exhibition games. He also had a finger injury that limited him some before the foreign tour.
Smith is widely expected to be the Razorbacks’ leading scorer this season, with some NBA Draft experts projecting him to go as high as No. 3 overall in next summer’s draft.
Stay tuned to Best of Arkansas Sports for further updates on Smith following the opener.
Postgame Press Conferences
Head coach Eric Musselman:
Ricky Council IV and Trevon Brazile:
Final Stats for Arkansas Basketball
|Ricky Council IV||36:18||22||3||2||1||1||1||+20|
|Barry Dunning Jr.||8:31||0||0||0||0||1||0||+2|
Highlights from Arkansas vs North Dakota State
For more updates from the game, go here:
Arkansas vs North Dakota State Preview
*The following preview of Arkansas vs North Dakota State originally published on Sunday but was updated on Monday:
If last Saturday was the Arkansas basketball team’s first real test of 2022-23, it’s safe to say it failed miserably.
The No. 10 Razorbacks were embarrassed by No. 12 Texas to the tune of a 90-60 beatdown in the Longhorns’ brand-new Moody Center. The good news: It was an exhibition game and doesn’t count as anything more than a teaching opportunity – and that’s just how head coach Eric Musselman has used it.
Upon getting back to Fayetteville, the Razorbacks watched the entire game from start to finish. What is sometimes as quick five minutes lasted about three hours, as senior Kamani Johnson said it might have tripled the length of the previous longest film session of his career.
“We needed to see all the possessions,” Musselman said. “We needed to see cut ups. We needed to see when they made their run. All those things became extremely important for the guys to get a live kind of feel.”
It was Arkansas’ first loss together as a team after going 4-0 on its European tour and easily handling Rogers State, a Division II opponent, in its first exhibition. In the four preseason games overseas, the Razorbacks faced a couple of scrappy and experienced teams, but none that possessed the sheer height or size that they will match up against in the SEC – or even in non-conference play for that matter.
The size of the Texas forwards gave Arkansas’ interior defense fits at times, but even their roster doesn’t boast the height North Dakota State will bring to Bud Walton Arena for both teams’ official season opener at 7 p.m. CT Monday.
The Bison played four players standing 6-foot-9 or taller for at least 15 minutes in their recent 98-64 exhibition victory over Division II Minnesota-Crookston – Texas had only one such player on their roster.
What to Expect from North Dakota State
Grant Nelson, a 6-foot-11 junior, is North Dakota State’s only returning full-time starter from last season, though he came off the bench in the aforementioned exhibition. He played 18 minutes and scored 17 points on 60% shooting.
However, it was his running mate, Andrew Morgan (6-foot-10, 245 pounds), who did the most damage on the interior. He put up 22 points on 89% shooting (including 1 of 1 from beyond the arc) to go along with 7 rebounds in only 19 minutes of action.
“Nelson is kind of their star,” Musselman said. “Both of those guys, Morgan and Nelson, are 6-foot-10. Nelson has got three-point range. He’s got game off the bounce. They posted Morgan up a lot trying to get him deep-post catches.”
These twin towers will be a great early-season test for the Razorback bigs, but it was the all-around effort from behind the arc that stood out most in the Bison’s exhibition win.
North Dakota State shot 44% from 3-point range and had six different players knock down a triple – including both Nelson and Morgan. Four of those six shot better than 55% from behind the arc. A pair of freshmen guards in Tajavis Miller (6 of 10) and Lance Waddles (4 of 7) led the 3-point onslaught, combining to shoot 59% from behind the arc.
Last season, the Razorbacks gave up unacceptable shooting performances to two of their first three opponents. Gardner-Webb and Northern Iowa shot 48% and 42%, respectively, from behind the arc at Bud Walton Arena. The Hogs pulled out victories in both of those games, but neither came without struggle.
The Bison’s 3-point attack will provide an intriguing test for Arkansas’ newfound length on the perimeter against defenders like Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh.
“They’re not much older than us, but they are really good,” junior Davonte Davis said. “We did scout them, and they’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot the ball really well, so we know coming into this game we’re going to have to take care of the ball, but also cover the three-point line so they’re not splashing threes everywhere to where it’s a close game the entire game.”
What to Expect from Arkansas
There’s no hiding the hype surrounding this Razorback squad front-loaded with freshman talent, but it has also become evident that the youth of this group could lead to early-season struggles. Led by a true freshmen duo of Anthony Black and Nick Smith Jr., the Hogs struggled mightily to take care of the ball throughout their preseason contests.
In their six games against outside opponents, the Hogs averaged roughly 20 turnovers per game, including 23 in their lone loss to Texas. While it is not uncommon for young guards to commit turnovers, Arkansas’ five-star duo – who averaged about 5 turnovers per game in the preseason – will need to learn to be much more secure with the rock as they navigate through non-conference play.
Fortunately for the Razorbacks, North Dakota State forced the second-fewest turnovers per game in the country last season (9.2 per game), and it recorded only six steals against Minnesota-Crookston. The Bison don’t seem intent on pushing the pace of play on either side of the ball – last season they ranked 187th nationally in pace of play according to Sports-Reference (Arkansas ranked 34th) and ranked 226th in field goals attempted despite not being a high-turnover team.
Perhaps this game will be a prime opportunity for Black to gain confidence in orchestrating the Razorback offense without turning the ball over against, theoretically, a lesser defensive opponent content to slow the game down.
That being said, don’t be surprised to see a lot of sloppy play from the Hogs in front of their season-opening crowd as the 11 new players on the roster continue to learn how to play together. The main focus against North Dakota State will likely be defensive intensity, effort and ultimately finding a way to win regardless of how it looks in the process.
After getting a taste of losing for the first time at Texas, that’s a feeling this Arkansas basketball squad doesn’t want to experience again.
“Honestly, I think it was just a mixture of our younger guys being young, and as a team we just didn’t perform well,” Kamani Johnson said about the 30-point blowout. “There’s a couple things I guess you could chalk it up to. Of course we never want to lose like that, and we’ll never lose like that again.”
Arkansas vs North Dakota State: What to Watch
A popular topic of discussion throughout each of the last three offseasons under Eric Musselman has been how he will deploy his rotation with so many new faces. This year specifically provides a unique challenge for him and his staff given the elite depth this roster projects to have. Sifting through six 4- and 5-star freshmen, five impact transfers, and two returning players is a task I do not envy.
“I’m not really sure who we will start,” Musselman said Friday when asked about his starting lineup. “The first time the public will know is probably whenever that starting graphic goes out. In all honesty, we do still have some things that we’re trying to work toward, just trying to find out exactly who is available and healthy. All of those types of things, they evolve everyday.”
If past seasons are any indication, Arkansas fans will see a hodge-podge of starting lineups and rotations through the first several games of the season, but who ends each game will be a telling factor in who Musselman most trusts game-to-game.
While the five on the floor to end this game are not guaranteed to be the “main” five for any other upcoming contests, the players who soak up a lion’s share of the minutes against the Bison will provide at least one more piece to the puzzle that will eventually reveal the core group of players for this team.
Arkansas vs North Dakota State Prediction
Turnovers have been a recurring thorn in the side of the Hogs throughout their preseason. However, the Hogs should find themselves in a favorable matchup against the Bison where turnovers are concerned. Even in what might be a sloppy first game in front of their hometown crowd, the Hogs’ sheer talent should be on full display in this one.
The absence of Nick Smith Jr. leaves a scoring gap for the Razorbacks, but their culmination of talent will prevail. Musselman will experiment with different lineups, likely deploying all 12 of the remaining healthy scholarship players. Arkansas earns its first win of this highly-anticipated season, but it struggles to cover the 21.5-poind spread without its projected leading scorer.
How to Watch Arkansas vs North Dakota State
Date: Monday, Nov. 7
Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Tipoff Time and TV Schedule: 7 p.m. CT (SEC Network-Plus)
Announcers: Brett Dolan and Manuale Watkins
ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 97.7% chance of winning, favored by 24.5
Odds/Betting Line: Arkansas, -21.5 (BetOnline.ag)
Check out what Eric Musselman, Davonte Davis and Kamani Johnson said about the matchup:
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