After getting an unusual break during SEC play, Arkansas will return home on Saturday for a game against Georgia – the first of five teams the Hogs will face twice this season.
The Bulldogs are also in a bit of a slump, losing their fourth consecutive game Wednesday night against Mississippi State to make them 2-6 since they beat Missouri and Arkansas and Missouri to open SEC play.
Arkansas is still in the midst of their worst SEC run under Eric Musselman, losing seven of their last nine games, including a 21-point defeat at the hands of LSU in their last game. That made the Hogs 11-11 overall and 2-7 in conference play, while Georgia checks in at 14-9 (4-6 SEC) so far.
The last time these two teams met, Arkansas was reeling after a 32-point home loss to Auburn. The Bulldogs were able to capitalize and defeat the Hogs in Athens, 76-66 – though this is a much different Razorback team than the last time these teams met. Perhaps not a much-improved team, but certainly different.
The rematch between the Hogs and Bulldogs is set to tip off at 5 p.m. CT Saturday inside Bud Walton Arena. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
For updates on the game, make sure to go here:
Previewing Georgia Basketball
Jabri Abdur-Rahim – son of former NBA All-Star Shareef Abdur-Rahim – leads Georgia in scoring. He averages roughly 13 points and 4 rebounds on nearly 39% shooting from long range, but the Razorbacks actually did a phenomenal job of holding him in check in their first matchup.
Abdur-Rahim scored only five points on 1 of 8 shooting from the field, including 1 of 6 from long range. The one shot he did hit was late in the game and served as a dagger for Georgia, but you can’t hope for much more when defending the other team’s best offensive weapon. A large part of this was Devo Davis’ ability to bother Abdur-Rahim both with and without the ball. That’s a matchup we weren’t sure we’d get to see in this contest.
The next three leading scorers for Georgia are all experienced guards. Noah Thomasson (6-3, Sr.), RJ Melendez (6-7, Jr.) and Justin Hill (6-0, Sr.) each scored in double figures last time against the Hogs, led by Hill’s 19 points on 3-of-7 shooting from long range off the bench.
The trio of guards is combining to average 31.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.5 steals while shooting a combined 33% from long range. This average is dragged down by Melendez’s 29% from distance, and the trio has combined to shoot only 68% from the charity stripe. You never want to get in foul trouble, but perhaps being aggressive with these guards and opting for potential trips to the free throw line over easy looks from the field wouldn’t be the worst strategy.
In their last six losses, the Bulldogs are settling for more 3-point jumpers – though they’re hitting above their season average at 37% in these losses – and taking fewer 2-point and free-throw attempts. They’re also allowing teams to shoot 38% from long range and giving up 18 free throw attempts per game – an area where the Hogs still excel despite their struggles, attempting roughly 24 free throws per game in SEC play and 29.5 over their last two games.
Other notable players in Georgia’s rotation:
- Silas Demary Jr. (6-5, Fr.) | 9.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, 4.9 FTA/G
- Blue Cain (6-5, Fr.) | 7.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 38% 3P
- Russel Tchewa (7-0, Sr.) | 7.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 54% FG
What to Expect from Arkansas Basketball
The Hogs dropped their seventh SEC game of the season on the road against LSU last Saturday. The most disappointing part of this loss was the lack of carry-over from Arkansas’ previous two games when it looked very competitive against Kentucky and handled Missouri on the road.
Of course, it was already late in the season to be mounting any sort of serious NCAA Tournament pushes, but the previous two games had at least given fans hope that the Hogs would be a more competitive team moving forward rather than continuing to lose by 20-plus points – something they’ve now done four times in SEC play.
“The only thing I know is to go back and coach,” Musselman said after the LSU loss. “This has been unlike things that I’ve experienced. All I know is we get in the gym on Monday and we try to get better… We’ve got a lot of spots we’ve got to get better at. A lot.”
The biggest news from a personnel standpoint is the return of senior guard Devo Davis. After a mysterious announcement that he was stepping away from the program minutes before tipoff against Kentucky, Davis missed three games before Musselman announced his return to the team on Monday. The Hogs played well against Kentucky and handled Missouri on the road in his absence before getting manhandled by LSU in their last game.
Tramon Mark was once again one of the few positive sparks for Arkansas, tallying 20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block in 34 minutes on 54% shooting from the field, including 33% from long range. Over his last 11 games played (excluding the Ole Miss game he missed), Mark is averaging 19.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game on 50% from the field and 40% from long range.
The three-headed monster of Chandler Lawson, Makhi Mitchell and Jalen Graham once again played well, continuing their streak over the last three games. The trio combined for 34 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block, including 18 points and 4 rebounds from Graham alone.
Over his last three games, since Brazile has been sidelined with a knee injury, Graham is averaging 13.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per game on over 56% from the field and a much-improved – though still not great – 60% from the free-throw line.
His improvement as a defender and continued effort as a rebounder – as well as the absence of another prominent forward in the rotation – has allowed Graham to see extended minutes lately, and he’s capitalized with his offensive prowess. Don’t be surprised to see the Hogs go back to him more often moving forward.
The first time these teams met, Mark was the only player to score in double digits for the Hogs, tallying 24 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks in the 10-point loss. Everyone else on the team combined to shoot 38% from the field, 18% from long range and worse than 42% from the charity stripe. Truly an abysmal game all around.
One of the biggest – but not only – problems for Arkansas basketball all season has been offensive consistency. Some of this can be attributed to poor defense not letting them get in a rhythm and losing games hurting their confidence, but they simply can’t get any offensive flow in a majority of their games. If they can find it against Georgia and provide Mark a bit more help than the last time around, this is certainly a winnable game.
What to Watch: Arkansas vs Georgia
Arkansas is struggling with consistency. After excellent showings in some of the biggest games of the season, the Hogs once again failed to hold their own against a subpar SEC team, getting beat by 21 on the road at LSU. This also includes a double-digit loss to Georgia, which currently sits 10th in the SEC – two spots ahead of Arkansas.
However, the Hogs have made some changes to their lineup since the last time they faced the Bulldogs. In Round 1 between these two teams, Jalen Graham, Layden Blocker and Chandler Lawson saw less than 15 total minutes combined in the road loss.
Over their last three games, the three Hogs are combining to average 64.7 minutes per game to go along with 25.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting nearly 54% from the field. Those aren’t earth-shattering numbers when breaking them down to three individuals, but the trio is accounting for over 34% of the team’s points over the last three games. They’ve clearly become a focal point of the rotation that Georgia did not experience the last time these teams met.
Granted, some of that has been by necessity with the sudden absence of Devo Davis and Trevon Brazile from the lineup before the Kentucky game, but it would be hard to move away from a strategy that seemingly provides more consistency than most others the Hogs have tried this season.
Following the first practice prepping for Georgia on Monday, Musselman also noted the team is implementing some new offensive sets that the Bulldogs didn’t see the first time around.
“We added a different play package [in practice] than we’ve had,” Musselman said on his radio show. “So, whatever we run will be some things that Georgia hasn’t seen.”
What those new plays are remains to be seen, but it’s a safe bet to assume they would involve getting the ball to Jalen Graham in the post or to Tramon Mark with room to get downhill. Those seem to be the most successful scoring options for the Hogs as of late.
Perhaps running some action that focuses on these two players on the strong side of the court while some sort of flare screen takes place between the other big in the game and a shooter like Davenport or Pinion could lead to an easy skip pass and good look from long range.
Arkansas seems to find a good deal of its offensive success operating out of the pick-and-roll, especially when Mark is in a zone and looking to score. Even when Menifield has led this action, he’s done a good job at finding the rolling bigs in the paint, which in turn have gotten better at post-to-post passes when they draw help side defenders in the paint. We’ve seen Graham and Mitchell both spoon-feed passes to the other big on the court for easy slams in recent games.
Even despite the loss earlier this season, Arkansas is 26-17 all-time against Georgia and has won six of the last eight meetings between the two programs, including going 3-2 under Musselman, according to HogStats.
Returning to their home court for the first time in three games will be a breath of fresh air for the Hogs as they get a chance at revenge on a mediocre SEC team. Arkansas is shooting nearly 35% from long range on their home court and worse than 29% away from home on the season, while also attempting nearly 1.5 more free throws per game at home than on the road.
Tramon Mark will do his thing, while the return of Davis could provide the Hogs the spark they need to come out on top and get back in the win column, giving them two wins in three games for the first time since before New Year’s.
Arkansas basketball controls this game even if they once again slip up in the closing minutes to make the final score closer than it should be.
Arkansas wins, 78-72
How to Watch Arkansas vs Georgia
Date: Saturday, Feb. 10
Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Tipoff Time/TV: 5 p.m. CT
ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 51.6% chance to win, favored by 0.4 points.
KenPom: Georgia has a 51% chance to win, favored by a score of 75-74.
Here’s our recap of the first Arkansas vs Georgia matchup this season:
More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…