Arkansas vs LSU: What Happens if “Banged Up” Battle Is Worse Than Expected

Khalif Battle, Jalen Cook, Arkansas basketball, LSU basketball, Arkansas vs LSU
photo credit: Craven Whitlow / LSU Athletics

The Arkansas basketball team is coming off of back-to-back losses after showing flashes of their potential in the two games prior. The first of their recent losses was an uninspired performance at home against Vanderbilt, one of the worst teams in the conference.

Their most recent loss, however, came at the hands of Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Arkansas played arguably its best offensive game of the season and gave the Wildcats everything they could handle for about 37 minutes of game time.

“We just came ready to play tonight,” said Arkansas guard Tramon Mark when asked about the difference in energy between the Vanderbilt and Kentucky games. “Everybody that stepped on that floor was ready to play and they were ready to go. We all saw it. We had great energy in the locker room, great energy in our huddles. We just couldn’t get it done tonight.”

Unfortunately, the Hogs were unable to hold on for the full duration of the game and fell to Kentucky for the second time this season, this time by a score of 111-102.

With any hope of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament long forgotten, all eyes are on the SEC Tournament for the Razorbacks. Even though the final two regular season games don’t mean much of anything for the Hogs’ postseason implications, they do provide two more opportunities for the team to fine tune some parts of their much-improved play (for the most part) over the last few weeks.

Up first is a rematch with the LSU Tigers. Over its last 10 games, LSU has been the lone opponent that has truly handled Arkansas from the opening tip. Even in the 29-point loss to Tennessee, Arkansas trailed the Volunteers by only 6 points at halftime before collapsing entirely in the second half.

The other four games Arkansas has lost in that stretch aside from LSU and Tennessee have been by 9, 6, 4 and 3 points. Needless to say, the Hogs will be hungry for revenge in their final home game of the season.

Tipoff of Arkansas vs LSU is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT Wednesday and will be televised on the SEC Network. Sports betting odds put Arkansas as the 3.5 point favorite coming into this one.

Previewing LSU Basketball

The first time these teams met, Will Baker (6-11, Sr.) got virtually whatever he wanted against the Hogs. The transfer big man poured in 25 points on 82% shooting from the field, including going 4 of 5 (80%) from beyond the arc.

For reference, Baker averages only 11.8 points on the season and has scored more than 25 points only once – LSU’s first game of the season against Mississippi Valley State, which currently ranks No. 362 out of 362 teams on KenPom. Baker is also averaging only 8.2 points on 29% from long range over his last five games.

Trevon Brazile is now back in the lineup for Arkansas and Makhi Mitchell seems to have turned a corner over his last 9 games or so. It’s up to these two big men, alongside Chandler Lawson and Jalen Graham (if he’s healthy and his academics are squared away), to prevent Baker from having a repeat performance.

The Tigers’ actual leading scorer, Jordan Wright (6-5, Sr.), scored 13 points on only 17% from the field that first go-around, though he did notch 10-of-11 from the free throw line. It will be vital for the Razorback wings to defend the Vanderbilt transfer without fouling.

Jalen Cook (6-0, Jr.) was another unlikely suspect in Arkansas vs LSU Part I. He’s no slouch when it comes to scoring the ball, averaging 15.6 points in only 13 games played this season. Still, his 20-point performance on 63% from the field, including 60% from long range, and a perfect 7-of-7 from the free throw line was easily his most efficient scoring game of the season.

Cook has been dealing with a lower leg injury, however, and has held a “questionable” status heading into his last few games, though he hasn’t appeared on the court since suffering the injury on Feb. 13 against Florida.

Previewing Arkansas Basketball

Despite the loss, Arkansas put together its best offensive performance of the season against Kentucky. The Hogs put up 100-plus points for only the second time this season and did so on 53% shooting from the field, 41% from long range and an absurd 96% from the free throw line – the first time all season they’ve shot those percentages or better as a team for an entire game.

“I thought it was by far our best offensive game. Not even close,” Musselman said. “Thought we played as hard as we’ve played all year. The effort. The focus. The belief. All of those things were as good as they’ve been. It was a locker room that pregame thought they were going to win.”

Live ball turnovers, foul trouble and going cold offensively were the primary factors in Arkansas’ late collapse that resulted in the loss, but several Razorbacks put together noteworthy performances as the entire team continues to be more competitive than they were to start conference play.

Khalif Battle in particular continues to light up the scoreboard for the Razorbacks, and he’s doing it the best way he knows how – drawing free throw opportunities. He’s hit 54 of his last 59 free throw attempts, all coming within his last four games.

His 17-of-18 performance against Kentucky (a career high in both attempts and makes) helped him score 34 points, his third consecutive game with 30 or more points. Battle is only the second Razorback to accomplish the feat, with Mason Jones being the other. He is playing with renewed confidence as he plays within the flow of the offense.

“He’s not going into the game hunting shots. He’s letting the game come to him,” Musselman said on his coach’s show Monday night. “We’re trying to run the first play of the game to someone else because we know two or three minutes into the game, we’re going to run something for him.”

It helps, too, that Battle had been 100% healthy after dealing with nagging injuries in January. That may not be the case against LSU.

“He’s banged up again because of the minutes that he’s played,” Musselman said on his “Eric Musselman Live” show on Monday. “Today he was not able to practice… Hopefully he’ll be able to get rehab over the next couple of days and get ready for the game on Wednesday.”

If for any reason Battle can’t go vs LSU, then expect the likes of El Ellis, Tramon Mark and Jeremiah Davenport to try to pick up the scoring slack.

The latter two were effective vs Kentucky, as Mark (23 points) and Davenport (14), joined Battle and Makhi Mitchell (13) in double-digit scoring for the Hogs. These four players combined to take 75% of the team’s field goal attempts and shot 54% from the floor, 47% from long range and over 86% from the free throw line by themselves.

Musselman also appeared to hone in on a firm 8-man rotation against the Wildcats, though part of that could be due to Jalen Graham missing his fifth consecutive game. These four players were joined by El Ellis, Devo Davis, Trevon Brazile and Chandler Lawson as the only eight players to see the court. Perhaps the most surprising omission from this list is hard-nosed freshman Layden Blocker.

Blocker has played 15 minutes or more 13 times this season. In those games, he’s averaging 6.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 49% from the field. When converting the stats from these 13 games into Per 36 stats – an easier way to compare players who average a different number of minutes – Blocker’s number rose to 10.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.4 steals per game.

For reference, here’s how Blocker’s Per 36 numbers stack up next to the other two point guards that have seemingly taken the reins for Musselman’s new shortened rotations. While none of the three noticeably stands out above the others, it’s understandable to question why Blocker has gotten the short end of the stick in terms of minutes far more often than either of the other two.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs LSU

As a team, the Tigers don’t particularly excel in any one stat category. They rank inside the top 90 in 3-point percentage – which is far better than Arkansas’ rank – but otherwise they’re relatively well-balanced and average in most stats.

They do, however, turn the ball over more than most SEC teams and put their opponents on the free throw line. The Tigers have allowed an average of 22 free throw attempts to their last three opponents and turned the ball over nearly 13 times per game in that stretch.

Arkansas, on the other hand, is averaging over 34 free throw attempts per game in their last four games and have forced 11 or more turnovers in 7 of their last 9 games, including 15 their last time out against Kentucky.

Over their last ten games, the Hogs have shown flashes of what many expected this team to turn into before the season started. Just in terms of scoring, they’ve tallied 78 or more points six times in that stretch and held multiple opponents below 72 points – though the two occurrences rarely happened in the same game.

The problem for Arkansas all season hasn’t been their inability to do certain things on the court, it’s been their inability to do multiple things well at the same time. Some games they shoot well, but their defense falls apart. Other games they force turnovers and poor percentages from their opponents, but they settle for too many outside jump shots.

If the Razorbacks want to make a run in the SEC Tournament, they’ll have to figure out how to put more complete games together. That starts with their rematch against the Tigers, who are not a dangerous team in any one particular category. Just don’t let a rotation player like Will Baker go absolutely nuts against you. This is as good a chance as any for Arkansas to work on playing a well-rounded brand of basketball for 40 minutes.

Game Prediction

Arkansas leads the all-time series against LSU 42-36, including a 23-8 advantage in Fayetteville. In fact, the Tigers have yet to win a game in Bud Walton Arena since Eric Musselman became the head coach of the Razorbacks.

That trend will continue on Wednesday night. Despite now riding a two-game losing streak – one of them being one of the worst losses in Razorback history – the team seems to still be fully focused on the task at hand of continuing to get better.

That can be impressive in itself considering the bleak postseason outlook for the Hogs at this point in the season, but there’s no reason to expect anything different as they search for revenge against LSU. Given the current health situation, it would be no surprise to see Khalif Battle cool off some from his recent 30-point streak, but his confidence will still be high as he continues to contribute offensively (assuming he’s healthy) alongside Mark.

Other role players like Davenport and Ellis will shoot marginally better at home as the frontcourt rotation continues to blend back together with the return of Brazile as Arkansas gets back in the win column.

Arkansas wins, 77-70

How to Watch Arkansas vs LSU

Date: Wednesday, March 6

Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Tipoff Time/TV: 6 p.m. CT (SEC Network)

ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 52.9% chance to win, favored by 0.8 points.

KenPom: Arkansas has a 50% chance to win, favored by a score of 79-78.

Arkansas vs LSU History

  • This will be the 79th meeting between Arkansas and LSU, the 69th since the Razorbacks joined the SEC and the second time this season. Arkansas leads the all-time series, 42-36, and is 38-31 versus the Tigers since joining the SEC.
  • Arkansas has won four of the last six overall and leads the series in games played in Fayetteville, 23-8.


Check out our recap of the first Arkansas vs LSU matchup this season:


More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS… 

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