Arkansas vs Missouri: Makhi Mitchell Gets a Shot at Hogs Career First vs Connor Vanover

Makhi Mitchell, Connor Vanover, Arkansas basketball, Missouri basketball, Arkansas vs Missouri
photo credit: Craven Whitlow / Missouri Athletics

Arkansas finally showed life and energy in its most recent game against Kentucky, though it ultimately still ended in a loss. That effort resulted in one of the Hogs’ better defensive games of the season, holding Kentucky to below 70 total points for only the second time all season.

“If you walked out of the building and didn’t think we played hard, then you’re wrong,” Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman said after the loss. “Because we did play hard… We shared the ball. We executed. We out-rebounded them, which has not been the case in a lot of our recent games. We inched a little bit closer to where we want to get to.”

Arguably the biggest story from this game, however, happened prior to the game. Mere minutes before tipoff, the UA issued a press release stating that Davonte Davis had “stepped away from the program.” No timetable or context was provided, and it was a strange situation to say the least.

The Razorbacks’ next game to adjust to life after Devo actually provides one of the best opportunities remaining to secure an SEC win, though nothing is a given in this conference – especially not for the struggling Hogs. Arkansas will travel to Columbia to face Missouri (8-12, 0-7) on Wednesday night. 

The Tigers have lost 10 of their last 11 games and have very comparable metrics to the Razorbacks, though the Hogs have certainly played above those metrics a handful of times this season when the lights are the brightest, such as the preseason game against Purdue and the home games against Duke and Kentucky.

Perhaps unfortunately, Missouri does not belong in the same sentence as those schools, especially not this season. They check in at No. 123 in the NET rankings and No. 113 in KenPom. This only appears perversely unfortunate for Arkansas because it has a tendency to play down to the level of its opponents.

Arkansas vs Missouri is scheduled to tipoff at 7:30 p.m. CT and will be televised on the SEC Network.

Previewing Missouri Basketball

Sean East – a 6-foot-3 transfer in his second year with the program – leads the team in scoring with 16.2 points to go along with 4.0 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on over 46% shooting from long range.

He’s averaging 19.0 points and 6.0 assists over his last two games, however, largely due to an increased number of free throw attempts in which he’s gone a perfect 10-of-10 in this stretch. Arkansas’ perimeter defense will likely be centered around East. Don’t be surprised if Khalif Battle gets a look at East at some point in this game after his improved defensive effort against Kentucky.

“I thought (Battle’s) defense was by far the best defense we’ve seen from him all year,” Musselman said postgame. “There were timeouts that he wanted to guard (Antonio) Reeves.”

Tamar Bates (6-5, Jr.) and Nick Honor (6-10, Sr.) are the only other players that should be considered threats from the outside. They are averaging 13.0 and 10.5 points, respectively, while combining to make 3.3 long-range shots per game at a roughly 42% clip.

Forward Noah Carter (6-6, Sr.) and guard Caleb Grill (6-3, Sr.) lead the team in rebounding with 5.3 and 5.8 per game, respectively. On a rebounds-per-minute basis, however, a familiar name rises towards the top of Missouri’s best rebounders: former Razorback center Connor Vanover.

The 7-foot-5 Vanover never found consistent footing with the Hogs, averaging only 5.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game across two seasons and 44 games played for the Razorbacks. After leaving Arkansas, the senior big man spent one year at Oral Roberts where he averaged 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks across 34 games.

Now, he’s once again found himself with an inconsistent role on an SEC team, averaging 12.1 minutes and 4.0 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. Vanover played 18 minutes in Missouri’s last game against South Carolina, but he averaged only 10 minutes over the three contests prior to that.

Missouri’s experience shouldn’t be discounted, as six of the Tigers’ top seven scorers are juniors or seniors. Regardless of record, this is an experienced team with a few very capable offensive weapons that cannot be taken lightly.

Other notable players in Missouri’s rotation:

  • Anthony Robinson II (6-2, Fr.) | 14.0 MPG, 4.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.5 SPG
  • Aidan Shaw (6-8, So.) | 15.7 MPG, 3.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.4 BPG
  • Jesus Carralero (6-8, Sr.) | 13.2 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.8 APG

What to Expect from Arkansas Basketball

Eric Musselman refused to comment further on the situation surrounding Devo Davis after Saturday’s game, referring media members to the school’s press release. There is no timetable for a return at this point – if he returns at all.

Along with the unexpected absence of Davis, Arkansas forward Trevon Brazile missed the game against Kentucky nursing a sore knee. That issue also kept him out of the second half of the loss to Ole Miss.

Tramon Mark returned from his one-game absence due to migraines that kept him from practicing all week.

The change in personnel forced Musselman’s hand into playing a few different lineups that have not seen a lot of time on the court together this season, including a lot of two-big lineups with some combination of Chandler Lawson, Makhi Mitchell and Jalen Graham.

This proved to be rather effective, as all three big men had games ranging from good to great. Graham showed off some of his offensive prowess with an efficient 8 points and 2 rebounds, while Mitchell and Lawson combined for 20 rebounds on the day. The three also combined for 7 blocks.

Mitchell specifically had one of his best games ever in an Arkansas uniform, tallying 12 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks, 1 assist and 1 steal while knocking down 8 of his 10 free throw opportunities. The 6-foot-10 big man also finished with no turnovers and only one foul in 32 minutes of action.

This marked only the fourth double-double of Mitchell’s Arkansas basketball career, including the second this season. The first came in a 15-point, 10-rebound effort against Old Dominion. Only three times in his Razorback career has Mitchell had back-to-back double-digit scoring games, all three instances happening during the 2022-23 season.

Of the six games that make up these three back-to-back occurrences, only one of those contests featured Mitchell also tallying double-digit rebounds. The transfer big man has yet to have back-to-back double-doubles at Arkansas, though he’ll certainly be looking to finally achieve this against Vanover, Aidan Shaw and other poor-rebounding Missouri big men.

Mitchell did have eight double-doubles in his career prior to Arkansas, all coming during his time at Rhode Island. Seven of the eight came during the 2021-22 season, though none of the seven happened in back-to-back games, either.

Khalif Battle saw increased minutes and gave good effort and defensive intensity, but his offensive rhythm still eluded him in this game. He shot only 3 of 10 from the field on his way to 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block in 34 minutes of action.

It was the point guard position, however, that killed the Hogs’ chances late in the game. El Ellis soaked up a majority of those minutes, and while he didn’t have a terrible game overall, he did commit five turnovers compared to only one assist across 32 minutes. That’s not exactly lead-guard material for a team struggling to find offensive consistency.

“My job is to continue to tinker,” Musselman said when asked about the point guard play. “I don’t have an answer right now. We put Mark there for a while, and then that makes it difficult for him because he’s wired to score… We just gotta continue to search and find something.”

That “something” Musselman is searching for is likely to take the form of Keyon Menifield Jr. or Layden Blocker if he decides to move away from Ellis.

Menifield has shown to be arguably the best playmaker from the point guard position on the roster over his first few games with the team, but his playing time – and in turn his efficiency – have dropped over the last several games in large part due to his slight frame and lack of ability to defend bigger guards.

Blocker doesn’t struggle with the same issues – in fact, he’s almost the polar opposite of Menifield. As a hard-nosed defender who is typically a net-positive on the defensive end, he still tends to play out of control at times and doesn’t have near the refined offensive game of a Menifield.

Both of these guards could provide a different look for Musselman and the Hogs as they search for answers at the point guard position, especially now with Davis out of the fold for the foreseeable future. It’s worth paying attention to which choice Musselman makes regarding this decision.

What to Watch: Arkansas vs Missouri

Missouri’s only win in their last 11 games ironically came against the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) back on Dec. 30, when they won 92-59. Excluding that game, the Tigers are averaging 70.1 points and 26.0 rebounds as a team over the other 10 games in this stretch.

With roughly 32.3 rebounds per game on the season, Missouri ranks dead last in the SEC in team rebounding, a statistical category the Hogs might be able to take advantage of if MItchell and Graham keep playing well. Plus, if Brazile plays, he would likely be extra motivated to show out against his former team.

When Arkansas has outrebounded its opponent, it is 8-2 on the season, including their recent six-point loss to Kentucky when they outrebounded the Wildcats 44-39. When they get outrebounded, they’re 2-8 – a drastic difference.

“Coach had a meeting with me,” said Arkansas forward Chandler Lawson. “He said, ‘Just go out there and rebound.’ I know against Ole Miss, we got out-rebounded. I feel like my job tonight was just to rebound – me and (Makhi). And I feel like we did a great job of just leading the team in rebounds.”

Mitchell led the charge with 13 rebounds, including 4 offensive rebounds, to go along with 12 points, 4 blocks, an assist and a steal. Mark and Lawson contributed 8 and 7 rebounds, respectively.

While rebounding directly correlates to closing out possessions and generating second-chance opportunities, it can also be a good indication of how much effort a team is displaying on a given night. Sure, some players are inherently better rebounders than others, but any team can win a rebound battle by outworking their opponent.

It’s also worth paying attention to Arkansas’ ability to defend without fouling. They’ve averaged committing only 15.0 fouls over their last three games, a vast improvement from the 20.0 committed over their first 17 games.

Missouri, on the other hand, is also dead last in the SEC in fouls drawn and free throws attempted, but second in team free throw percentage at 76.8%. Not allowing the Tigers more free opportunities than they’re used to would be a major positive for the Hogs in this game.

Game Prediction

Arkansas is 33-27 all-time against Missouri, according to HogStats, including 6-3 under Eric Musselman. The Hogs lost their last game against the Tigers, but won five games in a row prior to that loss.

With both teams on somewhat of a losing streak, there really isn’t a clear advantage on paper in either direction. Arkansas has shown an ability to contend with top teams multiple times this season, but Missouri will be defending its home court.

Even with their struggles at the point guard position, Musselman seems to have found a few combinations of players who seem to work well together as a defensive and rebounding unit. This will continue against Missouri as Lawson, Graham and especially Mitchell anchor the paint, taking full advantage of Missouri’s lack of team rebounding.

The Hogs get back on track with their second SEC win, even if it might already be too little, too late in the grand scheme of things for this season.

Arkansas wins, 72-68

How to Watch Arkansas vs Missouri

Date: Wednesday, Jan. 31

Location: Mizzou Arena (Columbia, Mo.)

Tipoff Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. CT (SEC Network)

KenPom: Missouri has a 62% chance to win, favored by a score of 74-71.

ESPN BPI: Missouri has a 67.4% chance to win, favored by 4.8 points.


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