Arkansas vs Missouri Part II: Recent Injuries Deliver Silver Lining to Hogs

Tamar Bates, Khalif Battle, Arkansas basketball, Missouri basketball, Arkansas vs Missouri
photo credit: Missouri Athletics / Craven Whitlow

With its back against the wall and down three players due to injury, the Arkansas basketball team put together one of its best performances of the season on the back of another career high from senior forward Makhi Mitchell.

The Razorbacks beat Texas A&M 78-71 on the road Tuesday night to sweep the season series over the Aggies. It was also the first time since Arkansas coach Eric Musselman got to campus – the same season that Texas A&M head coach Buzz Williams took the helm – that the road team won a game in this series.

The much-needed victory came on the heels of a tough-fought road loss to Mississippi State only three days prior. Arkansas looked the part of a competitive SEC team in that game, but ultimately couldn’t close out the Bulldogs on the road.

“I think we played our best 80 minutes of basketball in our last two games,” Musselman said after the Texas A&M win. “I thought our competitiveness, our toughness, will to win, I thought it was at a high level against Mississippi State, and I thought we carried that over to another 40 minutes tonight.”

The Razorbacks now have a prime opportunity to secure back-to-back (-to back) SEC wins for the first time this season. Up next on their schedule are consecutive home games against Missouri (0-12 in SEC) and Vanderbilt (2-10) before a tough three-game finish to the season.

Not to be overlooked first, though, is a rematch with the Missouri Tigers in Bud Walton Arena. The last time these teams met, Arkansas defeated Missouri 91-84 on the road and dominated the interior in the process, scoring 56 of its 91 points in the paint.

This is especially impressive when considering the Tigers had three players standing over 7-feet tall who played at least seven minutes, including former Razorback Connor Vanover.

The rematch between the Razorbacks and Tigers is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT Saturday and will be televised on ESPN2.

Previewing Missouri Basketball

Missouri’s offense was heavily carried by junior Tamar Bates the first time it faced the Hogs this season. The 6-foot-5 guard tallied 29 points and 3 assists on 50% shooting from the field to go along with 5 steals and 3 rebounds in his near-39 minutes of action.

“I think you always want to take the film and try to evaluate how you can try to contain a star offensive player on the other team,” Musselman said. “Certainly, we’ll try to come up with some simple rules that maybe we didn’t utilize in Game 1 and he’s a hard player to cover because he goes to the offensive glass, he really gets down in transition, he can make a 3 and he can hard dribble-drive with either hand.”

This impressive scoring outburst was part of a 13-game stretch in which Bates averaged 19.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 57% from the field and 45% from long range. However, in his last three games, Bates has experienced quite the shooting slump. He’s averaging only 10.0 points on 27% from the field and 18% from long range.

Sean East (6-6, Sr.) usually leads the Tigers offensively, averaging 16.4 points and 4.3 assists on 52% shooting from the field and 47% from long range. Arkansas did a relatively good job of limiting East in the last matchup, though, holding him to 11 points and 6 turnovers on 38% shooting – though he still dished out 7 assists and grabbed 6 rebounds.

Arkansas has continued to show off its ability to limit opposing star players with the latest victims being Texas A&M’s backcourt of Wade Taylor IV and Tyrece “Boots” Radford. On the season, the two players combine to average 34.4 points and 4.1 turnovers on 39% FG and 29% 3P shooting.

In their last game against Arkansas, the two combined for only 23 points to go along with 5 turnovers on 29% from the field and 0-of-6 from 3-point range. If the Hogs can continue the trend of limiting opposing stars, they should find themselves in a great position to sweep the season series with Missouri.

In doing so, however, the Hogs are often susceptible to letting a player hurt them who doesn’t always contribute in the scoring column. In the first matchup between these teams, that was Anthony Robinson II. On the season, Robinson averages 3.8 points on 33% from the field and 21% from distance.

Against the Hogs, though, he tallied 10 points on 43% FG and 40% 3P shooting. It would be safe to assume his name might be a bit more prominent on the scouting report this time around.

Other notable players in Missouri’s rotation:

  • Nick Honor (5-10, Sr.) | 10.7 PPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 RPG, 40% 3P
  • Connor Vanover (7-4, Sr.) | 3.7 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 51% FG
  • Aidan Shaw (6-8, So.) | 3.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 71% FG

What to Expect from Arkansas Basketball

Makhi Mitchell has been a man possessed over his last seven games, including scoring a career high in back-to-back games. He had 22 points against Texas A&M to go along with 13 rebounds (5 offensive) and 4 blocks, plus shot 6 of 9 (67%) from the field and 10 of 12 (83%) from the charity stripe. That came one game after Mitchell set his previous career high of 21 points against Mississippi State.

The fifth-year big man has played 20 or more minutes in six of the last seven games. In those games, he’s averaging 16.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2.2 blocks and only 1.5 turnovers on 63% shooting from the field and 84% from the free throw line.

Arkansas is also 3-3 in those six games. This isn’t ideal in a vacuum, but compared to their 4-9 SEC record, it’s a notable improvement.

“We need [Mitchell] to sustain it,” Musselman said after the Texas A&M win. “He’s playing as well as any center in the SEC. He’s been extremely focused. There’s no distraction with his minutes out there. We’re really relying on him.”

Mitchell’s impressive stretch includes a 19-point, 14-rebound game against Missouri a few weeks ago. Tramon Mark put on a show in that previous showdown, too, with 22 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks, and 1 assist on 62% from the field.

Mark has kept it up, and has also been on an absolute tear as of late aside from a poor performance against Mississippi State in which he had 6 points on 29% from the field and fouled out in 27 minutes. In 14 of his last 15 games – excluding the stinker against the Bulldogs – Mark is averaging 18.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 49% from the field, 41% from long range and 82% from the free throw line.

Impressively, he notched his latest standout performance through injury.

Mark left the game against Texas A&M after seeming to aggravate his shoulder injury in the process of diving for a loose ball. Fortunately, he returned to tally 26 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block on 50% shooting – including hitting a massive 4-point play late in the game when the Aggies were making a comeback push.

“Quite honestly, we didn’t know if he would practice the past couple of days, or play (against Texas A&M),” Musselman said. “He’s playing through pain. He’s doing it for the betterment of the team, but it’s been bothering him for quite some time.”

After getting relatively inconsistent minutes all season, Layden Blocker got another opportunity to showcase his skillset on Tuesday. In games where he’s played at least 15 minutes this season, the talented freshman is averaging 6.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting over 49% from the field.

The difference in production from Wade Taylor IV from the first time he played Arkansas to the second time wasn’t entirely due to Blocker’s presence, but it certainly played a big factor. After playing less than a full minute the first time around, Blocker played more than 23 minutes in Round 2 against the Aggies and the numbers speak for themselves:

What to Watch: Arkansas vs Missouri

Makhi Mitchell might be the biggest reason Arkansas has been a competitive basketball team more often than not over its last seven games (excluding about three halves of basketball against Tennessee and LSU), but he’s not the only factor.

As a whole, the Razorbacks have started to find some semblance of consistency in their rotation. Unfortunately, that consistency has come out of necessity due to injuries and occasional foul trouble rather than certain players solidifying themselves as the best options.

“I think that some of the things that we do and have done in the past are now starting to sink in with some guys,” Musselman said. “That group that was out there (against Texas A&M) played with great toughness. Great enthusiasm. I think you could see the joy.”

Trevon Brazile has missed seven straight games with knee soreness, while Jalen Graham has been out the last two games because of a shoulder injury. Musselman said Thursday that both of them are “nearing a return” and he expects them back sometime in the next three games.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that (Brazile will) play this season as long as there’s no setbacks,” Musselman said. “He’s been gradually working his way back into the fold. Hopefully he’ll be able to go through some of practice today. He has gone through some light stuff as of late. And then Jalen Graham will not practice today, possibly will practice Friday.”

Keyon Menifield, who missed the entire Texas A&M game and the second half of the Mississippi State game, is considered day-to-day with a groin injury.

Against the Aggies, only eight players saw the court, and only seven played more than 10 minutes. This is much more in line with rotations we’ve seen from Musselman in the past. It’s worth questioning whether having so many viable options to start the season made his task of finding the right combination exponentially more difficult.

After all, there are only so many minutes in the preseason to test certain lineups, and when some players are inconsistent with their play or even being available due to injury, the task can become virtually impossible.

Now, however, the group of El Ellis, Layden Blocker, Khalif Battle, Tramon Mark, Jeremiah Davenport, Chandler Lawson and Makhi Mitchell seems to have found something to build off of. When they’re available, Davis, Menifield, Brazile and Graham can certainly fill holes and provide scoring/defense as needed, but the core group of seven may have finally come together with only five games remaining in the season.

It took nearly all season, but recent injuries have essentially helped make Musselman’s job of settling on a core rotation easier.

In Arkansas vs Missouri and beyond, it’s worth monitoring how the lineup changes when players like Menifield, Graham and Brazile come back from injury. It’s possible Blocker loses his minutes to Menifield and Davis in the next game, or that either Davenport or Battle find themselves limited upon Graham’s return.

“The way we’ve played the last two games, those guys are going to deserve to continue to stay in somewhat of a role,” Musselman said. “But obviously if injured guys come back, you want to get them back in the fold as well.”

Game Prediction

Arkansas basketball is 34-27 all-time against Missouri, including winning six of the last seven matchups and eight of the last nine in Fayetteville. Missouri is currently riding a 13-game losing streak and has lost 16 of its last 17 games – ironically, their only win in this stretch came against Central Arkansas.

Thanks to the improved play of Makhi Mitchell, the Hogs will impose their will in the paint yet again. That could become even more notable if Jalen Graham is able to return. Mark will continue to lead the team offensively as the Hogs settle into their new-look rotation.

Whether it’s El Ellis, Khalif Battle, Jeremiah Davenport or Devo Davis, at least a couple of role players will shoot better in the usually friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena. The Hogs earn their first back-to-back SEC wins of the season as they sweep the season series with Missouri.

Arkansas wins, 80-69

How to Watch Arkansas vs Missouri

Date: Saturday, Feb. 24

Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark)

Tipoff Time/TV: 11 a.m. CT (ESPN2)

ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 68.1% chance to win, favored by 5 points.

KenPom: Arkansas has a 68% chance to win, favored by a score of 76-71.

***

Watch Eric Musselman preview the Arkansas vs Missouri game:

***

Check out our story from the first Arkansas vs Missouri matchup this season:

***

More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…

Facebook Comments