The Arkansas basketball team is headed back to Tulsa to face Oklahoma at the BOK Center for the third year in a row on Saturday. The game is set to tipoff at 3 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPN2.
After losing the first matchup by 22 points, the Razorbacks answered the challenge last season with a 10-point victory, tying the series at 1-1. The Hogs were ranked facing an unranked Sooners squad in each of these matchups, but the script has flipped entirely this season.
The Sooners are currently 8-0 with a top-15 NET ranking thanks to wins over Iowa, USC and, most recently, Providence by 21 points. All three of those teams are currently ranked in the top 75 of the NET.
Sure, it’s too early in the season for these rankings to be wholly accurate, but when expanding the threshold to the Top 150 teams in the rankings, OU is still 3-0. For reference, the Sooners are also No. 18 in KenPom’s rankings and No. 19 in the AP Poll – both arguably more telling this early in the season than the NET rankings.
Arkansas, on the other hand, limped out of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament with a 1-3 record over their previous four games. They’ve seemingly turned a corner since then with a big upset victory over Duke and a 14-point win over Furman, which was picked to win the SoCon in the preseason. The Hogs currently find themselves at No. 111 in the NET rankings, No. 43 on KenPom and only receiving votes in the AP Poll.
Previewing Oklahoma Basketball
The Sooners clearly have an impressive record to start the season and a few quality wins to hang their hat on, but don’t be quick to overlook their Non-Conference Strength of Schedule ranking outside the top 300 (No. 333) compared to Arkansas’ No. 93 NCSOS ranking.
While Oklahoma has taken down three teams inside the top 150 of the NET, it has also faced – and dominated – four teams currently ranking outside the top 300. Teams can only compete against the opponents put in front of them, but it’s easy to argue that some of the Sooners’ efficiency metrics could be skewed due to these games against bottom-tier teams.
Their 88.8 points per game on 52% – 35% – 79% shooting splits from the field, 3-point line and free throw line, respectively, drops down to only 74.3 points on 48% – 33% – 76% shooting splits against those top-150 teams.
The Top-150 qualifier doesn’t do much to deter their defensive stats, however. They’re ranked No. 13 in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom and are holding even their best opponents to notably low percentages. Those are big reasons why they enter this game as 4.5 points favorites according to the latest Betting AR odds. Overall, teams are scoring only 59.8 points per game on 37% shooting, including 25% from beyond the arc. Their opponents inside the Top 150 in NET Rankings average 62.7 PPG on 40% shooting from the floor and 26% 3-point shooting.
The Sooners are led offensively by sophomore wing Otega Oweh. The 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 15.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game on 68% from the field and 78% from beyond the arc on 1.1 attempts per game. Notching a field goal percentage that high is impressive for anybody, and an especially strong statistic for a guard. Oweh ranks No. 2 in the Big 12 in FG%, with only forwards and centers filling out the rest of the top 5.
The New Jersey native is also a disruptive defender, leading the team in steals with 2.1 per game. Don’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of a couple disruptors in their own right, Devo Davis and Tramon Mark, assigned to Oweh throughout the game.
A pair of juniors – Javian McCollum (6-1) and John Hugley (6-9) – join Oweh as double-digit scorers for Oklahoma on the young season. McCollum averages 14.3 points and 3.1 assists on 37% from long range, while Hugley is averaging 11.3 points and 5.8 rebounds on 54% from 3-point range.
Of these three main players, only McCollum has maintained or improved upon his scoring and efficiency against Oklahoma’s three high-quality opponents to start the year. He’s actually averaging 17.0 points on 39% 3P shooting in his three games against notable opponents. It’s very possible Layden Blocker will test his defensive chops against this junior guard, with potentially some opportunities for Davis to matchup with him when he’s not matched up with Oweh.
Overall, the Sooners have five players shooting 33% or better from distance on at least 1.1 attempts per game. Jalon Moore (6-6, Jr.) and Le’tre Darthard (6-4, Sr.) have both shot well this season. Moore hits 42% of his 1.7 attempts, while Darthard is hitting 33% of his 4.5 attempts per game – the second most attempts on the team.
Besides Oweh, Rivaldo Soares (6-6, Sr.) is the only other Sooner averaging more than 20 minutes per game. He averages 6.4 points and 4.8 rebounds on 40% shooting from the field. While his numbers don’t jump off the page by themselves, he was reported to be part of the best performing two-man duos in the country alongside McCollum, according to Evan Miyakawa.
Oklahoma is also a superb rebounding team, ranking in the top 55 in both rebounds and rebounds allowed per game – including 16th in offensive rebounds allowed. After doing a great job of limiting star big men like Zach Edey and Armando Bacot, Arkansas struggled to secure defensive rebounds against a smaller Furman squad. Some of that is due to the Paladins jacking up 32 three-point attempts, which led to long rebounds, but Musselman knows his team has to be better in this area.
“We did a poor job against Furman in two things that were a key part of the scouting report,” Musselman said. “Guarding the three and dominating the glass. We were supposed to dominate the glass, not barely win it, and we didn’t do that. Why that was, I’m not sure, but if they don’t come to rebound, or we don’t come to rebound against Oklahoma, it’s not going to be a close contest.”
The Sooners have six different players averaging at least 4.3 rebounds per game, led by Sam Godwin (6-9, Sr.) and John Hugley at 6.3 and 5.8 rebounds per game, respectively. For reference, Arkansas has only three such players: Trevon Brazile (8.2), Devo Davis (5.7) and Chandler Lawson (5.2).
What to Expect from Arkansas Basketball
Trevon Brazile’s availability for this game is questionable at best after he suffered a “severe” ankle sprain late in the contest against Furman. He immediately limped to the locker room and never returned to the bench. It’s been diagnosed with a “severe sprain.”
“(Brazile) will not participate in anything we do today,” Musselman said on Wednesday. “There’s a possibility of him going on an underwater treadmill to walk tomorrow. So, not a glowing report… We still have some more days before we play.”
Aside from the concerning injury, the Hogs continued their improved offensive efficiency against Furman after seeing a dramatic uptick in their big win over Duke last week. Over these two games, Arkansas is averaging 88.5 points and 19.0 assists on 55% shooting from the field and 42% from behind the arc. By comparison, in the previous four-game stretch which netted a single win, the Hogs averaged 75.0 points and 6.5 assists on 41% shooting from the field and 27% from deep.
There seems to have been a conscious shift in the offensive mentality from the team, whether that be by design in the game plan or the new transfers simply playing enough minutes together to learn each other’s tendencies – or likely a bit of both.
Khalif Battle paced the team in scoring in the win over Furman with a season-high 25 points on 7 of 11 (64%) shooting, including 4 of 7 (57%) from beyond the arc, all while not turning the ball over once in 23 minutes of play. Chandler Lawson also tallied a career-high 19 points on 80% from the field in only 18 minutes of action.
The Hogs were excellent at defending the paint again in this matchup, recording 10 blocks for the second straight game. They now have three games this season with double-digit blocks as a team, including a 15-block game against Gardner-Webb.
“I think we’ve done a great job (at altering shots),” Musselman said. “Not only the obvious guys altering shots, but Davenport has had some good blocks, and certainly you mentioned Layden. We do work on it. Rear-view mirror contests become very important for us.”
By “rear-view mirror contests,” Musselman is talking about staying attached to a ball-handler even if they get a step ahead so the defender can still contest a shot and the ball-handler continues to feel defensive pressure – the way you might “feel” pressure from a car driving too close in your rear-view mirror.
“It is something we drill,” Musselman said. “It is something that against Oklahoma we have to be good at. Their guards do a good job of snake dribbling. Their guards, for the most part, keep their dribble alive longer than other guards that we play. We’ve got to protect the rim like our interior people are, and then our guards are going to have to continue to pursue the ball in pick-and-roll situations for sure.”
It was Arkansas’ defense – specifically the perimeter defense – that once again reared its ugly head against Furman and caused the Hogs to get mired in a closer game than the final score might indicate. After shooting 31% over its first eight games, Furman came out scorching hot against the Hogs. They started 4 of 4 from long range and ended the first half shooting 8 of 18 (44%) from distance.
Furman cooled off tremendously in the second half, hitting only 4 of 14 (29%) second-half attempts, but the Razorbacks’ perimeter defense out of the gate had once again been subpar. Sure, the Paladins hit a few tough, contested looks, but if the Hogs can’t stop this from happening against mid-major opponents, they might find themselves in serious trouble in SEC play.
Fortunately, Oklahoma has not shot the ball particularly well in their three high-quality matchups this season, but they have proven to be among the elite defensive teams in the country so far, limiting teams to 38% from the field and 26% from long range.
In other words, this could be a defensive battle on a neutral-site court in which buckets are hard to come by. Given the Hogs’ recent uptick in offensive production – and their multiple players capable of creating shots for themselves or earning trips to the free throw line – such a grinding affair could fall in their favor. That is assuming, of course, they can match the Sooners’ defensive intensity and not give up another season-high shooting night to their opponent.
What to Watch in Arkansas vs Oklahoma
Neither of these teams have played a true road game yet, but both have played multiple neutral site games on the young season. Both of Oklahoma’s neutral games were big wins over Iowa and USC, while Arkansas stumbled to 1-2 in the Bahamas.
It’s no secret that offense doesn’t travel as well to away/neutral games as defense does, and that’s been exactly the case for Arkansas so far. At home, they’re shooting just under 37% from long range as a team, but in their three neutral-site games, the Hogs hit just over 31% of their 3-point attempts.
Arkansas is 5-1 when it shoots 35% or better as a team, with the lone loss coming against Memphis in the Bahamas. Conversely, that leaves the Hogs at 1-2 when they shoot worse than that. The only win in that regard came against Stanford in double overtime.
The performances of a couple of Razorbacks in particular have proven to be key in the non-conference slate. Trevon Brazile and Khalif Battle have combined to shoot 52% in Arkansas’ six wins this season and only 29% in their losses. Of course, 52% as a duo is likely unsustainable – and Arkansas shouldn’t need to live and die by the 3-point shot – but it’s evident that the team plays well when these two players are playing well.
In fact, Musselman noted that settling for 3s against Oklahoma could ignite their transition game thanks to OU’s two point guards, McCollum and Milos Uzan (6-4, So.). Arkansas will have to work to create good looks for its scorers and be careful not to fall in love with contested jump shots.
To expand on the example of 3-point shooting, Brazile and Battle are combining to score 31.7 points on 50% from the field in wins and only 21.0 points on 40% shooting in losses. They also combine for only 2.8 turnovers compared to 5.0 turnovers between wins and losses.
For Arkansas, the differences between wins and losses with Brazile and Battle stand out far more than the rest of the key players on the team. Setting up these two players in good opportunities to score and create should continue to be a focal point for the Hogs.
Arkansas has seemingly put things together on the offensive side of the ball over the last few games, and a lot of that has to do with experience playing together – even with arguably its best player in Tramon Mark being absent or limited in each of the last two games. The backcourt should keep gelling with his return.
Defensively, there’s still work to be done, but Musselman is figuring out the right rotations and combinations to combat good offensive players on the other side of the ball. Even after Furman started hot, the halftime adjustments allowed the Razorbacks to build a big second-half lead.
This trend will continue against a salty, well-coached Oklahoma team as the Hogs hit the road for their fourth game away from Bud Walton Arena. Even with Brazile limited at best, Arkansas will show that it is a better offensive team than the Sooners and flex their interior defense once more to ultimately come away with a resume-building win.
Arkansas wins, 76-71
How to Watch Arkansas vs Oklahoma
Date: Saturday, Dec. 9
Location: BOK Center (Tulsa, Okla.)
Tipoff Time/TV: 3 p.m. CT (ESPN2)
ESPN BPI: Oklahoma has a 60.1% chance of winning, favored by 2.8 points.
Arkansas vs Oklahoma Notes
• Border rivals Arkansas and Oklahoma will play the third and final Crimson and Cardinal Classic at Tulsa’s BOK Center. The BOK Center is almost the midway point between the Arkansas (116 miles) and Oklahoma (125 miles) campuses.
• The Arkansas and Oklahoma series includes 30 games dating back to the 1938-39 season. Arkansas owns a 17-13 advantage in the series, including a 6-1 record when the teams play on a neutral court.
- Trevon Brazile ranks third in the SEC (34th NCAA) with 17 blocked shots. He also ranks third in the SEC (50th NCAA) in blocks per game (1.89). Chandler Lawson ranks 4th in the SEC (44th NCAA) with 16 blocked shots. Chandler Lawson had six blocked shots versus Duke, which is the most by an SEC player this season.
via Razorback Communications
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