Hoops ramping up could not come any sooner for Razorback fans still reeling from the football team’s miserable 38-point loss to Auburn on Saturday. Fortunately, Arkansas basketball is delivering so far, earning a spot just out of the top 10 in CBS Sports’ latest ranking.
The Razorbacks’ latest statement came in a 86-68 victory over Gardner-Webb on Friday night. Despite earning his second double-digit victory to open the season, Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman will be looking for a better performance in the Hogs’ next outing, which is against Old Dominion at 7 p.m. CT Monday inside Bud Walton Arena and streamed on SEC Network-Plus and ESPN-Plus.
Arkansas (2-0) got off to a slow start against the Bulldogs, trailing 13-5 less than four minutes into the game. While this may seem a bit uncharacteristic for such an experienced team, it’s not wholly unsurprising considering this is their first game of the season that doesn’t carry any sort of extra weight to get their adrenaline pumping.
The exhibition game against UT Tyler was the Hogs’ first chance to play against competition outside of their teammates.The Purdue exhibition was against a top opponent in front of a sold-out crowd. The game against Alcorn State was the first official home game of the season. Friday night’s Gardner-Webb tilt was their first “routine” game of the season, and it felt as though the team expected to coast to a victory regardless of how sharp their execution was.
Thankfully, Arkansas woke up about midway through the first half on the back of another stellar offensive performance from Khalif Battle. It built enough of a lead in the second half to play all of their available players for the second straight game (Layden Blocker was out with an undisclosed illness), though Musselman hinted in his postgame press conference that he might not be using his full bench moving forward – but more on that later.
UPDATE: For live updates of Arkansas vs Old Dominion, go here:
Previewing Old Dominion Basketball
The Monarchs will come into Bud Walton Arena on a very quick turnaround after dropping a close game to Ball State on Saturday afternoon. Their next game against Arkansas will tip off just over 48 hours after their last game ended.
Old Dominion (1-1) is an experienced, guard-heavy team that likes to play fast and put pressure on the rim. While Arkansas struggled at times to contain dribble penetration against Gardner-Webb, it was bailed out by 15 combined blocks as a team. Point-of-attack defense will be a major key in this game, not only to keep Old Dominion uncomfortable, but also to keep the Razorback big men out of foul trouble from having to help on the drive too often.
“They play small and play really fast,” Musselman said. “Identifying the ball as quickly as possible will be important. Keeping the dribble drive in front of us is going to be the key to the game. We can’t give up straight line drives because they’re really good attackers off the bounce.”
A strange but true stat: Old Dominion made 15 field goals in the first half of their loss against Ball State with zero (0) assists. They ended the game with only three total assists on 29 field goals. This type of attack could theoretically be easy for the Hogs to defend given their high-level perimeter defenders. But that entails those defenders coming out more locked in and prepared to play in this game than they did the last one.
Chaunce Jenkins paces the Monarchs offensively, averaging 18.0 points and 4.5 rebounds on 54% shooting from the field, including 43% from long range. However, he’s the only player on the roster to attempt at least one 3-pointer in each of his first two games and shoot at least 30% from behind the arc.
What the Monarchs lack in 3-point volume, they made up for in free throw attempts in their first game against a Division II opponent with 25 total attempts. Against Ball State, however, Old Dominion attempted just 11 free throws – and made only six of them – on their way to their first loss of the season. If the Razorbacks can consistently defend without fouling, they should have very few problems in this game.
What to Expect from Arkansas Basketball
The Razorbacks needed something of an offensive masterpiece from Khalif Battle to get their legs underneath them in their win over Gardner-Webb. He scored 21 points for the second consecutive game, but the most impressive part was his efficiency. Battle took only nine shots to reach his 21 points thanks to an impressive 3-of-4 from long range and 8-of-10 from the free throw line.
“(Battle) saved us offensively,” Musselman said postgame. “He’s been phenomenal. He’s a starter, he’s just not hearing his name called right away. He’s been our most efficient offensive player. He stretches the floor, he can play one-on-one, he can draw free throws. He’s a good foul shooter. He did a decent job on the defensive backboards tonight. Really happy with how he played.”
Musselman noting that Battle is essentially a starter coming off the bench lines up with his usual strategy of giving a major offensive force starter-level minutes off the bench. Certainly, Devo Davis, JD Notae and Ricky Council IV are prime examples of this in past years. Battle, albeit in a small sample size, is filling that role as well as any of those former Hogs to this point.
The Arkansas basketball team also found success at times playing through its center in the high post. On Friday night, Makhi Mitchell showed off his underrated passing ability on offense while tallying four blocked shots defensively. Musselman said afterward that it’s hard to play multiple big men at once (not counting Brazile due to his versatility and guard-like skillset), and that it could be a different big man impacting the game every night.
Of the three bigs in contention for minutes, Mitchell is arguably the best passer. Chandler Lawson provides more versatility and shooting, while Graham is clearly Arkansas’ best pure post scorer. Having so many different looks within the offense is a luxury that could become vital at some point in the season.
What to Watch for in Game 3
A hot-button topic of discussion for the first two months of every Eric Musselman-led season has been the construction of Arkansas’ core rotation. The Hogs have historically run a relatively shallow rotation under Musselman, sometimes playing as few as seven players consistently.
So far, the Hogs have played every player available for action in both of their first two games. That isn’t unusual considering the blowout nature of the victories, but Musselman hinted that the rotation could already be trimmed down to the players with whom he feels most comfortable.
“(The rotation) is drilled down already, I can tell you that,” Musselman said when asked how comfortable he will be with the top guys once he shortens his rotation. “Tonight was…you play your way in or play your way out.”
If the Razorbacks take care of business in this matchup like they’re expected to, we may still not get a full picture of Musselman’s most trusted guys, but the general core is starting to make itself clear. El Ellis, Devo Davis, Tramon Mark and Khalif Battle will certainly soak up most of the guard minutes with Layden Blocker seemingly the closest to knocking on the door of playing time out of the next group.
Trevon Brazile is an easy lock to earn minutes as a forward, but Chandler Lawson earning the starting spot over Makhi Mitchell for the first two games has been somewhat surprising, especially considering Mithcell’s performance in his last outing.
Lawson showed his worth and versatility against Purdue, so for sure may still be a part of the rotation. However, it’s worth noting that Jalen Graham is still returning to full health from his back injury and Musselman very rarely plays two big men at once. He also made a note that he hadn’t yet played Brazile much at the center position, which is something likely to change.
With all three centers bringing a different skill set and high level of experience, the deciding factor on playing time could boil down to something simple like free throw efficiency. Through the first two games, Arkansas is shooting only 65% from the charity stripe as a team.
When you dig a little deeper, however, the trio of Baye Fall, Denijay Harris and Jalen Graham are shooting a combined 5 of 19 (26%) from the free throw line. The rest of the team is a combined 38 of 47 (81%) from the stripe. Fall and Harris seem to be clearly on the outside of the rotation, but Graham has a shot at significant minutes.
It could also boil down to an ability to defend without fouling. Graham has had his fair share of troubles as a defender despite some stats indicating otherwise, but he did an excellent job at staying vertical at the rim during the Razorbacks’ first win of the season. He only contributed one block to Arkansas’ impressive 15 in his last game, but he seems to be on track for improvement there. Lawson, on the other hand, has four personal fouls in only 18 minutes of total action after an impressive defensive performance against Purdue.
The battle for minutes between Lawson and Graham will be interesting to watch, but whoever wins out will effectively serve as the eighth man (assuming Blocker continues to develop into the seventh-man role). The other player will likely fight for spot minutes with sharpshooters Joseph Pinion and Jeremiah Davenport – either of whom could pop off in any given game.
Musselman could decide to go 10 players deep on most nights with this ridiculously talented roster, but that’s somewhat unlikely given his track record of short rotations and the disappointment he expressed in some bench players after Gardner-Webb, saying the depth “took a huge step back with the minutes they were given.”
Arkansas vs Old Dominion Prediction
Arkansas will come out a bit more focused after its slow start against Gardner-Webb and with improved shot selection. Though we’ll likely still see 10-11 players, Musselman will keep his rotation tighter for longer in this game regardless of the final score – including some minutes with Brazile at the five.
The Razorbacks will have a renewed focus on the defensive side of the ball, not allowing so many free opportunities to get into the paint. Arkansas basketball dominates the majority of this game in the way it’s expected and continues to serve as a beacon of hope for severely disappointed Razorback football fans.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Old Dominion
Date: Monday, Nov. 13
Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 7 p.m. CT (SEC Network+ / ESPN+)
Spread: Arkansas -20.5 according to https://www.slotozilla.com/au/online-casinos/sky-crown-casino
Sorta Fun Back Story with Old Dominion Coach
Old Dominion’s coach Jeff Jones has a lot of history vs the Razorbacks.
For one, he was Virginia’s head coach when defending national champion Arkansas beat the Cavaliers 68-61 in the 1995 NCAA Midwest Regional final at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo., to go back to the Final Four, as Bob Holt wrote in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Previous to that, Jones coached against Arkansas on five separate occasions under Terry Holland:
- at Barnhill Arena when Arkansas beat Virginia 66-62 during the 1987-88
- at the Pine Bluff Convention Center when Virginia beat Arkansas 78-66 in 1986-87
- a 1984 NCAA Tournament matchup when the Cavaliers beat the Razorbacks 53-51 in overtime
- Two wins by Virginia over Arkansas in Charlottesville, Va. during the 1984-85 and 1988-89 seasons
More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…