The Arkansas basketball team’s season is looking as bleak as it ever has under head coach Eric Musselman. The Hogs have fallen to 1-4 in SEC play after their second double-digit loss in Bud Walton Arena in the last two weeks.
Sure, Arkansas has started slow in SEC play in virtually every season under Musselman, but it doesn’t take much digging to see how this year feels different. For starters, the Hogs are 10-8 with a brutal schedule still left to play, and their losses aren’t close, hard-fought losses. They’ve been blown out in several games this season. Even some of their wins that had the potential to be resume-boosting victories turned into ugly, single-digit victories.
“It was obviously disappointing,” Musselman said after the South Carolina loss. “I thought we battled (in the previous game) against Texas A&M. We’ve now had two home games where we’re not exhibiting the energy that we need to.”
Perhaps the worst part about the loss is that this game was one of the “least difficult” games left on the schedule – not that any SEC game should be considered easy, but the Gamecocks were not ranked highly in any metric and the game was played at Bud Walton Arena.
Up next, the Razorbacks hit the road for the first of back-to-back Quadrant 1 opportunities. First on the schedule is a trip to Ole Miss (15-3, 2-3) before facing Kentucky (14-3, 4-1) later in the week. The Rebels started their season on a tear, going 13-0 in their non-conference slate before sliding lately against SEC competition. They’ve suffered consecutive losses to LSU and Auburn – the latter coming by 23 points on the road.
Both of their SEC wins came at home, though, which is exactly where their matchup with Arkansas will take place. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT Wednesday and the game will be televised on ESPNU.
Chris Beard and Ole Miss Basketball
A pair of experienced wings captain the ship for the Rebels and both of them have plenty of experience playing against the Hogs. Likely the most familiar name to Razorback fans is Little Rock native Allen Flanigan. The 6-foot-6 senior spent four years wreaking havoc on the Hogs as an Auburn Tiger before following his father, Wes Flanigan, to Ole Miss for his final collegiate season.
Wes Flanigan, also a Little Rock native, had been an Arkansas-Little Rock assistant under Chris Beard in the 2015-16 season when the Trojans won their first-ever outright Sun Belt title during the 2015-16 campaign and knocked off No. 5 seed Purdue in the NCAA Tournament. The elder Flanigan then followed Beard as the Trojans’ head coach for two season.
Now, his son has taken a decisive leadership role in their new home. After averaging 8.5 points and 4.2 rebounds for his career at Auburn, Allen Flanigan has exploded onto the scene at Ole Miss with career highs virtually across the board including 16.1 points, 6.8 rebounds (team high), 3.2 assists and 1.7 steals per game. He’s also shooting 82% from the charity stripe, which is nearly five percentage points higher than his previous career high in a season.
The success of Allen Flanigan, combined with the deep ties to the state of his family not to mention Beard’s one stellar year at Little Rock, represent a flashback to the years under Nolan Richardson when guys the Razorbacks didn’t recruit especially hard ended up finding success in Oxford. Ole Miss’ current athletic director, Keith Carter, is one such Arkansas native.
If Arkansas continues to flounder, it is far from difficult to see how Beard and Wes Flanigan could exploit that to emerge as what SI.com’s Kent Smith called the “greatest recruiting threat the Razorbacks have faced in decades.”
Wednesday night’s Arkansas vs Ole Miss matchup will be Allen Flanigan’s seventh (!!!) game against the Razorbacks in his collegiate career. In the first six games, he averaged 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 31% from long range. However, in the only two regular-season games in which he faced the Hogs away from Fayetteville, Flanigan’s averages balloon to 18.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and over 46% shooting from distance.
Granted, these games were in Auburn and not Ole Miss, but don’t be surprised if the trend of decimating the Hogs away from Fayetteville continues for the former Parkview Patriot. Because of that, also don’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of Tramon Mark on Flanigan defensively.
Matthew Murrell (6-4, Sr.) leads the team in scoring at 16.9 points to go along with 3.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.2 steals per game. He’s a fourth-year senior, playing each of the last three seasons at Ole Miss – somewhat of a rarity in the modern landscape of college sports.
In three career games against the Hogs, Murrell only averages 6.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists on under 32% shooting from the field. However, only one of those games took place in Oxford. In that contest, Murrell lit up Arkansas for 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals on 40% shooting from long range.
The member of the Ole Miss sideline that likely holds the most potential for disaster for the Hogs is head coach Chris Beard. The former Little Rock Trojans head coach was at the helm for the Texas Longhorns when they handed Arkansas a 90-60 loss in an exhibition game prior to the 2022-23 season.
He also defeated Musselman when the two matched up in 2017 as the head coaches of Texas Tech and Nevada, respectively. Musselman did, however, get some revenge on Beard when Arkansas defeated his Texas Tech squad in the 2021 NCAA Tournament to get back to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 25 years.
What to Expect from Arkansas Basketball
Most of the problems Arkansas has been having all season reared their nasty heads again in the South Carolina loss. A team that was shooting less than 33% from long range on the season, including 24% over their last three games, came into Bud Walton Arena and went 9 of 18 (50%) from 3-point range against the Hogs.
“It was just hitting shots,” Razorback wing Jeremiah Davenport said postgame. “Defense was lackadaisical, and they were just hitting today.”
While South Carolina did seem to be feeling it as a team, Arkansas has given up more than its fair share of quality 3-point looks to teams all season. Whether it has to do with scheme, talent or effort – or likely a combination of the three – the Hogs still haven’t figured out how to guard the 3-point line.
“We haven’t guarded the three all year,” Musselman said. “It’s our issue to fix as a staff, but we’re doing the same drills we did when we led the nation in defending the three. I don’t like to talk about the past, but I have found myself doing that a lot this year.”
Ole Miss has shot over 38% from long range as a team on the season, including 40% in their two home SEC games – one of which came against Florida, a team that held Arkansas to 5 of 15 (33%) shooting.
Tramon Mark seemed to be the only bright spot for the Hogs yet again against South Carolina. He’s now averaging 19.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 blocks and 0.9 steals on 51% from the field, 48% from the 3-point line and 86% from the charity stripe. If you overlook a poor shooting stretch against Georgia and Florida, the transfer wing is hitting nearly 65% of his 3-point attempts in six of his last eight games.
The game plan seems to be solidifying itself for this struggling Razorback team: get the ball to Mark and see if he can get going. Otherwise, the ball movement and overall shooting was once again not where it needed to be for the Hogs against South Carolina.
El Ellis perhaps continued to build on the confidence he gained from the Texas A&M win, tallying 9 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists with only 1 turnover in 23 minutes of action. The team as a whole actually did a phenomenal job of taking care of the ball, only committing five total turnovers and holding the Gamecocks to one steal for the game.
However, the team as a whole shot 37% on 62 shot attempts, including going 5 of 18 (28%) from long range. Ignoring Mark’s impressive outing, the team averages drop to 35% from the field and 20% from long range. This team was never meant to be a defensive juggernaut like previous Razorback teams, but the idea by most analysts coming into the season was that the improved offensive talent would fill in the gaps left open by the defense. That has clearly not been the case.
Trevon Brazile in particular continues to be a non-factor despite being projected as an early-to-mid first-round NBA Draft pick in the preseason. He played 25 minutes and scored only 3 points on 1 of 3 from the field. This is his ninth game of the season playing at least 25 minutes and not reaching double-digit shot attempts, including his second time in two games to reach 25 minutes without attempting more than five shots.
Arkansas needed him to be aggressive in all areas of the court, with and without the ball in his hands, and take advantage of mismatches in order to be the offensive force they expected to be. Instead, he’s taking roughly 42% of his shots from behind the 3-point arc – 47% when only looking at SEC games – and averaging only 1.0 offensive rebounds per game against SEC teams. He simply has to be more assertive if the Hogs want to salvage any hope left in their season.
What to Watch: Arkansas vs Ole Miss
Speaking of offensive rebounding, Arkansas has been relatively poor in this stat category all season. However, they haven’t been quite as bad at getting offensive rebounds as the Rebels have been at allowing them.
Ole Miss currently ranks No. 340 in the country in offensive rebound percentage allowed, giving roughly 34.6% of available offensive rebounds to their opponents. Conversely, Arkansas is grabbing roughly 25.4% of their potentially offensive rebound opportunities, ranking them at No. 300 in the country.
A large factor in giving up so many offensive rebounds – for both teams – is their tendency to chase blocked shots. The Rebels and the Hogs are the top two teams in the SEC in blocked shots per game. On the season, Arkansas and Ole Miss are blocking 6.5 and 6.4 shots per game, respectively. In conference play, Ole Miss has actually surpassed Arkansas as the leading shot-blocking team with 6.8 against SEC teams compared to Arkansas’ 6.2 blocks per game.
The Rebels have succeeded in this department in large part to their massive center rotation consisting of a pair of transfers: Jamarion Sharp (7-5, Sr.) and Moussa Cisse (6-10, Sr.). These two are combining to block 4.1 shots per game. For reference, the Hogs’ three leading shot blockers (Brazile, Chandler Lawson, and Makhi Mitchell), are combining for only 3.7 blocks per game.
Amazingly, despite being first in the conference in blocks per game against SEC teams, Ole Miss also ranks first in the conference in fewest fouls committed per game. Arkansas will have to continue to find a way to draw fouls and get to the free throw line in a tough road environment if they want a shot at winning this game.
The battle of the bigs – both on the offensive glass and in the shot-blocking battle – will likely be the biggest key to this game. Either team could quickly take control by dominating the glass or drawing fouls on known shot-blocking big men to earn free throws and potentially cause foul trouble.
The Razorbacks are 52-33 all-time against the Rebels, including winning 9 of the last 10 matchups and two straight in Oxford. However, the current trajectory of both of these teams indicates that Ole Miss has a great opportunity to break that streak.
Arkansas is desperately looking for energy, consistency and, as Musselman likes to phrase it, swagger. They will need all that and more to turn around the ship now that Hogs have now lost four of their last five games before hitting the road to face one of the better teams in the SEC this season.
Tramon Mark will likely get his points, whether it be through his continued hot shooting or finding a way to the free throw line, but he will still be searching for help from his teammates. The Razorbacks will likely struggle to shoot on the road (they’re shooting below 40% from the field and 22% from long range in two road games this season).
Arkansas basketball drops its fifth game in six tries, leaving it only one game above .500 for the season.
Ole Miss wins, 83-73
How to Watch Arkansas vs Ole Miss
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 24
Location: The Sandy and John Black Pavilion (Oxford, Miss.)
Tipoff Time/TV: 8 p.m. CT (ESPNU)
ESPN BPI: Ole Miss has a 71.5% chance to win, favored by 6.2 points.
Our own Andrew Hutchinson, and host Jackson Fuller, discuss the struggle of Arkansas basketball in the latest episode of Hoggin’ the Mic:
More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…