Arkansas vs Texas A&M: 2 Elite Effort Players Needed to Help Counter Aggies’ Strength

Eric Musselman, Layden Blocker, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs Texas A&M
photo credit: Nick Wenger

Arkansas basketball returns home for the first time in 10 days still in search of its first SEC win after suffering three straight double-digit losses.

With a combined 64-point margin, it’s the worst three-game skid in school history. That’s what the Razorbacks will be trying to snap when Texas A&M visits Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday.

At this point, it’s hard to pinpoint any one – or even two or three – things going wrong for Arkansas. The defense is still very poor, the offense continues to be inconsistent and lackluster from the perimeter, players often seem confused about where they’re supposed to be on both ends of the court, the team overall lacks physicality, etc. The list can go on and on.

Eric Musselman-coached Arkansas basketball teams often struggle to start SEC play, but things are clearly different with this squad.

“This group does not have the characteristics of our past four years,” Musselman said after the loss to Florida. “I mean, you can see that. We have a lot of holes in a lot of different areas. So, our job as a staff will be to continue to do what we can, try to provide teaching points, to try to continue to give scouting reports that are effective. That’s what we’re supposed to do, is continue to try to get guys better and get the collective whole better.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT and will be televised on SEC Network.

Previewing Texas A&M Basketball

The Aggies are led by one of the best guard duos in the SEC, perhaps even the country. Point guard Wade Taylor IV (6-4, Jr.) has often been considered one of the best point guards in all of college basketball this season. He’s averaging 18.2 points, 4.1 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game.

He has a tendency to be inefficient and turn the ball over, however, shooting only 36% from the field (under 30% in SEC play) and turning the ball over more than three times per game. Both are things Arkansas should look to exploit in this matchup. Don’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of Devo Davis on the lead guard.

Tyrese “Boots” Radford joins Taylor as leading scorers on this team with 13.6 points to go along with 5.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He’s a big guard that has a very unique play-style, often making him a mismatch nightmare. That includes grabbling 2.6 offensive rebounds per game from the guard position.

“Radford’s as good a rebounder from the guard position (as anyone),” Musselman said. “He’s probably the No. 1 offensive rebounding guard in the entire country.”

Henry Coleman (6-7, Sr.) and Andersson Garcia (6-7, Sr.) are one of the premier rebounding tandems in the country. They combine to average nearly 17 rebounds per game, including 7.3 offensive rebounds. Coleman also averages 11.9 points per game on ultra-efficient shooting inside the arc, though Garcia has not proven to be much of an offensive threat.

“They’re so well-coached,” Musselman said of Texas A&M. “(Head coach) Buzz Williams does a phenomenal job with his team on both sides of the ball. They’ll mix up defensive coverage. It’ll be important for our ball handlers in the pick-and-roll to be able to identify their soft traps.”

Other notable players in Texas A&M’s rotation:

  • Hayden Hefner (6-6, Sr.) | 8.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, 34% 3P
  • Jac Carter (6-5, Jr.) | 6.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.9 ORPG
  • Solomon Washington (6-7, So.) | 5.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.4 ORPG, 49% FG

What to Expect from Arkansas Basketball

There aren’t often a lot of positives to take away from a 22-point loss, though Arkansas seemed to find some unexpected semblance of life and energy from its bench late in the first half. Layden Blocker and Joseph Pinion joined Jeremiah Davenport in the backcourt after the Hogs went down 27-9 early in the first half.

While Davenport had a good first half offensively, scoring 13 points on 2-of-3 shooting from long range, it was the effort of Pinion and Blocker that momentarily turned the tide for Arkansas. Musselman went to a 2-3 zone defense, something he had never really done as a college coach, and it led to a 16-7 run for the Razorbacks to make it a single-digit game.

Blocker scored a career-high 14 points in roughly 23 minutes to go along with 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist and 1 block, while Pinion poured in 12 points on 100% free throw shooting and 50% shooting from long range. He also contributed a pair of rebounds and one assist, steal and block.

“We didn’t play very good, but I thought Joseph Pinion did a really good job,” Musselman said. “I thought Blocker did a good job. Layden played 23 minutes tonight and he was plus-two. I thought Joseph played well, 12 points, 4 for 4 from the foul line, 2 for 4 from three, minus-one in his (22) minutes.”

Being plus-2 and minus-1 doesn’t seem like the usual sort of thing to be excited about, but in a game Arkansas lost by 22 points and both players played over 20-minutes, it’s certainly one of the bigger positives to take away from the brutal loss.

“Certainly, those two young men tonight, because they played hard, we’ll probably look to go to them earlier than we have in some of these past games,” Musselman said. “At some point you’re going to play some guys.”

HogStats pointed out an oddly specific stat about the last time a pair of Razorbacks recorded 10-plus points and at least one rebound, assist, block and steal off the bench in the same game. Those players were Chris Walker and Blake Eddins in a game the Hogs lost to LSU in February 2000. The next game, both Walker and Eddins started and helped Arkansas to an SEC win over Vanderbilt. A few weeks afterward, that Arkansas basketball squad – led by Joe Johnson – won the SEC Tournament. They remain the only Hogs squad to have done so.

Tramon Mark and Jalen Graham joined the trio of guards in double digit-scoring with 12 and 10 points, respectively, each on around 44% from the field. Mark tallied a well-rounded stat line once again with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in 29 minutes.

What to Watch: Arkansas vs Texas A&M

With the loss to Florida, Arkansas is now 1-6 when it is out-rebounded by its opponent. The lone win came by single-digits over Old Dominion despite being predicted to win by much more. The Hogs’ lone loss when winning the battle of the boards came against No. 13 Memphis by only five points less than 24 hours after a double-overtime game against Stanford.

To put it simply, winning the rebounding battle has been a crucial and indicative stat for the Hogs all season long. Unfortunately, the Aggies are the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the country and just conducted a clinic in that realm against Kentucky. They have seven different players averaging at least 0.9 offensive rebounds per game – including five players averaging at least 2.1 offensive rebounds.

There was a very similar theme for the Hogs heading into their last matchup against Florida since the Gators are the No. 1 overall rebounding team in the country – including the No. 2 offensive rebounding team. Arkansas absolutely needed to rebound the ball well to have a chance, but they were dominated on the boards 48-31, including 15-9 on the offensive glass.

In order to avoid a repeat and its second straight embarrassing loss at Bud Walton Arena, Arkansas has no choice but to find a way to stay competitive on the glass. Even if it doesn’t outright win the battle, it must at least keep it close and hope other parts of their game help keep them alive.

The addition of Pinion and Blocker to the rotation might not scream “rebounding help,” but they’re both elite effort players who have consistently left it all on the court when their name is called. Perhaps that sort of effort is exactly what Arkansas needs against a relatively short Texas A&M team that is so good at securing offensive rebounds.

Game Prediction

Arkansas leads the all-time series against Texas A&M 106-61, including 61-15 at home and four straight wins in Bud Walton Arena. Still, the Hogs have lost four of the last six games overall, including the last two in a row.

If Arkansas is ever going to figure things out and turn its season around, it’s very quickly running out of time. Unfortunately, matching up with yet another elite rebounding team is not a recipe for success for this struggling Razorback squad.

Musselman will likely deploy a new-look rotation that consists more of players consistently showing their effort and desire to be on the court like Pinion, Blocker and Davenport. The added benefit of being in Fayetteville should help the Hogs offensively, but it likely won’t be enough to avoid dropping to 0-4 in SEC play.

Texas A&M wins, 83-78

How to Watch Arkansas vs Texas A&M

Date: Tuesday, Jan. 16

Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Tipoff Time/TV: 8 p.m. CT (SEC Network)

ESPN BPI: Texas A&M has a 65.9% chance to win, favored by 4.2 points

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