Arkansas vs Texas A&M: Look Who Reached An Important Top 10 Despite Blowout Loss

Makhi Mitchell, Buzz Williams, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs Texas A&M
photo credit: Craven Whitlow / Texas A&M Athletics

Arkansas came close to winning its second SEC road game Saturday afternoon, even taking a late lead, but a 3-pointer from Mississippi State’s Josh Hubbard gave the Bulldogs the lead and they never looked back as they defeated the Hogs 71-67, dropping Arkansas to 12-13 (3-9) on the season.

“First of all, I’m super proud of the effort,” Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman said afterward. “When you’re without a preseason all-league player (Trevon Brazile) that’s 6-11, any team in the league would go through some struggles.”

This is the first time the Razorbacks have dropped below .500 since head coach Eric Musselman became the Head Hog, and only the second time Musselman has dropped below .500 in his coaching career. The first came when he lost the first game of the 2016-17 season at Nevada.

Despite having no shot at an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament, Arkansas has an excellent chance to finish its season strong. Three of its final six opponents are ranked outside the top 85 in the NET Rankings. Home games against Missouri (No. 147) and Vanderbilt (No. 218) appear especially winnable.

Even the next game on the Hogs’ schedule, a rematch with Texas A&M, projects as a winnable matchup. Arkansas beat the Aggies in dramatic fashion back in mid-January to earn its first SEC win of the year. Tramon Mark scored a career-high 35 points – including a last-second game winner – but was almost outdone by Texas A&M’s Wade Taylor IV. The Aggie guard scored 41 points and hit an unbelievable off-balanced 3-pointer to give the Aggies their first lead of the game with 7 seconds left.

It can be difficult to beat the same team twice in one season, but the Hogs have at least already proven they’re capable of beating Texas A&M, especially considering they led by 20 points in the first half of their win. Of course, the upcoming game is also on the road, which will make it that much more difficult to win.

You can also expect that the Aggies will be eager to atone for falling flat on their faces on Saturday in a 25-point loss to the Crimson Tide.

Arkansas vs Texas A&M will tip off at 6 p.m. CT Tuesday and will be televised on ESPN.

Previewing Texas A&M Basketball

Wade Taylor IV, as no Arkansas basketball fan needs reminding, is one of the nation’s top point guards. Despite a subpar 10-point outing in the Aggies’ most recent loss to Alabama, he is still averaging 19.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.1 steals.

Tyrece “Boots” Radford (6-2, Sr.) is a Swiss Army Knife of sorts for the Aggies. Although he stands only 6-foot-2, Radford can play virtually any position other than center on the court and creates mismatches for opposing defenses with his versatility. He’s also third on the team in offensive rebounds with 2.5 per game.

The Hogs have actually been excellent at shutting down the opposing teams’ best players in most of their games this season. While Taylor was otherworldly in the last Arkansas vs Texas A&M outing, Radford was held to 6 points and 5 rebounds on 20% shooting and 0-of-5 from long range.

A byproduct of this, however, has been Arkansas allowing a player that doesn’t typically score a lot to hurt them. The first time these teams met, that player was Andersson Garcia. On the season, Garcia averages as many offensive rebounds (4.6) as he does defensive boards, totaling 9.2 total rebounds per game to go along with only 6.0 points per game. Against Arkansas, he tallied 10 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks in his 36 minutes of action.

The Aggies were also without Henry Coleman – their usual starting forward – the last time these teams met. Coleman averages 10.1 points and 6.7 rebounds (2.7 offensive rebounds) per game and is an important paint presence for Texas A&M.

Other notable players in the Aggies rotation:

  • Jace Carter (6-5, Jr.) | 7.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG
  • Hayden Hefner (6-6, Sr.) | 6.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 30% 3P
  • Solomon Washington (6-7, So.) | 6.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG (2.2 ORPG), 58% 2P

As a team, the Aggies have struggled mightily from long-range this season, including shooting only 27% against SEC teams. They’ve only shot above 33% from distance eight times in 25 games this season. Arkansas, on the other hand, is allowing SEC teams to shoot nearly 40% from long range in road games. However, that number has dropped to allowing only 26% in their last three games.

Texas A&M is also among the best teams in the SEC at taking care of the basketball. The Aggies are first in the conference in fewest turnovers per game and fewest steals allowed per game. That ability to take care of the ball has helped them knock off six Quad 1 teams, including Tennessee, Iowa State and Florida, which just yesterday was upgraded to Quad 1.

Indeed, Texas A&M is one of only 10 teams in the nation with six or more such wins:

*Source: NCAA. 

** Warning: Look at No. 136 Arkansas’ Quad 1 record only at your own peril.

Some of that is a function of playing so many Quad 1 teams, sure, but this stat shows how seasoned the Aggies are.

“I think Buzz Williams does a great job,” Musselman said of the Aggies. “I have incredible respect for their backcourt. Radford and Taylor, both those guys, really talented. Andersson Garcia, as good a rebounder as there is in the country, so it’s a more than challenging game for sure.”

Thanks to improved play from the likes of El Ellis, the Hogs have improved at forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. They average 8.6 steals per game over their last five games.

What to Expect from Arkansas Basketball

Despite dropping their ninth SEC loss of the season, Arkansas was once again very competitive on the road against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Hogs led with under a minute to play and lost by only four points after an unusual sequence of missed free throws late in the game.

Makhi Mitchell in particular had perhaps his best game of the season, continuing his best stretch of games in his collegiate career. He tallied a career-high 21 points along with 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals and 1 assist on 67% shooting from the field and a perfect 5 of 5 from the free throw line.

Mitchell is not only important to the Hogs for his increased offensive production and consistency over the last several games, but he could prove to be vital in dealing with Texas A&M’s bruising star forward. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound Henry Coleman didn’t play the last time these teams met, and this matchup could be a deciding factor in the contest.

Despite a 1-point outing in only 11 minutes against Tennessee in the prior game, Mitchell is now averaging 12.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 blocks on roughly 61% from the field and 82% from the free throw line. His improved play has been a major reason for Arkansas being competitive – even in losses – in four of its last six games.

Khalif Battle had his best SEC game of the season with 18 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 34 minutes of action. It’s important for the Hogs to have good guard play in SEC games, regardless of who it comes from, but Battle is perhaps the most capable of being a consistent volume scorer when he’s playing with confidence. It’s worth watching his minutes and production over the next few games.

“I thought Battle was really, really good offensively,” Musselman said. “I thought Makhi Mitchell was outstanding… Makhi’s offense plus his defense was off the charts.

“We needed [Mitchell’s] physicality. I thought he did a great job in pick-and-rolls, as a short roller making plays, which we’ve utilized him in spots depending on how the opponent plays pick-and-roll coverages. It was a really good game for him to step up in.”

After a stretch of 13 straight games in double digit scoring, Tramon Mark had arguably his worst game of the season with 6 points and 3 rebounds on 29% shooting from the field and 33% from long range. He fouled out in 27 minutes of action. Perhaps he’s due for a bounce back game against the Aggies – the same team against which recorded a career high earlier in the season.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs Texas A&M

Rebounding after losing to Mississippi State will come down to, well, rebounding. With that loss, Arkansas is now 2-11 on the season when getting outrebounded by their opponents and 10-2 when winning the rebound battle. In fact, the Bulldogs had nearly as many offensive rebounds as Arkansas had defensive rebounds.

Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, Texas A&M is the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the country – by a wide margin. The offensive rebounding margin between the Aggies and the No. 2 team in the country in this stat is nearly as big as the gap between the No. 2 and No. 8 team.

Obviously, securing rebounds benefits a team by closing out defensive possessions and potentially earning second-chance points, but it can also be an indicator of overall effort and energy from a team.

Effort wasn’t necessarily an issue against Mississippi State, but the Hogs have far too often struggled with consistently providing the effort needed to be competitive. Musselman specifically mentioned the term “competitive spirit” at least three times after the Tennessee loss, stating the Volunteers had much more of it than the Hogs, especially in the second half of the 29-point loss.

Arkansas vs Texas A&M could spell trouble on the boards for the Hogs, especially now that Coleman is back with his 6.7 rebounds per game, including 2.7 offensive rebounds. Plus, the status of Arkansas big Jalen Graham is up in the air after he missed the Mississippi State game with an injured shoulder.

The rebound battle has determined the winner of 84% of Razorback games this season. That number says all that’s needed about how vital this is for the Hogs. Simply put, if they can find a way to control the glass, they stand a great chance. Lose that battle, especially by a wide margin, and the game is almost over before it starts.

Game Prediction

Arkansas is 107-61 all-time against the Aggies, including 38-40 on the road. Texas A&M has won four of the last five matchups in College Station, including the last three in a row.

Arkansas will continue to be competitive as Makhi Mitchell continues his improved production. Tramon Mark will bounce back from his down game against Mississippi State, and at least one other guard – whether it be Battle, El Ellis, or Keyon Menifield, will help out in the scoring column.

However, the Hogs will continue to struggle shooting the ball on the road, and Texas A&M will flex its rebounding muscles to defend home court. Arkansas will drop its 10th SEC loss with five games remaining on the schedule despite a valiant effort.

Texas A&M wins, 77-72

How to Watch Arkansas vs Texas A&M

Date: Tuesday, Feb. 20

Location: Reed Arena (College Station, Texas)

Tipoff Time/TV: 6 p.m. CT (ESPN)

ESPN BPI: Texas A&M has a 90.3% chance to win, favored by 14.4 points.

KenPom: Texas A&M has an 84% chance to win, favored by a score of 78-68.


More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS… 

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