Arkansas basketball is off to a 3-0 start despite back-to-back slow starts against mid-major opponents. While the Razorbacks worked through their early-game woes in each contest, this could certainly become an impactful trend with five more mid-major opponents left on the schedule.
The first of those is UNC Greensboro, which visits Bud Walton Arena for a 7 p.m. CT tipoff Friday in a game streamed on SEC Network-Plus and ESPN-Plus.
It was against the Spartans last season when Trevon Brazile went down with a torn ACL, ending his season. The sophomore big man certainly hasn’t shown any signs of rust coming into this season from an athletic standpoint. He’s already made the top 3 in SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays thanks to this doozy and has nine blocks through three games.
“I think he’ll be ready to play,” Eric Musselman said of Brazile on Monday. “The biggest thing that he’s done a great job of is playing fearless. He’s dunking the ball, trying to dunk on people. He took a hard foul at the rim tonight trying to dunk on somebody. If it was in your head, so to speak, you wouldn’t have however many blocks he’s had because leaving your feet is where the fear might come in and he leaves his feet a lot.”
The Spartans are 1-1 so far this season with their lone loss coming in a nail-bitter against Vanderbilt earlier this week. After trailing by as many as 18, UNCG stormed back late in the second half, hitting a 3-pointer to cut its deficit to 72-70 with only 8 seconds to play. The Commodores knocked down a pair of free throws to win the game by four points, but the Spartans showed a lot of resilience in the narrow loss.
UNCG is currently ranked at No. 124 in KenPom’s rankings – easily the best ranking Arkansas basketball has faced to this point in the season. Only Furman and UNC Wilmington are ranked higher among the remaining mid-major opponents on the Razorbacks’ schedule.
Previewing UNC Greensboro Basketball
After a convincing 94-78 victory over North Carolina A&T, the Spartans almost pulled off an upset over Vanderbilt – the same team that defeated Arkansas last time the two teams met. Collectively, the Spartans are shooting nearly 38% from long range, though the bulk of that success came in their first matchup when they shot 15 of 29 (52%) from behind the arc. Against Vanderbilt, that percentage plummeted to 7 of 29 (24%) from distance.
You don’t have to go back very far to find the last time a team coming into Bud Walton with a poor shooting percentage proceeded to light up Arkansas from 3-point range. Old Dominion had been limping along with a 30% team 3-point percentage before going 11 of 24 (46%) against Arkansas on Monday night. In other words, percentages be damned, Arkansas has to focus on limiting quality 3-point attempts.
“For eight years, same drills, same everything,” Musselman said of his team’s perimeter defense. “Doing the same drills we were doing when we were No. 1 in the country in defending the three. So, some new guys have to do a better job.”
The Spartans currently have four players, all seniors, shooting better than 40% from distance on at least two 3-point attempts per game. Mikeal Brown-Jones (6-foot-8) is near the head of the pack, hitting 50% of his 3-point attempts along with leading the team in scoring and rebounding at 19.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.
Keyshaun Langley (6-foot-1) seems to be the No. 1 offensive option for the Spartans judging by total number of shot attempts. He’s currently tied with Brown-Jones at 19.0 PPG, though he’s hitting only 31% of his eight 3-point attempts per game.
Kobe Langley (6-foot-1) – Keyshaun’s brother and yet another player hitting over 40% of his threes – is pacing the team in assists with an impressive 8 per game. Tremendous on-ball pressure against Kobe from the Razorback guards like Devo Davis and El Ellis will be vital in disrupting the UNCG offensive flow.
Other notable players in the Spartans’ rotation:
- Donovan Atwell (6-5, So) | 10.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG
- Akrum Ahemed (6-5, Sr) | 7.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 40% 3P
- Tim Caesar (6-9, Sr) | 6.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 67% 3P
- Jalen Breath (6-8, So) | 4.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG
What to Expect from Arkansas Basketball
Against Old Dominion, Makhi Mitchell continued his strong play, stuffing the stat sheet with 15 points and 10 rebounds. That was his first double-double of the season and third in a Razorback uniform.
He’s blocked five shots over his last two games and combined to shoot 7 of 9 (78%) from the field. Defensive rebounding has been a real concern for the Razorbacks since their impressive performance against Purdue in the charity exhibition. They’ve given up double-digit offensive rebounds to each of their last two opponents – neither of which possessed notable size or athleticism compared to the teams remaining on Arkansas’ schedule.
“We have to be way more physical defensive rebounding the basketball,” Musselman said. “Way more physical… We’re going to be playing against teams that are much bigger, much stronger, much more athletic, and we’re not rebounding with any physicality. It’s just not happening other than Mitchell. He’s our one guy that’s rebounded with physicality.”
Mitchell and Tramon Mark combined for 13 of the team’s 26 defensive rebounds against the Monarchs. No one else grabbed more than three defensive boards, and the Hogs were defeated 12-7 on the offensive glass. Musselman (sort of) joked in his postgame press conference that every media member contributed to the defensive rebounding effort as much as the rest of the team aside from Mitchell and Mark.
Devo Davis had his best game of the season, scoring 16 points to go along with five rebounds, two assists and a steal on 55% shooting in 37 minutes of action. The senior guard was forced into more of a scoring role than he’s had in either of the last two games after both Mark and Khalif Battle exited the game early in the first half with two fouls each.
The most encouraging part of Davis’ game – and each of his two prior games – has been his lack of turnovers. He’s now played 83 minutes without committing a single one. Obviously, this isn’t a sustainable stat and he will turn the ball over at some point, but his improvement as a decision-maker could be a substantial factor for the Hogs as they move deeper into the season.
“I think just comfortability of what the expectations are,” Musselman said. “How many turnovers does he have? (Zero). In three games? Not many players in the country that have played his minutes and hand the ball in his hands and haven’t had a turnover.
“It’s phenomenal because the thing with Davonte is we all know Devo has the flare. He’s got some stuff to his game. He’s got a bag that he likes to go into. He’s still doing that. He’s still making some ‘Oh wow’ plays that get the crowd on its feet, which we want. And he’s doing it now a little bit more deliberately with great maturity with the ball in his hands.”
El Ellis also had his best game as a Razorback with 17 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal and not a single turnover. Arkansas only turned the ball over four times total against a small, quick team that likes to play fast and generate turnovers.
Both Ellis and Davis took advantage of their opportunities offensively with Mark and Battle limited, but it will be worth paying attention to how the four guards continue to develop continuity and if they can all continue to score efficiently while sharing the court.
What to Watch in Game 4
As crazy as it might sound, Arkansas basketball having lackluster starts in each of its last two games might be a blessing in disguise heading into the game against the Spartans. This is the Hogs’ last game against a mid-major before heading to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament against a much higher level of competition.
If Arkansas had successfully beaten the brakes off of both Gardner-Webb and Old Dominion, this final tune-up would fall in prime “trap game” territory with a major tournament looming in the near future. However, since they’re already searching for adjustments and better effort from the opening tip, it seems far less likely that the Razorbacks fall fully asleep in this contest.
Arkansas is an experienced team even if several of the players are not experienced within Musselman’s system. Slow starts are not something a lot of experienced teams struggle with, but it seems to be the case with this Razorback squad so far. This will be their last chance to pull together a complete game before their talent and athleticism may no longer be able to save them after lackadaisical starts.
Arkansas vs UNC Greensboro Prediction
Arkansas has too many seniors and leaders to fall victim to trap game scenarios. Despite the Battle 4 Atlantis being a clear light at the end of this mid-major-heavy start to the schedule, the Razorbacks will come out with more fire after a single-digit victory over Old Dominion.
Makhi Mitchell will earn his first start of the season after his best game on and off the court on Monday. Musselman noted that Mitchell had great body language and was engaged with his teammates, coaches and trainers more than he had been in previous games during the Old Dominion win.
Devo Davis and Tramon Mark will set the tone defensively after a poor overall defensive team performance in their last outing, limiting UNC Greensboro to a manageable shooting percentage. Khalif Battle will be more careful about his early-game fouls, allowing him to spark the offense once he’s in the game.
How to Watch Arkansas vs UNC Greensboro
Date: Friday, Nov. 17
Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 7 p.m. CT (SEC Network+ / ESPN+)
Spread: Arkansas is the betting favorite in this matchup, with the spread sitting at -14.5 according to ESPN Bet Kansas
Here is a side-by-side look at the Arkansas vs UNC Greensboro matchup…
|Stat||Arkansas Basketball||UNC Greensboro Basketball|
More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…