Arkansas basketball is off to a 3-0 start for the fifth consecutive season under head coach Eric Musselman, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for the No. 14 Razorbacks. In each of their last two games, the Hogs have gotten off to a slow start, resulting in both games being closer than they needed to be.
In its most recent outing, an 86-77 victory over Old Dominion, Arkansas did several things poorly on the defensive side of the ball early in the game. It was getting beat down the court after made baskets, allowing backdoor cuts, miscommunicating on defense to allow open looks, giving up offensive rebounds, etc.
All of this led to Old Dominion catching fire from long range, hitting 11 of 24 (46%) from deep after making only 8 of 26 attempts (31%) across its first two games of the season. Even when Arkansas picked up its level of play late in the game, ODU seemingly couldn’t miss by that point, resulting in a single-digit victory in a game where Arkansas was favored by 20.5 points on BetSaracen.
After playing Purdue, a top-3 team in the country, in its final exhibition game, it’s understandable that the energy level for Arkansas has been notably less while playing mid-major opponents. However, this lack of energy and execution could quickly become a concerning trend moving forward considering the number of theoretically lesser opponents left on the schedule.
Fortunately, Arkansas basketball does still have several high-quality matchups left on its non-conference slate before getting into SEC play, including the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament and a primetime matchup against the Duke Blue Devils. Perhaps a few of those games will have the Razorbacks more primed to play from the opening tip.
Let’s take a look at the 10 games remaining on the non-conference schedule in order of which games are the most attractive to Razorback followers and college basketball fans in general.
Season Outlook (as of Nov. 15): 2-2 | No. 184 (KenPom) | Picked 5th in A-SUN (WarrenNolan.com)
Game Info: Tipoff is Dec. 16 at 5 p.m. CT | Simmons Bank Arena (N. Little Rock, Ark.)
Predictions: Arkansas is favored by 17 points on KenPom and 12.8 points on ESPN.
History Against Arkansas: Arkansas leads 2-0 (last win: 86-50 in December 2020)
Perhaps the only interesting part of this game is the fact that Arkansas has played two games against the Bisons since 2005. Lipscomb has only ever been to one NCAA Tournament in its 20-year program history and have never come within 29 points of beating the Hogs. This should be the definition of a cupcake game for Arkansas if they come ready to play and put this game away early, but it’s also their first mid-major game coming off of a brutal stretch of non-conference opponents. It doesn’t help that this matchup takes place in central Arkansas, where disaster has struck for previous teams.
9. Abilene Christian
Season Outlook (as of Nov. 15): 1-2 | No. 196 (KenPom) | Picked 5th in WAC
Game Info: Tipoff is Dec. 21 at 6 p.m. CT | Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Predictions: Arkansas is favored by 19 points on KenPom and 15.7 points on ESPN.
History Against Arkansas: Arkansas leads 1-0 after beating the Wildcats 85-72 in 2020.
Realistically, this should be another routine non-conference game that Arkansas handles with ease. Of course, any experienced mid-major program can pull off an upset on any given night, but nothing about Abilene Christian screams “upset alert.” They did, however, make a second-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament just three seasons ago in 2021, giving their name brand value a slight boost.
8. UNC Wilmington
Season Outlook (as of Nov. 15): 3-0 | No. 114 (KenPom) | Picked 1st in CAA (FloHoops.com)
Game Info: Tipoff is Dec. 30 at 6 p.m. CT | Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Predictions: Arkansas is favored by 15 points on KenPom and 13.7 points on ESPN.
History Against Arkansas: Arkansas has never played UNC Wilmington.
The Seahawks of Wilmington haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2017 and their lone tournament win came in 2002. Combine that with no history against Arkansas and this becomes a less-than-enthralling matchup.
They are, however, picked to finish first in the Coastal Athletic Association conference, and boast one of the better KenPom rankings among all of Arkansas’ lesser-known opponents. While this should be another routine tune-up, it’s certainly one the Hogs need to take control of early because it’s also their last non-conference game of the regular season.
7. UNC Greensboro
Season Outlook (as of Nov. 15): 1-1 | No. 126 (KenPom) | Picked 3rd Southern Conference (WarrenNolan.com)
Game Info: Tipoff is Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. CT | Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Predictions: Arkansas is favored by 16 points on KenPom and 15.8 points on ESPN.
History Against Arkansas: Arkansas leads 2-0, their last win coming in December of 2022 by a score of 65-58.
Not to be confused with UNC Asheville or UNC Wilmington, UNC Greensboro has two tournament appearances in the last six seasons, including most recently in 2021. The Spartans are currently slated as one of the better mid-major opponents – at least according to the metrics – remaining on Arkansas’ schedule before the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament begins next week.
See our Arkansas vs UNC Greensboro preview here:
Season Outlook (as of Nov. 15): 2-0 | No. 98 (KenPom) | Picked 1st in Southern Conference
Game Info: Tipoff is Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. CT | Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Predictions: Arkansas is favored by 15 points on KenPom, and 17.4 points on ESPN.
History Against Arkansas: Arkansas has never played Furman.
This is easily the best mid-major opponent Arkansas basketball has left on its non-conference schedule. It’s also the most likely trap game the Hogs have coming up before SEC play. This game is sandwiched in between a likely top-10 matchup against Duke in Bud Walton Arena and round three against Oklahoma at the BOK Center in Tulsa. Talk about an easy game to overlook.
Furman was picked to finish first in their conference for a reason. The Paladins are off to a hot start, defeating their first two opponents by an average of 19.5 margin of victory. JP Pegues scored 23 points on 43% 3-point shooting in his season debut, and three other players are also averaging double digit scoring. Arkansas will have to be careful not to fall asleep early in this game the way they did against Gardner-Webb.
Season Outlook (as of Nov. 15): 3-0 | No. 32 (KenPom) | Picked 12th in Big 12 (CBS)
Game Info: Tipoff is Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. CT | BOK Center (Tulsa, Okla.)
Predictions: Arkansas is favored by 3 points on KenPom, and 3.1 points on ESPN.
History Against Arkansas: Arkansas leads 17-13 (last matchup: W, 88-78 in December 2022)
This is the third consecutive season in which Arkansas and Oklahoma will face off in Tulsa in a mid-December, neutral site showdown recently dubbed the “Crimson and Cardinal Classic.” The first iteration of this event was a blowout in favor of the Sooners back in December 2021. This setback sparked a terrible streak for the Hogs consisting of five losses over their next six games. Defeating Oklahoma on a neutral court again would be a great step in avoiding a similar early season dry spell.
The Sooners have seemingly been a formidable force on the perimeter this season, holding their first two opponents to a combined 5 of 29 (17%) from long range. True, those first two opponents were far from stellar competition, but Arkansas’ newly improved shooting so far in the early season might be put to the test in this matchup.
Season Outlook (as of Nov. 15): 2-1 | No. 69 (KenPom) | Picked 8th in Pac 12 (CBS)
Game Info: Tipoff is Nov. 22 at 6:30 p.m. CT | Imperial Arena (Nassau, Bahamas)
Predictions: Arkansas is favored by 8 points on KenPom, and 1.8 points on ESPN.
History Against Arkansas: Arkansas trails 0-2 (last matchup: L, 69-66 in November 2015 — NIT third-place game)
This game will be Arkansas’ first official game against a non-mid-major opponent. Even without the added bonus of being a tournament game, Razorback fans and players alike will be a little extra anxious to watch this matchup. Stanford has consistently hovered around .500 under head coach Jerod Haase, but it’s a solid enough team to provide the Hogs with a true test in a neutral environment.
Maxime Raynaud is a true seven-footer playing over 28 minutes per game and averaging 21.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks this season. The senior center would present an interesting challenge for the Hogs after their impressive defensive performance against Purdue big man Zach Edey in the preseason.
Memphis | 2-0 | Picked 2nd in AAC (CBS)
Arkansas and Memphis have had a storied history against one another, trading punches for the better part of four decades with 20 games played between 1971 to 2003. They’re an even 10-10 against each other in that stretch. While there’s no recent bad blood between the programs, proximity and a storied collective history will make this an intriguing matchup beyond the season’s current metrics.
Michigan | 3-0 | Picked 11th in Big 10 (CBS)
This matchup would have been almost exponentially more interesting had the transfer battle of former Wolverine star Hunter Dickinson ended with the big man choosing Arkansas over Kansas. Regardless, expect this potential matchup to include two highly-regarded basketball programs – each ranked inside the Top 35 teams by KenPom. Michigan holds the advantage in the all-time record with winning four out of seven. The last matchup resulted in an Arkansas loss in December 2012.
2. North Carolina/Villanova/Texas Tech/Northern Iowa
No. 20 UNC | 2-0 | Picked 2nd in ACC
Another matchup between the Hogs and Tar Heels would surely get Razorback fans fired up. UNC is projected to finish second in the ACC and currently holds a 7-3 all-time record against Arkansas – including winning the last meeting in November 2017. And don’t forget, this game could potentially have hardware on the line.
No. 21 Villanova | 2-1 | Picked 4th in Big East
The Wildcats are projected to finish fourth in the Big East, though they dropped a game against Penn (No. 172 in KenPom) earlier this week. Similar to UNC, they hold the upper hand in the all-time series against Arkansas, winning all three of the previous matchups. This game potentially gives the Hogs a chance to earn their first ever win against Villanova – a recent national champion – in an early season tournament championship game.
Texas Tech | 2-0 | Picked 8th in Big 12
A matchup with Texas Tech would either mean they upset someone in earlier rounds, or Arkansas got upset. Either way, it would hold slightly less appeal than either of the previous two teams listed. Arkansas has won each of its previous two matchups against Texas Tech, with the most recent coming during Musselman’s first Sweet 16 run in March 2021. That game alone could give this potential matchup a little extra juice, especially after Devo Davis essentially put the handcuffs on former Red Raider Mac McClung through much of that game.
Northern Iowa | 0-1 | Picked 2nd in Missouri Valley Conference
UNI is currently the lowest ranked team (No. 100) competing in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, according to KenPom. If this matchup comes to fruition, it means the Panthers have exceeded expectations or Arkansas basketball has lost some games it shouldn’t have. The Hogs hold a 1-0 lead in the all-time series with UNI.
1. No. 9 Duke
Season Outlook (as of Nov. 15): 2-1 | No. 9 (AP Poll), No. 12 (KenPom) | Picked 1st in ACC
Game Info: Tipoff is Nov. 29 at 8:15 p.m. CT | Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Predictions: Arkansas is favored by 2 points on both KenPom and ESPN.
History Against Arkansas: Series tied 2-2, Duke won the last matchup 78-69 in March 2022 (NCAAT). Arkansas defeated Duke in the NCAA National Championship Game in 1994.
What more really needs to be said to prove the importance of this matchup? Duke’s brand is arguably the strongest in college basketball history, and it’s the same program Arkansas basketball beat in the finals of its lone national title championship run. This could prove to be the biggest regular-season game in the history of Bud Walton Arena.
Toss in the fact that both teams are projected to finish top 3 in their respective conferences – and each also has a chance to be in the top 10 in the AP Poll by the time this game tips off – and you’re left with a primetime, marquee matchup that will draw national attention. It doesn’t get much better than this.
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