After a less-than-encouraging non-conference slate, Arkansas basketball started off SEC play in the worst way imaginable on Saturday, getting run out of its own gym by Auburn in what was the most lopsided loss in the history of Bud Walton Arena.
While the loss was embarrassing on all fronts, the worst thing the Razorbacks can do at this point is let it linger and cost them a second game — this time at Georgia on Wednesday.
It is the first of back-to-back road games for Arkansas, which must get its heads straight in a hurry as it moves forward in the gauntlet that is the SEC.
The Bulldogs, who beat Missouri on the road to open conference play and extend their winning streak to nine games, currently rank No. 85 in the NET (21 spots ahead of Arkansas). With the game being Georgia’s home opener, it’s a Quadrant 2 opportunity for the Razorbacks.
Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPNU.
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Previewing Georgia Basketball
The Bulldogs don’t stand out in any single statistical category the way Auburn did in offensive rebounds and total assists, but they are relatively solid across the board. They score roughly 75 points per game as a team, take care of the ball well and hit over 35% of their total 3-pointers – including an SEC-high 43% in their first SEC game against Missouri.
Georgia is led offensively by a pair of senior guards – one of which is playing in his third season with the Bulldogs, which is somewhat of a rarity in today’s college basketball landscape.
After transferring in from Virginia, Jabri Abdur-Rahim decided to stay on board with the Bulldogs two seasons ago when they made the switch from Tom Crean to Mike White, and it’s paying off for him this season. He’s leading his team with career highs in points (12.9) and rebounds (3.5) while shooting over 43% from long range on 5.3 attempts per game.
“Abdur-Rahim is a guy that we tried to recruit, as well,” Musselman said. “I coached his father (Shareef Abdur-Rahim) with the Kings. I was an assistant coach with the Hawks when Shareef played there. Really familiar with them as a family. He can shoot the ball. He does a good job of drawing fouls off 3-point shots. He does what you’d want a player to do.”
Noah Thomasson (6-3, Sr.) joins Abdur-Rahim as the lone double-digit scorers on this Georgia team. He’s contributing 12.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting over 37% from long range on 5.0 attempts per game.
The 3-point numbers for both of those players should catch the eye of any Razorback fan considering how Arkansas has struggled to guard the 3-point line at times this season, and it will certainly be at the forefront of Musselman’s scouting report. It’ll be interesting to see the matchups (likely Devo Davis and Tramon Mark) and strategies he deploys against this pair of shooters.
RJ Melendez (6-7, Jr.) is a name that might ring a bell for Razorback basketball fans. He was part of the Illinois team that Arkansas defeated in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Melendez tallied 10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal on 50% shooting in the 10-point Illini loss, and is no doubt ready to atone for that by adding insult to injury for the recently bloodied Hogs. Melendez is now averaging a well-rounded 9.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.4 steals despite shooting less than 19% from long range.
The Hogs will have their work cut out for them in the paint once again in this matchup against 7-foot center Russel Tchewa. He’s not been an overly efficient scoring threat, hitting just 54% of his 2-point attempts, but he leads the team with 6.6 rebounds per game, including 1.7 offensive rebounds.
Tchwa is part of a group of standout athletes from other continents playing for both the Georgia basketball and football programs. Australian punter Brett Thorson, for instance, stars on the gridiron. For new Aussie betting sites, the prospect of Thorson making it to the NFL holds significant potential as it would increase interest in NFL wagering on their platforms.
Arkansas started the season very well against big men, holding the likes of Zach Edey, Armando Bacot and Kyle Filipowski in check, but they’ve since had their bell rung by multiple interior threats such as Johni Broome scoring 14 points on 78% shooting in the second half of the last game.
Tchewa isn’t the same type of player that Broome is, but Arkansas cannot afford to let the 7-footer control the paint and earn second-chance points – especially in front of the Bulldogs’ home crowd that is likely to be fueled by such hustle plays.
Other notable players in Georgia’s rotation:
- Justin Hill (6-0, Sr.) | 9.1 PPG, 3.3 APG (team high), 35% 3P
- Silas Demary Jr. (6-5, Fr.) | 8.6 PPG, 4.7 RPB, 2.8 APG, 1.4 SPG
- Blue Cain (6-5, Fr.) | 7.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 36% 3P
What to Expect from Arkansas Basketball
There aren’t many positives to take away from any 32-point home loss, and the same can be said for Arkansas’ recent blowout against Auburn. The Hogs were outmatched in nearly every aspect of the game after the first 15 minutes or so.
“We struggled everywhere defensively,” Musselman said postgame. “We’ve struggled on pick-and-rolls… We could go all the way around the (media) room and each of you could pick a different area and you would all be right. We stunk in all areas.”
The Hogs led 27-26 with just under five minutes left to play in the first half. After what felt like the blink of an eye, the Tigers led 50-32 just over six minutes into the second half. The Hogs then made a small push to get within 12, but the effort was quickly squashed and Arkansas seemed to give up entirely for the remainder of the contest.
“It feels like we quit,” sophomore guard Keyon Menifield Jr said postgame. “We didn’t play as a team and we weren’t together out there. So when you’re not together and you don’t have fight out there and let people punk you, that’s what happens.”
The first 15 minutes of game time were at least respectable for the Hogs, though it still didn’t provide a lot of positives. Menifield finished the game shooting 4 of 9 (44%) from long range and dished out 4 assists.
Jalen Graham continued his improved rebounding with 6 boards – though 4 of them were offensive coming mostly in the same possession when Graham couldn’t find the bottom of the net on several shot attempts in the paint. Trevon Brazile and Tramon Mark both hit double-digit scoring – though they combined to go 2 of 8 (25%) from long range.
The Hogs have not shot the ball particularly well away from Bud Walton Arena, dropping from 50% FG and 36% 3PT shooting at home down to 40% FG and 29% 3PT shooting in neutral site games. Unfortunately, none of those games came in front of a true road crowd like Arkansas will experience on Wednesday when it travels to Georgia.
The defensive intensity has to be at a level we’ve rarely seen from this Razorback team if the trend of poor shooting away from home continues. None of the Hogs looked particularly motivated or determined to win after halftime of their last outing, and that has to be the first thing to change moving forward.
“We’ve got to get a lot better to even survive in this league,” Musselman said in a frustrated rant to end his postgame press conference after losing to Auburn. “We’ve got to get a lot better. We’ve got to be a lot more competitive.”
What to Watch: Arkansas vs Georgia
Being more competitive is the last point Eric Musselman made when speaking to media members post Auburn, and he hit the nail on the head. Sure, Arkansas has had its share of struggles defensively from a scheme standpoint, but defensive schemes can only get a team so far without the drive and desire to work on every possession.
It’s easy to sit back and look at a computer screen full of stats and metrics and trends and point to areas where Arkansas could improve or where it might have an advantage over the next opponent. But simply speaking, none of it matters very much if the Hogs aren’t fighting to win on both sides of the ball.
“We need to play with way more sense of urgency,” Musselman said. “There’s no doubt about that… Extremely disappointed in our collective effort (against Auburn). I don’t really know what else to say other than not only do we have to improve a lot, we have to improve in a lot of areas.”
Musselman noted that his team responded in all the right ways in their first practice together since the crushing loss to Auburn over the weekend. He said the team had a great practice – though this team has had many great practices and for some reason can’t seem to translate it to real games.
“We had a great practice this morning, super physical,” Musselman told the media on Monday. “I moved players to the scout team today, so we had five (scholarship) players on the scout team. That’s not been the case in the four years that I’ve been here. We’ve always used managers or graduate assistants. But today they had to guard five scholarship players.”
While this change isn’t quite as intense as the infamous “weighted vests” practice after a 2021 loss to LSU when Musselman put his team do through a brutal practice while wearing weighted vests and carrying bricks in their hands, perhaps a drastic change in the practice intensity could be what this unique team needs to spark a mid-season turnaround.
Arkansas leads the all-time series with Georgia 26-16, including going 3-1 under Musselman and 9-2 over the last 11 meetings. However, Arkansas is only 3-3 in its last six contests against the Bulldogs in Athens.
The Hogs won’t solve all their problems overnight, and fans are likely to see a lot of the same defensive issues cropping up – especially with this being the Razorbacks’ first true road game of the season. However, Georgia is a below average team that appears very beatable – especially if this Arkansas squad can start utilizing the talent it has on paper.
Arkansas will find a bit of offensive rhythm along with at least some semblance of urgency after the embarrassment it suffered in the last game. Keyon Menifield will continue to be a difference maker with the ball in his hands as Arkansas finds its first SEC victory.
Arkansas wins, 78-74
How to Watch Arkansas vs Georgia
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 10
Location: Stegeman Coliseum (Athens, Ga.)
Tipoff Time/TV: 8 p.m. CT (ESPNU)
ESPN BPI: Georgia has a 69.4% chance to win, favored by 5.6 points.
Check out what Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman said ahead of the Arkansas vs Georgia matchup:
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