Arkansas vs Memphis Preview: Penny, Muss Each Coach One of Each Other’s Former Players

Penny Hardaway, Chandler Lawson, Memphis basketball, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs Memphis, Battle 4 Atlantis
photo credit: Memphis Athletics / Arkansas Athletics

Arkansas survived one of the wildest games of the Eric Musselman era on Wednesday night when they outlasted Stanford 77-74 in double-overtime in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. The first half saw a combined 42 total points from both teams before both offenses found a bit of a rhythm, pouring in 109 combined points in the second half and both overtime periods.

Unfortunately for the Hogs, they won’t get long to recuperate from this highly emotional, 50-minute game. Their reward on Thursday afternoon is a meeting with the Memphis Tigers for the first time in 20 years. Arkansas leads the historic series 11-10, with the last win belonging to Memphis in January of 2003 in a 72-67 win in Bud Walton Arena. This game is scheduled to tipoff at 4:00 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPN.

Memphis is now 4-0 on the young 2023-24 season after defeating Michigan 71-67 in their first-round matchup. Memphis basketball coach Penny Hardaway’s Tigers have yet to shoot worse than 35% from 3-point range through four games, including hitting 10 of 24 (42%) from long range against Michigan. Guarding the 3-point line continues to be a concern for the new-look Razorbacks and will almost certainly be a topic of discussion in this game.

Previewing Memphis

One of the Tigers’ strong suits so far this season has been their ability to rebound the basketball. They average 37.0 rebounds per game as a team and have six different players averaging at least 4.3 rebounds per game. This has been a definite area of concern for the Hogs who have struggled to consistently secure defensive rebounds in late-game scenarios.

This was partially the case again against Stanford as Arkansas gave up timely offensive rebounds late in regulation and both overtime periods, but overall the rebounding seemed to be improved. They outrebounded the Cardinal 52-46, including 21-12 on the offensive glass.

Memphis is led in this category by David Jones (6-6, Jr.) who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding with 14.5 PPG and 6.5 RPG while also shooting nearly 48% from 3-point range on 5.8 attempts per game. Jones could present a prime opportunity for Trevon Brazile to show his versatility on both sides of the ball in this matchup.

The Tigers’ backcourt is composed of two senior guards, one of which will sound very familiar to Razorback fans. Jahvon Quinerly (6-1, Sr.) has played five career games against Arkansas during his time at Alabama, including a 16-points, 7-assist outburst off the bench the last time he matched up with the Hogs. He averages 9.2 points, 4.0 assists, and 2.0 rebounds in his five career games against the Razorbacks.

So far this season with the Tigers, he’s averaging 12.8 points and leads the team in both assists (5.3) and steals (1.8) per game to go along with 43% 3-point shooting. Jaykwon Walton (6-7, Sr.) joins Quinerly in the backcourt, averaging 12.3 points and 2.0 assists per game as well. Both guards are averaging over 4.5 rebounds per game as well, perhaps providing a blueprint to how Arkansas needs to be better at rebounding as a team.

Other notable players in Memphis’ rotation:

–        Jordan Brown (6-11, Sr.) | 8.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 54% FG

–        Caleb Mills (6-3, Sr.) | 9.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.0 APG

–        Malcolm Dandridge (6-9, Sr.) | 5.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.8 BPG

Brown, it should be noted, played for a season under Eric Musselman at Nevada, where the former five-star recruit was the highest-rated recruit (No. 14 player in the nation) in any sport in Nevada Wolfpack history. Brown left Nevada the same offseason Musselman did, and played at Arizona and Louisiana-Lafayette before transferring to Memphis.

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UPDATE – For live update of Arkansas vs Memphis, go here: Penny Hardaway Giving Musselman Run For His Money at His Own Game

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What to Expect from Hogs in Arkansas vs Memphis

Arkansas was delayed 6.5 hours getting to the Bahamas according to Musselman, but their offense seemed to be even further delayed, not showing up until halftime of Arkansas vs Stanford. The Hogs put up only 20 total points in the first half of their double-overtime thriller on Wednesday night.

Fortunately, after an embarrassing loss to UNC Greensboro on their homecourt in their last game before heading to the Bahamas, the Razorbacks’ defense seemed to have renewed life as they also held Stanford to only 22 points. While it was encouraging to see the Hogs put together a much more respectable defensive game, it was still frustrating to watch them struggle to find their offensive flow.

Devo Davis took on the role of facilitator once again early in this game. He finally turned the ball over for the first time this season – amounting to five total turnovers on the day – but it was his dribble penetration and energy that sparked the Hogs early on. He scored only 10 points but contributed six rebounds and three assists while playing his usual brand of defense on the other side of the ball.

Arkansas found a good deal of success deploying true freshman Layden Blocker to guard Jared Bynum – the Stanford point guard leading the nation in assists per game prior to his matchup with the Hogs. Bynum still tallied numbers close to his averages with 13 points and 8 assists, but Blocker forced a few timely turnovers and worked hard to keep offensive rebounds alive, often providing Arkansas the spark they needed throughout the game.

It will be interesting to pay attention to the minute split between Blocker and transfer point guard El Ellis in the game against Memphis. Ellis played only six minutes in Arkansas vs Stanford and went 0-4 from the field after Musselman opted to start Davis, Tramon Mark, and Jeremiah Davenport in the backcourt. Ellis can be a streaky scorer, but his offense and fresh legs may become vital for the Hogs as they play their second of three straight games in three days.

Without Jalen Graham available (back), Makhi Mitchell and Chandler Lawson – a former Memphis Tiger – split virtually all of the center minutes against Stanford to combat their 7-1 scoring center, Maxime Raynaud. It seemed to be an effective combination as the two held Raynaud to 8 points on 3 of 8 (38%) FG shooting.

While Jordan Brown will get the chance to face off against his former head coach, Chandler Lawson will get to face his former team and head coach on Thursday when Musselman and the Hogs match up with Penny Hardaway and Memphis. Lawson, who spent two seasons in Memphis after two seasons at Oregon, has seemingly earned a major role in the Razorbacks’ frontcourt and could be a pivotal factor in this reunion of a matchup.

Trevon Brazile played virtually the entire game at the power forward position and put up an eye-popping 17 rebounds – by far his career high – to go along with 14 points, 2 assists and 2 steals on 6 of 6 from the free throw line. No one shot particularly well from the field for the Hogs, but Brazile was one of four Hogs to attempt at least four free throws and shoot 80% or better from the charity stripe.

Including Jordan Brown, the Tigers have two players over 6-foot-9 playing at least 13 minutes per game. The Hogs’ ability to continue their strong rebounding effort against Stanford will be another major key in this matchup.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs Memphis

As a team, Memphis shoots the three-ball very well. They’ve hit 39 of their 97 long-range attempts this season, good for 40%. Arkansas, on the other hand, had allowed their last two opponents prior to Stanford to shoot 20 of 48 (42%) from long range.

Sure, they held Stanford to only 30% as a team, but the Cardinal continually hit timely 3-pointers every time the Hogs put together a run or were seemingly close to taking control of the game – including a ridiculous, SportsCenter Top 10 worthy running 3-pointer to force double overtime.

Arkansas’ defense as a whole looked improved in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, but the Hogs are still getting lost in rotations far too often. Sometimes it’s due to miscommunication on screens, other times players get caught watching the ball as their assignment slides into an open position on the 3-point line without them noticing. Other times, the Hogs are still giving up offensive rebounds that lead to good looks from beyond the arc.

Regardless of what exactly is causing the issue, the Razorbacks must get better at being aware of open shooters.Stanford’s  Spencer Jones specifically went 5 of 10 from long range and seemed to always find himself open despite often being guarded by Mark or Davis.

The Tigers’ top three scorers (Jones, Walton, and Quinerly) are combining to shoot 26 of 58 (45%) from distance so far this season, led by Jones at 47.8% on nearly six attempts per game. While guarding the perimeter has been a clear area of concern all season for Arkansas, it cannot be understated how important it will be to always remain aware of their defensive assignments in this matchup against Memphis. The Tigers have too many shooters for the Hogs to fall asleep for multiple possessions the way they did against Stanford despite the overall defensive improvement.

Game Prediction

Arkansas will likely come out slow again against Memphis, though this time they’ll have a slightly better reason after their key players played roughly 45 minutes on Wednesday night. It will likely be another gritty first half in which the Razorbacks defense keeps them within striking distance.

As has become the norm for early-season games in the Musselman era, Arkansas will scrap and fight and find ways to stay in the game, whether it be through forced turnovers, high free throw attempts, or someone like Khalif Battle or El Ellis catching fire for a stretch.

The Hogs will ultimately come away with a win against Memphis, their first since January of 2002, to move on to the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. There, they’ll face the winner of North Carolina vs Villanova.

If Arkansas were to lose to Memphis, they’d get the loser of UNC vs Villanova.

How to Watch Arkansas vs Memphis

Date: Thursday, Nov 23

Location: Imperial Arena (Nassau, Bahamas)

Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 4 p.m. CT (ESPN)

Musselman on Memphis

Not long after the Stanford win, Musselman paid respect to his next opponent, Memphis:

“They play really, really hard. They got some size up front and then they got really good length at the wings. Obviously Hardaway played really good for them shooting the basketball. David Jones is a handful because he can play multiple positions. Jaekwon Walton is a multi-skill player. Mills… They got a lot of guys that are kind of position-less players, Memphis does.”

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