The page has fully been turned from Thursday night, when Arkansas basketball head coach Eric Musselman led his team to a heart-stopping 75-71 victory over the upset-hopeful Catamounts of Vermont. Despite many analysts and experts selecting Vermont as one of their favorites to upset a high seed, the Razorbacks managed to squash any possibility of a first-round exit after entering the NCAA Tournament as a 4 seed or better in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1994 and 1995.
Now on to the next installment as Arkansas faces the 12-seeded New Mexico State Aggies and their scoring machine, junior Teddy Allen, in the Round of 32. The 6-6 forward is coming off of an impressive 37-point performance in his team’s upset victory over the UCONN Huskies, his second-highest scoring output of the season behind a 41-point game against Abilene Christian back in mid-January.
The last time these Hogs met a team full of Aggies, they apparently overlooked their opponent and suffered an 82-64 loss at the hands of Texas A&M in the semifinals of the SEC tournament. The Hogs shot worse than 17% from 3-point range while leading scorer JD Notae scored fewer than 10 points for the first time since Arkansas’ Sweet Sixteen matchup with Oral Roberts in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. On the bright side, their recent loss to a different group of Aggies should give coach Musselman plenty of locker-room ammunition to load up on when preparing his team for New Mexico State.
Graduate transfer Stanley Umude will likely help coach Musselman’s cause of being laser-focused on the task at hand after his impressive performance against Vermont. After his senior forward scored 21 points on 75% 3-point shooting in the Round of 64, coach Musselman noted, “before the game [Stanley] was kind of non-emotional. Laser-focused. We got here early and a couple of guys had their phones out before we collect them 90 minutes before tipoff. He wasn’t one that had a phone. He was staring right at the video screen as we had Vermont film rolling.”
If that isn’t the kind of Terminator mindset that wins you high-stakes games, I don’t know what is.
What to Expect When New Mexico State Has the Ball
Teddy Allen has ascended to essentially national darling status among college basketball fans after his near 40-point performance in the opening round, but this is nothing new for the junior forward. His 19.9 points per game leads New Mexico State, which is fifth school in five years.
Allen already has 12 games scoring 20 or more points under his belt, including four 30+ point games after the UCONN victory. He shoots 34% from long range on the season and 53% from inside the arc, while also maintaining a notable 88% free-throw average on nearly six attempts per game.
However, Allen can be very hit-and-miss with his shooting outbursts. He has shot better than 50% from long range in seven games this season, but he’s also shot worse than 25% eight times. In those eight games, his team is only 5-3. UCONN did their best to stay in front of Allen and make him beat them with tough shots – which he did – but they did not do an excellent job of taking away his airspace when he was attacking.
Arkansas Basketball’s Keys vs Teddy Allen
Allen likes to score most of his points off the bounce, even when pulling up for long range jumpers, similar to the style of play that former Arkansas basketball star Mason Jones employed. The two aren’t comparable in size, but their tendency to score in one-on-one scenarios is eerily similar. Musselman will likely deploy the defense of Au’Diese Toney on the Aggies’ top scoring threat, but his strategy may differ from the Huskies’ in that Toney will attempt to cut off any room Allen might have to dribble rather than just trying to stay in front of him. The help defense of other Razorbacks like Stanley Umude, Trey Wade and most notably Jaylin Williams will aid Toney on any dribble penetration Allen does have, but the Hogs can’t allow him to stand on the perimeter and dribble into a rhythm jump shots.
If the Hogs are successful in this tactic, their next step will be to close out hard on shooters. Making anyone other than Allen shoot the ball is a small victory, but the Aggies also have two notable 3-point threats on the perimeter in a pair of 6-4 guards: junior Sir’Jabari Rice and senior Clayton Henry. Rice and Henry combine for eight 3-point attempts per game and shoot 35% and 37% respectively. The Aggies like to run off-ball down screens to free up these shooters, something the Razorback guards will have to be aware of even when Allen is threatening the defense with the ball in his hands.
What to Expect When Arkansas Has the Ball
Stanley Umude continues to be the Hogs’ most consistent scorer dating back to late-January. In his last 14 games, he’s scored in double-digits 10 times, including a 31-point performance against Georgia and four different games with 20 or more points. In that same span, Umude is averaging 15.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 44% from behind the arc. He has gradually become more of an offensive focus for coach Musselman when running set plays designed for one specific player.
JD Notae, on the other hand, finally saw the ball go through the net a few times in the second half against Vermont after scoring only five points against Texas A&M in his previous outing and going 0-4 against the Catamounts in the first half. He finished with 17 points on only 31% shooting from the field and 14% from beyond the arc. The third team AP All-American is now 8-41 (19.5%) from long range in his last six outings, something that desperately needs to change if the Hogs want to advance to the second weekend of the tournament.
New Mexico State only allows 65 points per game to its opponents this season, good for 50th in the country. For reference, the Hogs allow only 68.6 points per game (165th). However, this might be a product of the Aggies’ weaker schedule considering they rank 73rd in KenPom’s ADE, a metric that adjusts average points per possession allowed based on the quality of opponents. Arkansas currently ranks 17th in this same metric.
The Aggies are not an overly aggressive defensive team, ranking outside the top 300 in team steals per game and forcing opponents into 11.9 turnovers compared to Arkansas’ 14.7 turnovers forced per game this season. When New Mexico State has played teams currently inside the top 100 in the NET rankings, they only force 10.9 turnovers per game. This adds an advantage to the Razorbacks’ list if they continue to take care of the ball the way they did against Vermont when they turned it over only five times, setting a school record in the NCAA Tournament.
Arkansas vs New Mexico State: What to Watch For
Essentially, Arkansas will need to continue to be patient and work through its offensive sets against New Mexico State. While the Aggies lack the defensive prowess of SEC teams like LSU and Tennessee, but they will be disciplined and more motivated than ever. The Hogs’ defense has rarely been an issue in games since their season turned a corner against Missouri in mid-January, but their offense has seen its share of droughts. Arkansas often looks to Notae for most of their scoring output, but they will need continued production from secondary scorers like Stanley Umude, Jaylin Williams and Devo Davis to win games in this tournament, especially when Notae gets into foul trouble early.
Against Vermont, Notae picked up his second foul with roughly six minutes to play in the first half, an acceptable amount of time for the Hogs to lean on other guards to end the half. However, he picked up his third foul just a few seconds into the second half and his fourth foul with more than five minutes to play, which likely gave Musselman a few more gray hairs as he had to execute down the stretch on both sides of the court while in foul trouble.
In fact, Notae was joined by Davis, Toney, and Umude in foul trouble against the Catamounts, each finishing the game with four fouls. Only six players played more than 10 minutes against Vermont, including Trey Wade who played only 18 minutes. Musselman’s Hogs can ill-afford one of their core players to foul out in a tournament game, making foul trouble a key topic in every game moving forward.
Arkansas vs New Mexico State Prediction
ESPN’s BPI gives Arkansas an 88.5% win probability over the New Mexico State Aggies. After several borderline laughable BPI predictions, ESPN seems to have swung in Hogs’ favor – perhaps even too hard. It’s hard to imagine many Round-of-32 matchups having an 89% mismatch. Regardless, coach Musselman will have his team ready to face this 12-seed roughly 48 hours after knocking off the 13-seed.
“We all know there are going to be upsets. Matter of fact, I used part of our pregame just to talk about how much respect we had to have for Vermont,” he said after the game. “I don’t think nerves or angst needs to come into play. Obviously, when you’re a higher seed there is an added element to it. Once you get to the game, then it’s just playing.”
Musselman will have his team prepped with an effective defensive game plan, even if it requires a few minor tweaks at the halftime break. Au’Diese Toney will serve as Teddy Allen’s primary defender and limit him to below his season shooting averages. JD Notae will again struggle from an efficiency standpoint, mainly due to teams aiming their defensive game plan directly at the junior guard, but he will still be effective in other aspects of the game as Stanley Umude leads the scoring charge. Arkansas knocks off the Aggies in yet another hard-fought battle that is ultimately decided in the final few minutes of regulation.
Arkansas wins 78-73.
How to Watch Arkansas vs New Mexico State
Arkansas Razorbacks (26-8)
New Mexico State Aggies (27-6)
Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, NY
Date: March 19th, 2022
Time: 7:40 PM CT
TV: TNT (Brad Nessler, Brendan Haywood and Evan Washburn)
^ Online: NCAA Tournament Central
Radio: Learfield Razorback Sports Network (Chuck Barrett and Matt Zimmerman)
Live Stats: NCAA Tournament Central
Arkansas vs New Mexico State Game Notes
— Vegas spread: Arkansas, -6.5
— O/U: 138
— Bart Torvik: Arkansas has 72% chance to win, favored by 5.7 (proj. score: 73-67)
- Arkansas leads the SEC and NCAA by making 591 free throws and is second in attempting 783
- This is the third time Arkansas and New Mexico State have met. The Razorbacks own a 2-0 advantage
Go to 11:19 below for the Razorbacks’ game: