The Razorbacks suffered their first loss of the season on Friday night to an experienced UNC Greensboro squad. While one loss isn’t enough to sink a basketball season, this will go down as the first non-conference loss in Bud Walton Arena in the Eric Musselman era. It will also likely be a Quad 3 loss on the Razorbacks’ resume come tournament time. Again, not a season killer, but that loss could be the difference in earning a better seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Arkansas came out flat again in this contest, leading to a hole too big to climb out of against the Spartans. Perimeter defense – or the lack thereof – once again showed to be a major issue for the Razorbacks despite coming into the season with high defensive hopes, hanging mostly on the shoulders of Devo Davis and Tramon Mark.
If the level of competition had anything to do with Arkansas’ sluggish starts and uninspired defense over their last few games, they’re in luck. The Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas this week starts a brutal stretch of non-conference games for the Hogs, starting with Stanford (3-1) on Wednesday, Nov 22 at 6:30 p.m.
Coached by Jerod Haase, Stanford holds a 3-1 record and is ranked No. 65 on KenPom. Their lone loss came at home to Santa Clara – a team currently ranked No. 117.
Maxime Raynaud (7-1, Jr.) leads Stanford on both sides of the ball. He’s averaging an impressive combination of 19.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game on 56% shooting from the field across 28 minutes per game.
Perhaps the Hogs will be able to replicate the success they had against Zach Edey in terms of frustrating the star big man with early foul trouble and limiting his overall touches with tremendous help side defense. However, their team rebounding since the Purdue exhibition has been a glaring weak point, so this matchup could also lean heavily in favor of Stanford. If you’re thinking about placing bets, you might want to check out college basketball picks and see who the experts have as their favorites.
Brandon Angel (6-8, Sr.) had gotten off to a blistering start to his senior season, averaging 18 points on 82% shooting from the field, 100% from beyond the arc, and 100% from the free throw line. He’s missed the last two games for the Cardinal with a hand injury, including their loss to Santa Clara, but he was listed as day-to-day prior to their last game on Nov 17, making a return in time for the Battle 4 Atlantis appear likely.
Two players in particular have stepped up their game during Angel’s absence, most notably true freshman Andrej Stojakovic (6-7, Fr.), who’s the son of one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, Peja Stojakovic. The elder Stojakovic primarily starred for the Sacramento Kings just before Musselman was the head coach of that franchise in 2006-7.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as the younger Stojakovic can shoot the cover off the ball. Over his last two games, the legacy sharp-shooter is looking more like this three-time All-Star dad, averaging 18.0 points on 55% from behind the arc on 5.5 long-range attempts per game. In his first two collegiate games, he averaged only 8.5 points on 30% from the 3-point line.
While it’s natural to compare Andrej with his father, “I think it’s really unfair to compare father and son,” Musselman said on Tuesdday. It’s a natural thing to do, for sure, but I hope nobody compares me to my dad. I hope nobody compares my sons to me.
“I think that these guys, they all work so hard to be great players, and Peja was incredible, and his son is an incredible offensive player when you look at he can basket cut. He can dribble-drive. He can shoot the three. Playing with a lot of confidence in a really short sample size. It’s one thing for a freshman to have great numbers in games 13 through 18, but he’s come out first four games and proven scorer.”
Michael Jones (6-5, Sr.) has also seen an increase in his production and efficiency since Angel went down with an injury. He bumped his scoring up from 12.0 to 14.5 points per game on increased efficiency, climbing from 47% FG to 56% FG on roughly the same attempts per game.
As a team, Stanford moves the ball well, but their team assist total is heavily inflated by starting point guard Jared Bynum. Standing at only 5-foot-10, the senior guard is averaging a nation-leading 8.5 assists per game – including hitting double-digit assists twice this season.
What to Expect from Arkansas
Simply put, the Razorbacks have been poor defensively for the majority of the time over their last two games. Sure, there were some bright spots later in both contests, but a lack of energy early combined with miscommunication, too many offensive rebounds allowed, and an inability to contain the dribble drive has resulted in a disastrous combination for the Hogs early in the season.
In addition to being susceptible to dribble penetration, Arkansas has allowed its last two opponents to shoot a combined 20 of 48 (41.7%) from 3-point range and has only held one opponent all season to below 33% from behind the arc.
Something has to give defensively, and the Arkansas basketball coach is well aware of it.
“I think a job for our staff is if we’re not doing things the way we need to, we have to make adjustments,” Eric Musselman said after the loss. “We can’t keep doing the same thing, because every team’s personality, every team’s personnel strengths and weaknesses are different. I’ve got to come up with a little bit different scheme than what we’ve seen thus far. And we will. Whether it works or not, I don’t know.”
Expect a few defensive adjustments from Musselman with several days to prep for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Whether that comes in the form of some type of zone defense, wrinkles in the existing man-to-man defense such as aggressive double teams or handling ball screens differently, expect something to change.
Another change working in favor of Arkansas should be regression toward the mean when it comes to shooting. After shooting 27 of 67 (40%) from behind the arc in their first three games, the Hogs shot a horrendous 4 of 23 (17%) against UNCG.
Obviously, this isn’t a positive, but it should be noted that the Hogs will not shoot this poorly on a regular basis. Even if 40% as a team isn’t sustainable for the whole season, 17% should be a clear outlier. In the midst of (hopefully) their worst shooting performance of the season, Arkansas did a lot of things well offensively in the second half to give themselves a chance to win a game in which they trailed by 14 at half time.
Free throw shooting was yet again a major key for the Hogs as they drew 25 attempts at the charity stripe and hit a season high 80% of those attempts. A few guards even hit some threes late in the contest trying to mount the comeback, but the defense couldn’t string together enough stops to capitalize.
Tramon Mark and El Ellis each had good games in the midst of an overall bad game from the Arkansas basketball team as a whole. The two transfer guards combined for 40 points on 56% from the field and 77% from the free throw line. The two did combine for 6 turnovers, but seemingly no one could hold onto the ball in the first half of this game.
Khalif Battle also did a good job of continuing to draw fouls despite having one of the worst shooting nights of his career. He can be a streaky scorer, but this is only the third time in 73 career games that Battle has attempted 10 or more shots and finished at 20% or worse from the field. Expect that, too, to be an outlier.
What to Watch in Arkansas vs Stanford
As a team, Stanford moves the ball exceptionally well. The Cardinal currently rank No. 19 in the country in total assists with 19.5 per game, as well as No. 13 in assist to turnover ratio with 78 total assists compared to 38 turnovers on the season.
By comparison, Arkansas checks in at No. 182 in assists per game (13.2) and No. 118 in AST/TO ratio with 53 total assists and 42 total turnovers. To be fair, 12 of the total turnovers came in the first half of the loss against UNC Greensboro when the Hogs were out of sorts in every facet of the game. That leaves 30 total turnovers for the other 3.5 games for a rough average of 8.5 turnovers per game – a much more manageable number.
Staying disciplined on off-ball screens and movement will be key for Arkansas vs Stanford. It will be interesting to note how Musselman approaches this team from a gameplan standpoint. He could opt to have his better defenders like Davis and Mark chase down Stanford’s most efficient scorers as they move without the ball, or we could see a lot more off-ball switching on screens in an attempt to conserve energy while covering a lot of ground.
The Cardinal also haven’t committed a lot of fouls through their first four games, averaging only 16.0 fouls per game. By contrast, Arkansas is averaging 22.5 fouls drawn per game through four contests. The Hogs are scoring an average of 24% of their points from the charity stripe so far this season.
The Razorbacks were able to keep themselves alive against UNC Greensboro in large part thanks to their 20 made free throws on 80% from the line. If they’re unable to draw fouls at the rate they’ve grown used to through four games, their offensive output could struggle – especially if their shooting slump continues. It’s worth noting this will also be the first time this team plays a game outside of Bud Walton Arena, which can often affect shooting more than defense.
Stanford isn’t the highest ranked team in this tournament by any measure. Still, it plays a brand of disciplined basketball that will be hard for Arkansas to match up with on both sides of the ball, especially as the Hogs struggle to find their defensive identity and work out of a shooting slump offensively.
Arkansas vs Standford Game Prediction
At the start of his tenure at Nevada, Eric Musselman began his journey as a Division I coach taking on a Haase’s Standford basketball team. In the preseason of the 2015-16 season, “they beat us pretty good in a closed-door scrimmage, and I’ve never done a closed-door scrimmage since,” Musselman recalled. “He made a big enough impression in the closed-door scrimmage that I said, ‘I’m done with these.’ I didn’t think it did much for us. It hurt our confidence probably, to be quite honest.”
Don’t expect such a beat-down to take place in Wednesday night’s very, very public event. The Razorback seniors will let their pride take the lead after an embarrassing loss in their last game.
The energy won’t be lacking as the level of competition picks up at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Whether or not that turns into efficient defense will be up to the adjustments Musselman and his staff can come up with in less than a week’s time.
Regardless, Arkansas won’t dig themselves an early-game hole like they did against the Spartans. The shooting might not be at the level it was through their first three games at Bud Walton Arena, but it will bounce back up from 17%.
The Razorbacks bounce back and defeat Stanford in round one of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, setting themselves on the right path for some interesting matchups the rest of the week.
Arkansas wins, 84-76.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Stanford
Date: Wednesday, Nov 22
Location: Imperial Arena (Nassau, Bahamas)
Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 6:30 p.m. CT (ESPNU)
ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 55% chance of winning, favored by 1.5 points.
Battle 4 Atlantis Bracket
Depending on the outcome of the first round of the tournaments, Arkansas will face either Memphis or Michigan in the second round. Both of these teams would provide the Hogs with their toughest matchup of the season so far, each ranking in the Top 40 of KenPom’s rankings currently.
The final round would be a matchup with one of the following four teams: North Carolina (No. 20 on KenPom), Villanova (No. 26), Texas Tech (No. 46), or Northern Iowa (No. 119). UNC and Villanova would each provide a major test for Arkansas, while Texas Tech doesn’t look like a team to count out either. Plus, how much fun would it be for the Hogs to play Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina in the same season?
They would all rank quite highly on this list:
See a preview of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament here: