Arkansas vs Tennessee: Vols Poised to Push Hogs Back to Largely Abandoned Tactic

Arkansas basketball

Arkansas put themselves back in the win column on Tuesday night with a 76-57 beat down of Missouri on the road. The walloping marked the Razorbacks’ 10th win in their last 11 games, falling short only to Alabama in a one-point road loss last weekend. Arkansas now sits at 20-6 (9-4) on the season, good for 4th in the SEC, as they get set to face the most challenging stretch on their schedule. The last 10 opponents the Hogs have beaten have an average NET ranking of 92nd, but the road for Arkansas – now 30th in the NET – gets much tougher from here. The final five teams on the Razorbacks’ schedule average out at 18th in the NET, starting with a matchup against Tennessee (9th in NET) in Bud Walton Arena.

This will mark the first time the Arkansas basketball program has hosted a Top 25 matchup this season (meaning both teams are ranked) and the first since #20 Arkansas defeated #6 Alabama in February of 2021. This was the Hogs’ only such game under head coach Eric Musselman prior to the upcoming game against the Volunteers.

Tennessee (19-6, 10-3) is coming off of a major 76-63 win over Kentucky (4th in NET). The Volunteers took care of business on their homecourt, never trailing the Wildcats by more than five points and leading the entire game after the 12:26 mark of the first half. They shot 47% from long range as a team, their 3rd time hitting that mark against an SEC team this season, while also assisting 17 of their 24 (71%) of their made field goals.

What to Expect When Tennessee Has the Ball

As they demonstrated in the win over Kentucky, Tennessee is one of the best passing teams in the country. They average assisting 63% of their made field goals, good for 1st in the SEC by a wide margin. The second-best team (Georgia) in this category assists only 58% of their made field goals, while Arkansas checks in at 5th in the conference at a 53.8% assist rate. Kennedy Chandler, a 6-0 freshman, paces the Volunteers in assists with 4.9 per game, though there are six different players averaging at least 1.2 assists per game for Tennessee.

A big part of their impressive ball movement is their ability to move without the ball. In his preview press conference, Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman said, “you can tell how well they’re coached when a down-screen is set and some of the players will curl and some will fade off of screens based on how the defense is playing them. We’re going to have to mix things up on our defensive coverages – you can’t give them a steady diet because they’re so well-coached.”

Chandler also averages 13.3 points per game to go along with a team-best 2.3 steals per game, landing him at 2nd in the SEC behind JD Notae’s 2.4 steals per game. The freshman guard has been relatively streaky in his young career but has shot over 51% from long range over five games in the month of February, including a 3-5 (60%) performance in his last outing against Kentucky. Au’Diese Toney has become the go-to defender against opposing teams’ primary ball handlers, so don’t be surprised to see the 6-6 senior tasked with defending the talented freshman point guard. “[Toney] struggled against Alabama finishing at the rim, but his defense was awesome. I thought he did as good a job as I’d seen anyone do on [Jaden] Shackelford. [Against Missouri] was just one of those nights where, mentally, every time he stepped on the court he fouled a guy,” Musselman said of Toney’s recent struggles. “It was one of those nights where the whistles were coming at him from all angles.”

Chandler is joined in the backcourt by a pair of gritty guards in junior Santiago Vescovi and freshman Zakai Zeigler. Vescovi usually starts at shooting guard and leads the Volunteers in 3-point attempts (7.4) while hitting at a 39.8% clip from behind the arc. He leads the team in scoring with 13.8 points per game and has three career games against the Hogs.

Though he’s 2-1 in his career against Arkansas, Vescovi lost his only game in Bud Walton Arena in February of 2020. He averages 10 points, 3.7 assists, and 1.3 steals per game against the Hogs while shooting 40% FG, 25% 3P, and 88% FT. The Hogs will lean heavily on JD Notae to defend one or both of these players for stretches. The other will likely draw the assignment of either Toney or one of the Razorback guards off the bench in Devo Davis or Chris Lykes.

Tennessee Basketball Standouts

Zeigler, a 5-9 freshman, does for the Volunteers what Arkansas fans hoped Chris Lykes, a 5-7 senior, would do for the Hogs this season. Though the Razorbacks’ undersized guard has found on-court success in recent games – averaging 5.5 points and 2.5 assists in his last six games – he’s not performed at the same level as Tennessee’s freshman guard. Zeigler averages 8.7 points, 2.6 assists, and 1.8 steals per game, but it’s his energy, aggression, and toughness that energizes Tennessee on both sides of the ball. His ball-handling and speed make the Volunteers an incredibly dangerous team in transition when he joins Chandler, Vescovi, or both in the backcourt.

Though Uros Plavsic, a 7-0 junior, has taken over as Tennessee’s starting center, it’s John Fulkerson that poses the biggest threat to the interior defense. The 6-9 super-senior averages 7.8 points per game in his sixth season with the Volunteers after an injury exemption and COVID-19 afforded him two extra seasons. “Fulkerson has given us absolute nightmares in the post at times. He’s got a spin game and an isolation game from the elbow. I don’t know how old he is, but he’s certainly been in the league a lot longer than I have, so he’s got immense experience,” Musselman said about the Tennessee forward in a recent interview.

In six games versus Arkansas, Fulkerson averages 9.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.0 assists while coming away with wins in four of the six meetings. Since becoming a starter in 2020, Fulkerson’s averages have bumped up to 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.0 assists against the Hogs. It should be noted, however, that Fulkerson is 0-2 inside of Bud Walton Arena and averages only 7.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 0.5 assists in road games against the Razorbacks.

Other notable players for the Volunteers include Olivier Nkamhoua and Josiah-Jordan James. Nkamhoua, a 6-8 junior, was averaging 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game before having season-ending foot surgery earlier in February. James, a 6-6 junior, averages 8.8 points and 5.6 rebounds to go along with 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks for Tennessee this season.

What to Expect When Arkansas Has the Ball

After seeing their win streak come to an end against Alabama, Arkansas responded very well in their next outing against Missouri on the road. The 19-point margin of victory was Arkansas’s 6th highest of the season and 3rd highest against an SEC team. The Razorbacks shot 52% from long range against the Tigers, their second-best shooting performance of the season behind only their 54% outing against the Georgia Bulldogs. Stanley Umude led the way, making 6-9 (67%) 3-point attempts. JD Notae (3-5) and Devo Davis (2-3) joined Umude in shooting over 60% from behind the arc.

Umude has emerged as a legitimate second scoring option behind JD Notae in the Razorbacks’ offense. While Jaylin Williams is arguably the most important player on the court at times, his impact does not always appear in the stat sheet, and definitely not always in the scoring column. Umude is averaging 17.4 points per game in his last five games, including 52% long-range shooting. He scored 23 points on an absurd 67% from distance against Missouri – his 3rd game of the season scoring at least 20 points and 7th time to shoot 50% or better from behind the arc. His ability to draw attention from opposing defenses is likely to play a major role in the Hogs’ offensive attack down the stretch of the season.

Stanley Umude’s Star Turn for Arkansas Basketball

“The magic is in the work,” Musselman said of Umude’s recent uptick in 3-point shooting. “One of the things that becomes new is how much time you have to invest away from the coaching staff and work on your craft. He turned a switch maybe five weeks ago, and he’s in here all the time shooting…that’s why he’s been playing so well. He’s been getting so many reps up shooting the three that it’s hard not to really improve and build your confidence up. Right now, he’s as confident an offensive player as we’ve had here in three years.” That’s high praise coming from coach Musselman considering he coached Mason Jones in his first season with the Hogs, a player with immense confidence on the offensive end.

Though he’s not always known for his scoring prowess, Williams put up 13 points to go along with his 11 rebounds against the Tigers. This was his 12th consecutive game scoring in double figures, as well as his 8th double-double in his last 12 games. His impact, as always, stretched beyond the stat sheet as he played a big role in holding Missouri to only 37% shooting from the field, including 40% shooting from inside the 3-point line. He will likely start the game matched up against the 7-0 center, Uros Plavsic, but Williams has an opportunity to exploit his inevitable matchup against John Fulkerson on the offensive side of the ball. The bigger challenge will come in containing the shifty forward defensively. Last season, Williams started in place of the injured Justin Smith and played only 14 minutes against the Vols. He shot 100% from the field and scored six points compared to Fulkerson’s 16 points on 55% shooting.

JD Notae’s performance against Missouri was almost lost behind Umude’s hot shooting and Williams’ double-double, or perhaps Razorback fans are simply growing used to his high level of production every time he touches the court. While shooting 60% from beyond the arc, Notae contributed 17 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two steals in a well-rounded performance to help the Hogs notch a blowout victory over the Tigers. Per usual, his offensive consistency and ability to stay out of foul trouble will play vital roles in Arkansas’s success against the Volunteers.

Arkansas vs Tennessee: What to Watch For

This game presents an interesting matchup for head coach Eric Musselman. Three of the Volunteers’ top four players are essentially point guards who like to run the court, attack offensively, and play smart basketball. They all excel at moving without the ball, whether that be through backdoor cuts or reading off-ball screens. Arkansas’s guards will face the daunting task of staying attached to their assignments throughout the game because falling asleep for even a second defensively against this high-IQ Volunteer squad will lead to open shots.

Au’Diese Toney only saw the court for six minutes in the Hogs’ latest victory over Missouri due to foul trouble. This came directly after a 1-11 shooting performance against the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. Keep an eye on Toney’s ability to bounce back and stay focused when guarding the Volunteers’ trio of guards, because early foul trouble from key players like Toney could prove to be detrimental for Arkansas in this matchup.

Also, don’t be surprised to see coach Musselman roll out his multi-guard lineup containing different combinations of JD Notae, Chris Lykes, and Devo Davis to counter Tennessee’s quickness. Au’Diese Toney is more than capable of guarding ball handlers, but Tennessee having three legitimate ball handling threats on the court may force Musselman’s hand in returning to a smaller, quicker lineup similar to what we saw at the beginning of the season before that small-ball tactic was largely abandoned for a bigger lineup.

“[Tennessee] does a lot of things well. They’re one of the only teams you’ll see that plays three point guards for stretches or even to close games out. Chandler is as fast as any player in college basketball. He can shoot threes, dribble drive, he’s a high-steal player. They do a great job of jumping passing lanes. Zeigler was completely under-recruited. Coach Barnes and his staff did an awesome job evaluating him. Vescovi, now playing the 2 or 3 position, used to start at the point guard and can shoot the ball.”

Game Prediction

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives Tennessee a 59% chance of defeating the Razorbacks in Bud Walton Arena on Saturday, while Arkansas will likely be an underdog according to Fanduel NCAAB odds. Tennessee leads the all-time series 23-19, though Arkansas has won seven of the last 12 matchups overall and six of the last 10 regular-season matchups. The Razorbacks are also 4-0 at home in this same stretch of games dating back to January of 2015.

The defensive intensity of the Hogs will be too much for the Volunteers, a team that not surprisingly shoots below their season average from the field and from behind the arc on the road. Stanley Umude will have his third consecutive high-scoring game, benefiting from the attention drawn by JD Notae and Jaylin Williams – both of which will also have good games by their standards.

Arkansas will limit Tennessee to below 30% 3-point shooting, a mark they’ve held opponents under 10 times in their last 11 games, and the Hogs will walk away with another upset victory in front of a raucous, red-out, Razorback crowd in Bud Walton Arena!

Arkansas wins 71-65.

How to Watch Arkansas vs Tennessee

Tennessee Volunteers (19-6, 10-3)

Arkansas Razorbacks (20-6, 9-4)

Where: Fayetteville, AR

Date: February 19th, 2022

Time: 3:00 PM CT

TV: ESPN (Dave Neal and Dane Bradshaw)

Online: Watch ESPN

Radio: Learfield Razorback Sports Network (Chuck Barrett and Matt Zimmerman)

Online radio: Listen to Razorback Sports Network Online (Tune In)

Author: Brandon Baker. Co-Department Head of Twitter: @Panamaniac03 and @OTHArkansas.

Arkansas vs Tennessee Notes

  • This will be the 45th meeting between Arkansas and Tennessee with all but four coming since the Razorbacks joined the SEC for the 1991-92 season. The Volunteers own a slight 23-21 advantage in the series.
  • Arkansas leads 11-4 in games played in Fayetteville.
  • The Razorbacks are coming off a 19-point win at Missouri which, was Arkansas’ ninth-largest winning margin in an SEC road game ever. Four of the nine largest SEC road wins have come in the Eric Musselman era.
  • Arkansas is only allowing 66.08 points per game in SEC games, which is tops in the conference. Also in league play, the Razorbacks rank second in both field goal percentage defense (.398) and 3-point percentage defense (.296). (via Razorback Communications)

More on Arkansas basketball here:

Facebook Comments