ESPN Forecast Only Supports the Trap Game Makings of Arkansas vs Vanderbilt

Eric Musselman, Jerry Stackhouse, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs Vanderbilt
photo credit: Craven Whitlow / Vanderbilt Athletics

For the first time this season, Arkansas basketball has secured back-to-back wins against SEC competition. Their 78-71 win over Texas A&M last week was one of the better games the team has played as a whole all season and they followed it up with an 88-73 victory over Missouri on Saturday.

Despite letting the Tigers hang around too long for comfort, Arkansas responded very well to its opponent’s runs. Missouri led at times in the second half and trailed 53-52 with less than 10 minutes left in the game despite its winless SEC record. The Hogs were able to turn on the afterburners late in the game, however, behind an historic 42-point performance from Khalif Battle to win by 15.

“We got to keep it going,” Battle said of the team earning back-to-back wins. “I think the energy in the locker room is a little different right now. It feels like everybody is on one agenda and that’s just to win.”

Up next on the Razorbacks’ schedule is a prime opportunity to make it three straight victories for the first time since December, as the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-20, 2-12) make the trip to Fayetteville.

While the Commodores are often among the basement dwellers in the SEC, the Hogs can’t afford to overlook them. Vanderbilt has beaten Arkansas each of the last two times these teams met, including their last matchup in Fayetteville in January 2022. NCAA Tournament hopes be damned, the Hogs have some pride and a losing streak on the line in this matchup.

Arkansas vs Vanderbilt is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT Tuesday and will be televised on SEC Network.

Previewing Vanderbilt Basketball

A pair of guards leads the Commodores into battle on both ends of the court. Erza Manjon (5-11, Sr.) paces the team offensively with a team-high 13.9 points and 3.7 assists per game, though he shoots only 30% from long range on the season.

Tyrin Lawrence (6-4, Sr.) joins Manjon as the team’s leading scorers with 13.1 points per game, but his 3-point shooting has been even worse at roughly 25% this season. Ven-Allen Lubin (6-8, So.) is the only other Commodore averaging double figures with 11.1 points to go along with a team-high 5.9 rebounds per game.

“Vanderbilt’s two guards — Manjon is really good,” Musselman said. “T-Lawrence is a guy that can really score the ball and has got good length. Transfer from Notre Dame (Lubin) has done a good job for them.”

The Commodores are riding a three-game losing streak and lead only Missouri in SEC wins this season. They come into their matchup with Arkansas as one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country at 28.6% on the season and 27.5% against SEC teams. That number drops to 25.3% in SEC road games.

In the two SEC games they’ve won, Vanderbilt has done a fantastic job at two things: taking care of the basketball and limiting free throw attempts for its opponents. In those wins, the Commodores are averaging only 6.0 turnovers and allowing just 14.0 free throws per game.

Conversely, Arkansas has been forcing nearly 13 turnovers per game from their opponents over the last seven games, a stretch in which it has looked like an entirely different team than early in SEC play. The Hogs are also averaging nearly 27 free throw attempts per game in this stretch – including 68 in their last two games alone.

What to Expect from Arkansas Basketball

Khalif Battle finally had his “Welcome to the SEC” moment with only five regular-season games left on the schedule. Better late than never, though. His 42-point outburst was the second-largest in UA history against an SEC opponent and the most by any SEC player this season – surpassing Wade Taylor IV’s 41-point outing against Arkansas earlier in the season. It’s also the most points scored by a Razorback since Rotnei Clarke put up a program-record 51 points in 2009.

The most impressive part of Battle’s performance, however, was the efficiency with which it came. He took only 15 field goal attempts and shot 73% from the field, including 60% from 3-point range, and tallied a ridiculous 14-of-14 from the free throw line. This all came without Battle coughing the ball up even once in  roughly 38 minutes of action.

“That’s about as great an offensive performance as a player could have,” Musselman said. “Because when you look at the efficiency of only 15 field goals and to get 42 points, I mean that’s insane. He’s done a great job all year of drawing free throws and he went 14 of 14 from the foul line.

“He played 37 minutes and 34 seconds and didn’t have a turnover while scoring 42 points. Kind of unheard to be honest.”

Though he was pleased with his career-high scoring outburst, Battle made a point to put the team win above his own individual performance in his postgame press conference.

“It’s a great feeling, but it’s even better that we got the win,” Battle said. “If I would’ve had 40 and we would have lost, no one would have even remembered that.”

If he’s able to build on this performance and continue playing with confidence, it’ll be a major boost for the Hogs as they fight for their lives down the home stretch of the season.

Makhi Mitchell was the only other Hog in double-figures against Missouri, continuing his stellar stretch of play. He tallied 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal in 28 minutes. Mitchell has now played 20 or more minutes in 7 of his last 8 games. In such games, he’s averaging 15.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.7 assists on 61% shooting from the field and a very impressive 84% from the charity stripe.

His improved play has been a breath of fresh air for the Hogs, but his more consistent minutes have come somewhat out of necessity with Trevon Brazile missing several games due to injury and Jalen Graham recently joining him on the injury report for the last couple of contests.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs Vanderbilt

The Hogs are riding a two-game winning streak for the first time in virtually two months. Their next game is a matchup with a Vanderbilt basketball program that has slid into being one of the perennial bottom feeders in the SEC – a team that only has 2 wins in 14 conference games this year. On the horizon looms Kentucky, the conference’s traditional top dog and a squad that Arkansas gave trouble for 35-plus minutes a few weeks ago.

As crazy as it sounds at this point in an overall disappointing season for the Razorbacks, this matchup with the Commodores has all the makings of a trap game.

Khalif Battle alluded to the energy in the locker room being different now than it has been all season, saying everyone is focused on one goal: winning. For a team fighting to stay above .500 on the season, that’s probably true.

Still, it’s human nature to feel more confident after a pair of solid wins – and even beyond that, Arkansas has been a much more competitive team over its last seven games, going 4-3 and being just a few possessions away from 5-2. Understandably, ESPN hasn’t been too hot on the Razorbacks throughout the SEC season, but they are back to glowing in their most recent BPI forecast, giving Arkansas an 85.7% chance of winning and favoring Arkansas by double digits.

Also, the tendency to look forward to a game as big as Kentucky shouldn’t be discounted. This goes even a step further with Arkansas being historically one of the top teams in the SEC chasing Kentucky’s success, and the fact that the first matchup between these two teams provided a glimpse into what fans expected to consistently see from the Hogs this season.

Of course, the Xs and Os are important for the Hogs in Arkansas vs Vanderbilt. They have to find a way to continue getting to the free throw line and forcing live ball turnovers. Despite Vanderbilt’s poor shooting, they can’t fall asleep from the perimeter and allow the Commodores to gain confidence on the road.

But, none of that is quite as important as simply focusing on the game at hand. It would be all too easy for the Razorbacks to ride their recent success and come out sleep-walking against Vanderbilt while knowing their next matchup is one of the biggest of the season.

Game Prediction

Arkansas leads the all-time series against Vanderbilt 29-14, including 16-4 in Fayetteville. However, they’re riding a two-game losing streak against the Commodores – one of those losses coming in Bud Walton Arena. Before the current stretch, the Hogs had won seven in a row in the series.

The Hogs are playing at a level well above what their overall record might indicate over their last several games. Mark – who has been the closest thing to consistency all year for Arkansas – will continue his excellent all-around play.

Mitchell will also continue his stretch of much-improved consistency and production, showing again that he’s one of the better big men in the SEC. Battle will continue his hot shooting after averaging 25.0 points over his last three games, and perhaps even another Razorback will get in on the act since role players typically shoot better on their home court.

The Hogs are in too desperate of a position to fall too deep into a trap game like this one, though we could see some sloppiness early as the Commodores come out playing with nothing to lose. Still, Arkansas will earn its third straight SEC win.

Arkansas wins, 83-69

How to Watch Arkansas vs Vanderbilt

Date: Tuesday, Feb. 27

Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Tipoff Time/TV: 8 p.m. CT (SEC Network)

ESPN BPI: Arkansas has an 85.7% chance of winning, favored by 11.4 points.

KenPom: Arkansas has an 81% chance of winning, favored by a score of 77-68. 


See more on Arkansas vs Vanderbilt here:

YouTube video
YouTube video

More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS… 

Facebook Comments