The Hogs are riding high after a monumental 80-76 overtime victory on Tuesday over the #1 Auburn Tigers in front of a record-setting crowd of 20,327 rowdy fans in Fayetteville ravenous to see Arkansas take down its first top-ranked opponent in Bud Walton Arena. No matter how badly Arkansas basketball players and fans want to revel in this moment for as long as they can, they’ll soon have to turn their attention to the other team from the state of Alabama, the Crimson Tide, for an 11 a.m. Saturday tilt in Tuscaloosa. Hopefully, the Hogs didn’t party too hard after their season-changing victory that bumped them up to 31st in the NET rankings.
Meanwhile, Nate Oats’ Alabama basketball team has won only two of their last five contests, leaving them with a 15-9 (5-6) record, though they’re still ranked 22nd in the NET Rankings. They’ve been one of the more unpredictable teams in the country this season with impressive wins over Gonzaga (1st in NET Rankings) and Houston (3rd) to go along with head-scratching losses to the likes of Missouri (145th) and Georgia (205th).
It’s worth noting that both of their two worst losses came on the road. In fact, the Tide have a road record of only 2-5 (.286) to go along with a 3-2 (.600) record on neutral sites and a 10-2 (.833) record on their home court – their only losses coming to Auburn and Kentucky. For reference, Arkansas currently has an away record of 3-3 (.500), a neutral record of 3-1 (.750), and a home record of 13-1 (.929).
What to Expect When Alabama Has the Ball
Jaden Shackelford leads Alabama offensively. The 6-3 junior paces his team in points (17.6), 3-point attempts (8.5), 3-point percentage (.376), and free throw attempts (3.8). Shackelford has scored 25 points or more 11 times in his collegiate career, including a 28-point outing against Arkansas back in February of 2020. In three career games versus Arkansas, the junior guard averages 16 points, three rebounds, and two assists per game to go along with 49% shooting from the field and 44% shooting from behind the arc. During home games against Arkansas, those percentages improve to 52% FG and 45% 3P. Expect Au’Diese Toney to play a big role in limiting Shackelford’s efficiency.
Shackelford is joined in the backcourt by junior guard Jahvon Quinerly and senior guard Keon Ellis. Quinerly, standing at 6-1, averages 14.3 points per game while pacing the Tide in assists with 4.4 per game. Ellis, 6-6, contributes 11.8 points per game while pulling down the most rebounds on the team at roughly 6.0 per game. Both guards shoot more than five 3-point attempts per game, though they combine to shoot less than 31% from long range.
In their last game against Ole Miss, Alabama shot 64% from 3-point land, hitting 14-22 attempts. However, just one game earlier, the Tide saw only 10% (3-30) of their long-range bombs go down. In the previous 10 games prior to these two outlier performances, Alabama shot just under 29% from distance as a team.
The Tide start games with a 7-0 freshman patrolling the paint in Charles Bediako. He plays less than 18 minutes per game but still tallies 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game to go along with 65% shooting from inside the 3-point arc.
Perhaps the most exciting player to watch on Alabama’s roster is a 6-3 freshman who comes off the bench – former 5-star prospect JD Davison. This young guard averages only 8.5 points per game, but he also contributes 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game to go along with the occasional SportsCenter Top 10 worthy dunk.
Davison is still improving his efficiency as a scorer, averaging only 32% from long range in his first collegiate season, but he’s still scored double-digit points nine times this season, including a 20-point outing in the Tide’s upset victory over Gonzaga and an 18-point performance in his last game, a road win over the Ole Miss Reels.
What to Expect when Arkansas has the Ball
Jaylin Williams continues to improve his stock as one of the most versatile big men in the country. In the Razorbacks’ upset victory over Auburn, the 6-10 sophomore recorded his 6th double-double in his last 10 games, including his 10th straight game of double-digit scoring. He also contributed two assists and two steals to go along with 33% shooting from long range and 86% shooting from the charity stripe.
Over his last nine games, Williams has averaged nearly 13.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 1.8 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game. He’s also shot 46% from the field, 84% from the free-throw line, and a much-improved 40% from behind the arc. Williams shot only 20% from behind the arc during the Hogs’ first 15 games of the season prior to their current win streak.
Perhaps the best part of Williams’ game is his ability to defend the paint. He does it in the typical way in which other big men excel – block shots – but, as Hog fans have grown to love, the thing that makes Williams special is his ability to draw charges. Alabama commits the 6th most fouls in the SEC during conference play, something the sophomore forward could potentially exploit on both sides of the ball with his ability to get position defensively and work his way to the free-throw line offensively.
Against Auburn, Williams made it difficult for sophomore guard Wendell Green to find a rhythm in the paint because the Razorback big man consistently stepped into position to draw charges against the Auburn point guard. Expect Williams to find similar success against Quinerly and Shackelford who both average at least 5.5 shot attempts inside the 3-point arc.
JD Notae had one of his biggest games of the season during his last outing against Auburn. The emerging SEC Player of the Year candidate turned in his most well-rounded game when the Hogs needed him most, tallying 28 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals, and four blocks against the No. 1 team in the nation.
Not only did Notae stuff the stat sheet, but he also made his biggest plays when the Hogs needed them most. Two of his three 3-pointers came late in the game, one in regulation and one in overtime, keeping the Hogs’ upset hopes alive as they fought tooth and nail down the stretch. He also made 11-14 free throws on the game, his first time this season with double-digit makes or attempts.
As a team, the Razorbacks have improved their free-throw shooting during their current nine-game win streak. Prior to this stretch, they shot under 73% from the charity stripe, but during their recent success, they’ve upped their average to nearly 77% from the line. This could become very important against the Tide who commit just under 19 fouls per game during conference play.
Arkansas vs Alabama: What to Watch For
As a team, the Crimson Tide shoot the 9th most 3-point attempts in the country this season, including averaging over 30 attempts per game during conference play – good for first in the SEC. By comparison, Arkansas ranks 238th in the country with 20.7 attempts per game on the season and only 9th in the SEC with 20.6 attempts per game during conference play. In home games this season, Alabama is shooting only 27% from behind the arc compared to nearly 35% on the road and 38% on neutral sites. Arkansas has combined to hold its last nine opponents to only 27.5% shooting from distance, only allowing Georgia to eclipse 31% during that stretch. The ability to defend the 3-point line will likely be a telling factor in the final outcome of this game.
Arkansas has to be very focused to avoid falling into a potential trap game against Alabama. This might sound odd considering Alabama has a higher NET Ranking than the Hogs, but it’s true. It would be very easy for the Razorbacks to get big heads after knocking off the top team in the nation.
This shouldn’t be the case for Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman’s squad as they face an Alabama squad that is 10-2 at home court. “It’s there,” Musselman says about the lingering after glow of the Auburn victory, “The question is what is [our] maturity level in handling that…People are going to talk about it and you can’t stop it because the fans are excited about it, but we play two road games coming up. It’s so hard to win on the road. We have to go figure out a way to continue to get better.”
Offense doesn’t always travel when teams play away games, but defense should. If the Hogs are not fully focused on the task at hand, foul trouble and efficient shooting could swing the tide of this matchup in Alabama’s favor.
Playing as unranked, nationally under-respected program in the last few weeks seemed to have helped the Razorbacks in the weeks before Auburn. Now that they have gotten plenty of respect, one Arkansas sports radio host concocted a way to ensure the Hogs keep their edge.
Wess Moore, co-host of “The Zone” on the Buzz 103.7 FM, mock goaded Devo Davis during an interview on Wednesday: “I’ll give you a little motivation. I’m going to pick you all to lose against Alabama,” said Moore, tongue in cheek. “I don’t think there’s any way you get back up after that game, that there’ll be a lull, and Alabama’s just a hornet storm. They’re ready to take it out on you guys.”
“Arkansas honestly has a target on its chest because if you beat Arkansas, it’s a quality win after what you did last night. So Alabama’s going to be fired up for Arkansas just like y’all were fired up for Auburn last night.”
“Oh yeah, for sure,” Davis replied, as unperturbed as if he was hanging from a rim with an Auburn Tiger helplessly flailing beneath him. “It’s going to be a tough battle and I know… we’re all going to be ready.”
Arkansas vs Alabama: Game Prediction
ESPN’s BPI currently gives Alabama a 69.5% chance of defeating the Arkansas Razorbacks on their home court. This is the highest win probability ESPN gives an SEC opponent of defeating the Hogs until they travel to face Tennessee in their final regular-season game when the BPI gives the Volunteers an 86.5% win probability. The last time these two teams faced off in Tuscaloosa, Arkansas lost by 31 points. This was the teams’ final loss before rattling off 12 consecutive SEC wins last season.
Arkansas basketball head coach Eric Musselman will have his Razorbacks focused and ready to play, but the Tide will not go down easy. JD Notae and Jaylin Williams will again lead the way offensively and defensively, as Hog fans have learned to expect. The Razorbacks will hold Alabama to 31% shooting or worse from long range as they pick up their 10th consecutive win.
Arkansas wins 74-68.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Alabama
Arkansas Razorbacks (19-5, 8-3)
Alabama Crimson Tide (15-9, 5-6)
Where: Tuscaloosa, AL
Date: February 12th, 2022
Time: 11:00 AM CT
TV: SECNetwork (Tom Hart and Carolyn Peck)
Online: Watch ESPN
Radio online: Razorback Sports Network Online (Tune In)
Arkansas vs Alabama Game Notes
- Although Alabama owns a 21-8 advantage in games played in Tuscaloosa, the Arkansas basketball program has won 8 of the last 10 in the series.
- The Razorbacks continue to lead the conference in scoring defense in SEC games at 66.7 ppg.
- JD Note is the only player in the SEC to rank among the league’s top 15 in scoring (1st), steals (2nd), assists (13th) and defensive rebounds (15th).
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