Arkansas vs South Carolina Preview: Hogs Look to Keep Rolling Under Keith Smart

Keith Wilson

The Arkansas Razorbacks picked up arguably their biggest win of the season over the weekend, knocking off #12 LSU on the road by a score of 65-58. Late game heroics from Razorback forward Jaylin Williams, including a rare and timely 3-pointer, sealed the second straight SEC victory for the Hogs. The upset victory helped the Hogs jump up to #38 in the KenPom rankings.

Arkansas was without head coach Eric Musselman for this matchup against the Tigers and will again be missing the Head Hog for their next matchup as they host the Gamecocks on Tuesday night. Under the guidance of interim head coach Keith Smart, the Hogs look to avenge their Lady Backs counterpart after the women lost to #1 South Carolina by only nine points (61-52) in Bud Walton Arena over the weekend.

South Carolina comes into the men’s basketball contest at 10-6, 1-3 in conference play. Their lone SEC win came on the road against Vanderbilt and they’ve lost each of their last two games, one at Tennessee and the other at home against Florida. So far this season they’ve lost to the likes of Princeton and Coastal Carolina, ranked 143rd and 188th respectively in the KenPom rankings. However, they’ve also beaten Wofford, Florida State, and UAB earlier this season, currently ranked 97th, 54th, and 45th in the KenPom rankings. Like most SEC teams, South Carolina, ranked 109th in the KenPom rankings, holds the potential to upset more talented teams on any given night regardless of their record.

What to Expect When South Carolina Has the Ball

The Gamecocks are led in scoring by 6-3 junior, Erik Stevenson. The experienced guard averages only 11.3 points per game, good for 22nd in the SEC, while also leading his team in assists with 2.5 per contest. As a team, South Carolina ranks 181st in the country in team scoring and 14th among SEC teams during conference play. They’re scoring just under 62 points per game against SEC teams while allowing roughly 72 points to their conference opponents.

Their second-leading scorer, and only other player averaging double-digit points, is senior guard James Reese V at 10 points per game. This 6-4 shooter is the Gamecocks’ biggest threat from long range. He’s shooting roughly 38% on 5.4 attempts per game, a better mark than any Razorback attempting at least one 3-pointer per game. They also have a threat in the paint in 6-11 forward, Wildens Leveque. The junior is averaging only 9.5 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game, but he’s shooting nearly 66% from inside the 3-point arc. Though Leveque isn’t a high-volume shooter, the Razorback big men will face a legitimate challenge in limiting his efficiency.

What to Expect When Arkansas Has the Ball

Arkansas has pushed its way into the top 30 in the nation in terms of team scoring with 79.6 points per game. They also rank 6th in the SEC against conference opponents scoring roughly 75 points per game. Offense has rarely been an issue for the Hogs, and that doesn’t seem to be in danger of changing against South Carolina who is currently giving up 72 points per game to SEC opponents, good for 8th most in the conference.

Since SEC play started, JD Notae has shot a much-improved 36% from long range, including 33% (2-6) against LSU on the road. Despite turning the ball over three times, Notae still came away with a positive AST/TO ratio after dishing out four assists in the Razorbacks’ big win. His improved shooting and playmaking have been a major key in the Hogs’ recent success. 

It should also be noted that Trey Wade made perhaps the biggest impact of the day against LSU without appearing on the box score much at all. Despite contributing only two points and two rebounds in 20 minutes, Wade held LSU’s leader Darius Days to only three points and four rebounds on 1-8 shooting before LSU’s senior forward fouled out in 30 minutes of action. Wade’s versatility on defense and ability to stretch the floor offensively, which was on full display in his 17-point outing against Missouri, have been unexpectedly important factors in turning Arkansas’ season around.

Arkansas vs South Carolina: What to Watch For

The turnover battle has been a recurring theme all season long for the Razorbacks. When they turned the ball over only eight times in their blowout over Missouri, it seemed as though they had figured out their ball security issues. However, despite coming away with the major upset victory against the nation’s top defense, the Hogs still turned the ball over 19 times against the LSU Tigers. It should be noted, however, that LSU still ranks 1st in the country in steals per game, so it’s not uncommon for any team to have a high turnover number against the Tigers.

South Carolina, on the other hand, ranks 1st in the SEC during conference play in most turnovers committed at 18.5 per game compared to the Razorbacks’ 15.2 cough-ups per contest. Don’t be fooled, though, because the Gamecocks are also forcing their SEC opponents into 16.5 turnovers per game, a slightly better average than Arkansas’s 16.2 turnovers forced. The turnover battle will be as important as ever as the Hogs look to extend their SEC winning streak at home. Coming off of a major upset can sometimes lead to trap games against less-talented opponents. That’s something the Hogs will need to be wary of, especially without Musselman available in their day-to-day game preparations.

Arkansas vs South Carolina: Prediction

ESPN’s BPI gives the rolling Razorbacks an 84.2% chance to defeat the South Carolina Gamecocks at Bud Walton Arena, and we tend to agree. The Razorbacks’ hot shooting will continue as they step back onto their homecourt, and their turnover numbers dwindle down towards the 9-11 range as they put the heat on South Carolina. Despite another game in which their opponent will shoot above their season 3-point average, the Hogs win this game comfortably.

Arkansas wins 81-68.

Game Details

South Carolina Gamecocks (10-6, 1-3)

Arkansas Razorbacks (12-5, 2-3)

Where: Fayetteville, AR

Date: Tuesday, January 18th

Time: 6:00 PM CT

TV: SEC Network / ESPN App

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