FAYETTEVILLE – As Arkansas senior forward Justin Smith noted of the accompanying note on the scouting report before the Razorbacks’ 83-75 SEC victory Saturday victory over LSU, “the revenge tour ends tonight.”
The rematches revenging Arkansas early-season SEC defeats to Missouri, Alabama and LSU indeed ceased Saturday. A clean slate awaits. The Razorbacks tonight at 5:30 CST on the SEC Network at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia,. S.C. are SEC matched against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Coach Frank Martin’s Gamecocks are the only SEC team Arkansas hasn’t played other than the Texas A&M Aggies who Arkansas allegedly will play in Saturday’s regular-season closer at Walton Arena following two cancelledHogs vs. Aggies dates because of covid-19 issues within A&M’s program.
Tonight’s slate comes clean but there’s no denying Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks bear the cleaner slate.
The Razorbacks stand 19-5 overall with a 9-game SEC winning streak boosting their second-place SEC record to 11-4.
Martin’s Gamecocks appear struggling, 6-12 overall/4-10 in the SEC.
So it probably bore well blipping across the Razorbacks’ radar that the up and down Gamecocks followed a dreadful 69-48 loss at Mississippi State by last Saturday walloping, 91-70 in Athens, Ga. those same Georgia Bulldogs that last midweek not only upset but walloped LSU.
“Certainly there was past history in some of these games that we’ve played of late, meaning Missouri and Alabama and LSU, that they understood,” Musselman said Sunday of his team’s focus. “But I think once we start diving into film today, I think that there will be a great understanding and great respect for South Carolina. Certainly, their game yesterday against Georgia should grab everyone’s attention, how well they played and scoring 90+ points. So I think it’s for sure a dangerous game.”
He calls the Gamecocks “a really dangerous team.” That’s based on their experience and this season’s highlights including beating Florida at Florida, sweeping Georgia home and home and playing already SEC champion Alabama down to the wire in an 81-78 loss in Columbia.
Musselman and staff last prepared for South Carolina feverishly overnight for Round 2 of last season’s SEC Tournament which got cancelled, along with the entire postseason by the covid-19 pandemic the day after Arkansas’ first round SEC Tournament victory over Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.
The Arkansas coach seems amazed that Carolina’s cast has hardly changed.
“It’s a lot of the same guys when you look at (Jermaine) Cousinard and (AJ) Lawson, (Keyshawn) Bryant, and (Justin) Minaya and Trae Hannibal. A lot of guys that we were worried about last year that are back. They’ve got as many guys back as anybody we’ve played.”
Sophomore Lawson was Preseason All-SEC after averaging 13.4 points last season and averages 17.4 this season. Off the bench guards Cousinard scored 23 and Hannibal 15 against Georgia while as a team the Gamecocks thieved 15 steals against Georgia.
Wildens Leveque, 6-10, 242, is “a big, strong body that can rebound,” Musselman said.
Martin’s teams play with the physical toughness that Martin coached as an assistant for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati and then head coached at Kansas State and with a 2017 Final Four team at South Carolina.
“We need to be strong with the ball,” Musselman said. “They’re a high steal team. There’s going to be hands on you and swiping at the ball. They’re going to be physical and you’ve got to finish through contact. It’s not usually a finesse game when you play South Carolina. They do play hard and physical.”
While the Gamecocks have been up and down, the Hogs march into March among the hottest teams in the country. They February flourished 6-0 finishing last week avenging lopsided Alabama and LSU losses.
“When we have an emotional game like we did against Alabama, there’s a concern for your next game,” Musselman said Sunday. “Same thing going forward now. We had a huge week, won two really, really big games. Now it’s a matter of how do we turn the page and get ready for South Carolina as soon as possible?”