Arkansas vs South Carolina preview

By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas could be in position to win its first true road game on Saturday when they are at South Carolina.

Arkansas (15-7, 4-5) is 0-5 in road games this season. But South Carolina (8-14, 1-8) simply put isn’t very good. The lone SEC win was at Kentucky 71-68 on Jan. 10 when the Wildcats were struggling significantly. They are 0-5 in SEC action at home. The Razorbacks have won three SEC games in a row. Eric Musselman liked the team’s effort at Baylor and in some other road games outside of the second half at Vanderbilt.

“I think with us, we’re continuing to try to get better,” Musselman said. “We’re continuing to evolve. We’re one play away from winning at LSU, we’re one play away from winning at Missouri, we’re one play away from winning at Baylor. So I wouldn’t say we’ve played bad basketball on the road. I would just say we’ve been unfortunate in three games not to catch a break, and obviously we need to try to create one more possession on the road than what we had in those three games. Auburn is as difficult a place to play as there is. Every place we’ve played so far has been a sellout as well.”

The Gamecocks do have Musselman’s attention particularly forward Gregory Jackson II. Jackson is leading the Gamecocks with 16.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and one steal per game.

“I think with South Carolina, obviously GG Jackson is involved in everything that they do from an offensive standpoint,” Musselman said. “So it’ll be important for us to locate him as soon as he crosses half court. He’s a three-dimensional scorer in the fact he can post-up, he can offensive rebound, he’s got deep three-point range. He’s a high volume shooter.

“And then obviously, the guard play, both guards … Chico Carter, probably is as good of a three-point shooter as there is in the SEC. Then obviously Meechie Johnson does a great job of facilitating to other players as well as scoring the ball, and he’s got deep range. And he pulls a three-ball at any time. So those off the top. Then on the interior, Josh Gray does a great job of rebounding the basketball and rim-protecting.”

South Carolina has also beaten Clemson 60-58 on Nov. 11 and the Tigers have been ranked at times. Musselman was asked about the Gamecocks beating both Clemson and Kentucky, but losing to some weaker teams such as Ole Miss and Mississippi State even at home.

“Well, every game is hard,” Musselman said. “Every game takes on its own theme. It’s really hard to win on the road. They’re desperate to win at home, we’re desperate to win on the road. It’s a team that beat Clemson, who has been a ranked team. It’s a team that beat Kentucky. They have a young superstar, so they’re going to beat ranked teams like a Clemson. They’re going to play well in a difficult environment because they have a player in GG Jackson who continues to get better and continues to improve. He’s going to be a high draft pick. He’s got tremendous upside.

“And you see a team that’s with a new coach and certainly with all of us in our first year there’s peaks and valleys, but they’ve proven they can beat anyone on any given night. They do have some transfers, like Meechie Johnson that are very capable. They have three guys that are capable of having 30-point games. Both their backcourt guys and GG Jackson. To me, it’s a very difficult matchup. We try to do as much research on film, as well as talking to other programs that have played them. We’ve got to defend the three-point line. And then we’ve got to have a respect for Gray inside because of his ability to rebound and block shots.”

February has been kind to Musselman at Arkansas the past two seasons. Musselman’s Hogs are 13-1 in February in the past two seasons. While this team is playing better in the past couple of weeks can they approach the success of those two teams?

“I think with this team we’ve lost one-possession games three times on the road,” Musselman said. “If you win one or two of those, our record is very similar to what it’s been in the past. But this is the most difficult schedule that we’ve had in conference play by far. Sometimes that’s just the luck of the draw.

“A&M had one loss coming into our game, we play them twice. Obviously, Tennessee is a top-five ranked team, and we still have them on the road. We still have Alabama on the road, so we have a really difficult schedule. We saw what Florida was able to do last night at home against Tennessee. This is a really, really challenging (schedule). Some of the teams that maybe you would hope to play twice, we’re not getting that opportunity this year. We’re playing a lot of teams right now that are really, really good basketball teams. And any time you play on the road is extremely difficult in this league.”

Freshman guard Anthony Black is averaging 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds each game. He has dished out 89 assists, blocked 11 shots and has 39 steals. Black talked about the Hogs inability to win at home while the Gamecocks struggle at home.

“Any game in the SEC is tough, but especially if it’s a road game,” Black said. “We just have to be focused on ourselves, play as good as we can play and come out with a win. We can’t get too caught up in who we are playing against. We just have to focus and do whatever it takes to win a road game, which we haven’t done yet.”

Black and Jackson were actually teammates on Team USA. Black was asked if they still stay in touch?

“Me and GG, we talk every now and then,” Black said. “The thing about him is he is super tall and long and has a guard-like skillset. He’s pretty young. So, he’s just a special talent, and he’s a good kid, too. He was cool to be around.”

Musselman did add there’s no new update on freshman guard Nick Smith Jr. who has been out since the Bradley game on Dec. 17. Arkansas and South Carolina will tip at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and televised on the SEC Network. 

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