Fri January 26, 2024

By Lance Hawley

Sports Razorbacks

Hogs Host Kentucky Saturday, ESPN College Gameday is in Fayetteville

Arkansas Hoops Razorbacks Basketball Muss Bus College Gameday
Hogs Host Kentucky Saturday, ESPN College Gameday is in Fayetteville
By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE -- ESPN's College GameDay is coming to the University of Arkansas for Saturday's game against Kentucky, but it isn't the festive atmosphere one would expect the Razorbacks game.

Arkansas (10-9, 1-5) is 8-3 in Bud Walton Arena with its lone SEC win coming over Texas A&M on Tuesday, Jan. 16. The Razorbacks won a 78-77 thriller on Tramon Mark's last-second shot. Kentucky (14-4, 4-2) is coming of a 79-62 loss to South Carolina this past Tuesday. Due to migraines, Mark missed Wednesday's 77-51 loss at Ole Miss. In addition, Trevon Brazile injured his knee and didn't get to play in the second half. Eric Musselman provided an update on Mark and Brazile.

"I would assume that Tramon should be getting better each day with the migraine," Musselman said. "That's usually the history of how migraines go, but that is also very, very unpredictable. With TB, he would like to play for sure, but he's got some soreness and there are a couple of different thought processes. Does he rest, does he see how it feels before tip? So I would say, you know, as of this moment, I would say, at best, a game-time decision."

Arkansas never had the lead against Ole Miss falling behind early. In the lone SEC win the Hogs jumped out to a big lead and then held on at the end. Musselman was asked if important to get off to fast start against the Wildcats?

"Certainly getting off to a good start," Musselman said. "We were able to do that against Texas A&M. I thought it helped fuel our confidence, um, when you're playing a team like Kentucky and they're number one in the country and points per game. They're number three in field goal percentage, number seven in three-point percentage and eighth in assists.

"So there's a lot of things defensively that… and we have a shorter prep. They played on Tuesday, we played on Wednesday. The shorter prep time is a factor as well. So we've got to have a really good practice today in our preparation. we gotta be really clean and concise because we're not gonna have a long drawn-out uh game plan just because of the lack of space here. So transition defense is super important, obviously, and defending the three is super important, and trying to stay out of rotations is important as well."

The leadership for this team has come into question. A senior who was expected to provide leadership this season was Davonte "Devo" Davis. Instead, Davis is fifth on the team in scoring at 6.3 points per game and has gotten 4.0 rebounds per game. Musselman opted to sit Davis the entire second half against Ole Miss and said afterward the guard was healthy. Morrilton's Joseph Pinion got his name mentioned by Musselman concerning his play against the Rebels. Pinion had 10 points, one rebound and two assists in 21 minutes.

"I think leadership starts with every returning player," Musselman said. "Leadership in the locker room, leadership on the floor. I think right now, we need all of our main rotation guys to play well, I mean, when you look at our stats individually and as a team, they've got to improve.  In a lot of areas on both sides of the basketball. We looked at deflections last game and Joseph Pinion and Denijay Harris led us in deflections. We gotta improve, we gotta get better."

Musselman also went into long detail on what Pinion who has played in 13 games with one has to do for more playing time.

"I think defensively is the big thing," Musselman said. "Keeping the ball in front of him. And I think he’s done a much better job. He’s getting low defensively. He works every day. He follows the game plan. You look at his minutes, he’s been as productive, if not more productive, in his minutes than a lot of guys that are playing more minutes than him. So certainly we’ve talked about that. The good thing is our staff, I’ve got great confidence. When I look around the room when we meet, because again, we get to watch these guys in practice, all of them.

"You talk about Keith Smart, three-time NBA former head coach. Anthony Ruta’s been in the G League. Even Tommy Abdenour has G League experience and college experience. Todd Lee (has experience) as a college head coach. Michael has been with us since our winning at Nevada and is growing in his career as he had an opportunity to work with the Cavaliers this summer. I’m getting opinions from a lot of really good coaches. Anthony Ruta, Fort Wayne Mad Ants. So these guys come from incredible backgrounds. And we’re talking about all the stuff that a lot of the things that you guys are asking to try to come up with the correct answers. 

"But Joseph has done a great job. Obviously I’m searching. You can go back through every team I’ve ever coached and I’ve never thrown 12 or 13 guys in a game, let alone a half. As my mom says, the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again if it’s not working. I’m going to continue to search, scrap, try to come up and push the right buttons. Odiously those buttons have not worked of yet in league play, and we’ll continue to do everything in our power to try to get our team to play with the identity that it’s played with over the last 10 years of college. You know, I take great pride in the Warriors teams and how hard they played and all our minor leagues teams. We’re going to continue to try to work to get this thing… There’s still a lot of basketball to be played."

Senior guard Antonio Reeves leads the Wildcats in scoring at 19.2 points per game. Reeves also averages 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists each game. Senior forward Tre Mitchell tops Kentucky in rebounding at 7.5 per game and 1.3 blocks. Mitchell also averages 13.6 points and 3.3 assists each game.

Freshman guard Reed Sheppard leads Kentucky with 4.0 assists and 2.4 steals each outing. Sheppard averages 11.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game as well. Other key players for Kentucky are freshman guards Rob Dillingham and D.J. Wagner. Dillingham averages 13.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.3 steals each game. Wagner has statistics of 12.2 points, 1.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game.

Freshman guard Justin Edwards is projected as a lottery pick in the upcoming 2024 NBA Draft. Edwards averages 8.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Freshman forward Aaron Bradshaw is projected as a second-round pick by ESPN. He averages 7.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

In addition to Edwards and Bradshaw, ESPN projects Wagner, Dillingham and Sheppard as first-round picks. Musselman knows John Calipari will have the Wildcats ready to play Saturday following the one-sided loss at South Carolina on Tuesday.

"I know Coach Cal well enough that after a loss they’re going to be sky high ready to play," Musselman said. "That’s for sure. South Carolina is really, really good, and we talked about it as a staff before the game how good they were. They’re super-well coached, they’re super connected. I have not looked at the attendance numbers. I’m assuming South Carolina probably had over 17,000, and they won a home game in front of a great crowd. Unfortunately, when a team comes off a loss like that and they’re really talented, it usually brings them together. So I’m going to assume Kentucky’s going to play as well as they have all year, be as ready to play this game coming off of a loss."

Mark is averaging 17.8 points per game to lead the Hogs. Khalif Battle averages 11.5 points as well. Brazile, who ESPN projects as a first-round pick in 2024, is averaging 8.9 points and 6.5 rebounds.

The game will tip at 5 p.m. and televised on ESPN. College GameDay will be live in Fayetteville on Saturday for the game.