Thu January 04, 2024

By Lance Hawley

Sports Razorbacks

Razorbacks to Host Auburn in Conference Opener Saturday

Razorbacks Basketball Arkansas Hoops Muss Bus
Razorbacks to Host Auburn in Conference Opener Saturday
By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas and No. 25 Auburn will open SEC action on Saturday in Bud Walton Arena with both teams coming in playing well.

Arkansas (9-4) has won three games in a row and five of its past six. The Tigers enter having won six games in a row without a loss since Dec. 3 to Appalachian State 69-64. Auburn (11-2) lost its season opener to Baylor 88-82 then reeled off five straight wins before losing its second game of the year. Eric Musselman has a lot of respect for Auburn.

"Certainly in the four years, four-and-a-half years that I’ve been in the SEC, Coach (Bruce) Pearl’s done an incredible job," Musselman said. "They understand who they are. Much like Wilmington that we just played, when they sub they get better at times, and they get better at certain positions you could argue. But they bring (Dylan) Cardwell in for (Johni) Broome, center for center. They bring K.D. Johnson in at that off-guard spot for Denver Jones. They bring No. 10 [Chad Baker-Mazara] in at the small forward for Chris Moore. They bring [Tre] Donaldson in for [Anyden] Holloway at the one. 

"So they bring in a true point, a true off guard,  a true small forward, a true power forward and a true center. So you’re getting a steady of diet of guys playing their natural position. There’s not a lot of real big lineup or not a lot maybe of small ball. It’s true position for position when they sub. And their bench points are phenomenal."

Arkansas is 3-0 since Washington transfer Keyon Menifield became eligible. He had 32 points, four rebounds and five assists in the 106-90 win over UNCW this past Saturday. Musselman feels that Menifield makes his teammates better.

"Keyon’s got a true point guard mentality," Musselman said. "He’s not a combo guard. He’s a player that really understands how to get people in the right spots. He’s got creativeness off the bounce. He’s got shiftiness. He’s got really, really good court vision. I think that’s the one thing — when we recruited him, obviously we saw his ability to score, his ability to break down a defense when plays break down. It was important for him to gain some of the weight that he has, which he did do a great job of that during the course of the offseason.

"But I do think that’s he’s helped. I think it alleviates some pressure maybe from guys like T-Mark trying to set people up, trying to score. When you’ve got multiple thoughts going through your head, it can make things difficult. So I think Keyon’s really helped in that area, for sure."

Tramon Mark, who transferred in from Houston, is leading Arkansas in scoring averaging 17 points per outing. Musselman predicted success on offense for Mark in preseason.

"I think T-Mark is improving with some of our schemes and techniques," Musselman said. "Obviously last year playing at the University of Houston, Coach (Kelvin) Sampson does an incredible job of demanding defense. They’ve always been historically one of the best defensive teams and obviously with T-Mark, the minutes he played, 25-plus minutes a night and starting every game. Certainly he’s got the ability to be a high-level defender. He’s proven that. He has a high track record of being an excellent defender, and I think he’s done what we thought he would do of late defending.

"He’s certainly been rebounding the ball much better as well. Then I think he’s had his best cutting games the last two games. I thought he’s done a much better job offensively moving without the ball, especially as teams try to limit his catches. He’s been great at backdoor cutting and cutting when the defense loads up on him at times when he’s off the ball." 

Senior guard Davonte "Devo" Davis is coming off his best game of the season against UNCW. He finished with 16 points, including 3-of-5 from distance, six rebounds, half dozen assists and three steals.

"Devo is a guy coming off his best game," Musselman added. "He's an explosive defender because he can guard so many positions offensively. I think Keyon has really helped Devo get good open looks. When you look at the three-point shots Devo made last game, a lot of them were coming off Keyon Menifield drawing defenders and spitting it out to Devo for feet-set threes. I think that has helped Davonte.

"Last year, look at Devo's three-point shooting. He shot the ball as well as any guard, really as well as any player, in our league. I certainly feel like he worked on that in the offseason, and he's now getting a little bit different look maybe than he was during those first few segments when he was playing some point, had the ball in his hands a lot and now you're shooting three-point shots off the bounce rather than catch and shoots. I think Devo can get to the basket even more than what he has shown. I think that’s a part of his game that we want to have continue to evolve, as well, because he’s so sneaky off the bounce and he’s got good explosiveness around the rim, so that’s an area we want to see him continue to get better at or utilize it more than maybe what he has thus far."

Temple transfer guard Khalif Battle injured his ankle in Saturday's win and only played 6:57. Musselman provided an update.

"He did not practice on Monday," Musselman said. "We did go two practices yesterday, we went two practices today, although the format was a little bit different today than what it was yesterday and what it was last week. He did go through both practices yesterday and today."

The game will tip at 1 p.m. and televised on ESPN2. 

Photos Courtesy of Craven Whitlow CW3 Action Sports