After a strong start to begin the 2020 season, the Arkansas Razorbacks look to remain perfect as they begin conference play next Wednesday at Auburn. The Razorbacks (8-0) and Tigers (7-2) will tip-off at Auburn Arena at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, December 30th.
This is the first meeting against an SEC team for the Razorbacks this year, and it will prove to be their toughest test so far this season. The Auburn Tigers are coming off of a 67-53 win over Appalachian State on Tuesday, and they will look to carry that momentum through the week. The Hogs beat Abilene Christian at home on Tuesday night 85-72, with head coach Eric Musselman out due to COVID protocols.
Hogs Look to Remain Perfect
The Hogs have notched eight wins in eight tries this season, with wins over Mississippi Valley State, Central Arkansas, Oral Roberts, Abilene Christian, North Texas, and others. If these wins don’t really impress you, there is likely a good reason for that. None of the teams that the Hogs have played this season are ranked in the Top 100 KenPom Rankings, and only two (Abilene Christian and North Texas) are in the Top 125. The game on Saturday is extremely important in that it will either prove the Hogs to be a contender or expose their weaknesses going forward this season.
What the Razorbacks do have going for them is a group of newcomers on the Hill that have proven they can score, and they can score in bunches. After eight of the ten players from last year’s squad departed to either the NBA or overseas, Coach Eric Musselman went out on the recruiting trail and picked up freshmen Moses Moody, KK Robinson, Jaylin Williams, and Devo Davis. Coupled with a solid group of transfers in JD Notae, Connor Vanover, Justin Smith, Vance Jackson, and Jalen Tate, the Hogs are averaging 90 PPG, up from 75 PPG last season.
The biggest improvement that can be seen from last year is on the glass. Multiple times last season, the Hogs lost the rebound battle in tight games, and as a result, they dropped some winnable games. This season, the Hogs are number seven in the NCAA, averaging 46.6 rebounds per game. This stat is up 15 from last year when they were bringing down an average of 31.6 rebounds per game.
Keys to Victory
The main key to victory against Auburn is going to be on the defensive side of the ball. Coach Musselman preaches it daily. Even when scoring doesn’t travel, defensive intensity always does. The Hogs have performed exceptionally well on the defensive end of the ball, and have only allowed more than 72 points twice this season to UT-Arlington and Central Arkansas. They are also forcing an average of 14 turnovers per game, and they will need to keep up that intensity to keep the Tigers out of rhythm.
On the other side, the Auburn Tigers are shooting 44% from the field, and 32% from beyond the arc. Their main scoring comes through guards Justin Powell and Allen Flanigan, who are both averaging 13 PPG.
The Tigers are also awaiting a decision from the NCAA on transfer Sharife Cooper, who began practicing this week. If he is cleared to play this season, he could provide an extra spark for the War Eagle squad, who need a third scoring threat.
Defensively, the Hogs are going to need to keep the pressure on a young Auburn team that is turning the ball over 16 times per game. The Hogs have been very efficient in transition, and if they can get on an early run, look for them to roll in this game.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Razorbacks are going to need to keep the turnovers to a minimum, while moving the ball efficiently. Auburn is forcing an average of 14 turnovers per game as well, and by keeping that number low, the Hogs can keep their offensive flow and use the Tigers’ youth and lack of experience against them.
The game between the Razorbacks and Tigers will be televised at 6 p.m. on ESPN2 from Auburn, Alabama.
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