In a disappointing turn of events, Arkansas Head Coach Eric Musselman announced in a pregame press release that the team would be without star guard JD Notae and true freshman Chance Moore against Mississippi State due to illness, while Kamani Johnson would miss the game as a part of his indefinite suspension from the basketball program.
Needless to say, their absence was felt as the Hogs dropped their SEC opener on the road by a score of 81-68 to Mississippi State. This drops the Hogs to 10-3 on the season, including 1-3 in their last four games. It’s easy to reach for the panic button when a team loses three out of four games, but we recommend holding off for just a bit longer.
Missing Leading Scorer
Disclaimer, there are no good excuses for losing games in the SEC. Everyone deals with injury and illness throughout the season. However, there is hope to be had knowing the Hogs stood their ground against a defensively-potent Mississippi State squad without their leading scorer in JD Notae.
Prior to the Mississippi State game, JD Notae accounted for nearly 22% of the team’s total points and over 23% of the team’s total assists. He’s been the primary ball-handler in nearly every meaningful situation this season, whether his shots are falling or not. Having him suddenly yanked from the lineup creates a difficult task for the remaining guards on the team, a task they handled relatively well.
The main four guards who comprised the rotation Wednesday night were Chris Lykes, Devo Davis, Jaxson Robinson, and KK Robinson. These four guards combined to dish out 8 of the teams’ 15 assists, grab 13 rebounds, and score a combined 31 points.
The biggest issue came in taking care of the basketball. The four guards mentioned also combined for 9 turnovers to go with their 8 assists, a negative AST/TO ratio. While JD Notae averages over two turnovers per game, his three assists per game still give him a positive AST/TO ratio. His ability to create offense for himself and make timely shots also helps to make up for turnovers, something the Hogs were lacking through large stretches of the game against Mississippi State.
Improving 3-Point Shooting
After a horrendous start to their season from behind the 3-point line, including three games of 18% shooting or worse, the Hogs have seen their long-range percentages vastly improve as of late. While still not an elite shooting average, Arkansas shot just under 30% as a team from long range on the road against Mississippi State after shooting over 36% in each of their last two games.
Clearly, this uptick in 3-point shooting was not enough to overcome the deficit against the Bulldogs, but it is a positive stat that can potentially come into play over the Hogs’ next several games. If the shooting maintains or even continues to improve, Arkansas will give themselves a chance to win several of their upcoming SEC contests.
Perhaps the biggest problem Coach Musselman and the Hogs face right now is their inability to defend at any level. On the season, the Hogs are giving up over 70 points per game to the weakest strength of schedule in the entire SEC. In their three losses, opponents are scoring roughly 86 points per game compared to Arkansas’s 72 points per game. For reference, the 2020-21 Razorbacks allowed only 64 points per game through their first SEC matchup, a much more manageable number.
Teams are currently shooting 36% from long range against Arkansas and over 43% from the field. Opponents are also getting to their free throw line roughly 16 times per game. Judging from the “eye test”, it’s hard to tell if the lack of defense is due to scheme, lack of effort, lack of communication, or some unfortunate combination of all three. Regardless, they’re rapidly running out of time to figure it out.
Next on the Hogs’ plate is a very winnable three-game stretch. They return home for a matchup with Vanderbilt (8-4) on Tuesday, January 4th before hitting the road again to face a talented Texas A&M (11-2) team in College Station on Saturday, January 8th. Then they’ll get one more home game against Missouri (6-7) before hitting the road for their biggest test of the season thus far against LSU (12-1) on their home floor.
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