Ten non-conference wins have been accomplished. Not all have been pretty games; however, the fact of the matter is that Indiana has taken care of business in all ten non-conference tests — winning each and every battle.
The Arkansas Razorbacks visit Bloomington to complete their agreed home-and-away series under new head coach Eric Musselman, who was hired away from Nevada. Out west, he accumulated an impressive 110-34 record in four years. Arkansas hired Musselman after relieving Mike Anderson of his duties after he was unable to meet expectations despite having a loaded roster and missing the NCAA tournament.
Instead, last year’s Razorbacks went to the NIT where they ironically ran into the Hoosiers in the second round. The Hoosiers won that match up by a final margin of 63-60 behind Devonte Green’s 18-point performance.
Earlier last season, the Hoosiers suffered the reverse fate as they lost by just a single possession to Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. During that game, Indiana’s De’Ron Davis missed a last second tip-in that would have given the Hoosiers the lead, but instead had to foul Mason Jones, which gave Anderson’s team the nod 73-72.
As a result, there will certainly be familiarity between each of the rosters; at least as much as any two non-conference teams goes. Just a little over nine months ago, the majority of the Razorback roster was in Bloomington on the floor of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
One thing for certain, both teams are going to play each other tightly until the final buzzer.
How to Watch
|Who||Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Indiana Hoosiers|
|When||Sunday, December 29, 2019, 6 p.m. ET|
|Where||Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall — Bloomington, Ind.|
|Tickets||Find the Lowest Ticket Prices on SeatGeek|
|Listen||IU Radio Network|
Getting to Know the Razorbacks
The Razorbacks currently sit at 10-1 (0-0 SEC) and they are ranked 37th per KenPom which is only three spots behind the Hoosiers. Arkansas were projected to end around seventh in the preseason polls, and have moved up to around sixth in the latest power rankings.
Arkansas, like Indiana, have had a relatively easy start to their season and have only played two Tier B opponents, going 1-1 with a loss to Western Kentucky. Indiana will be by far the most difficult opponent the Razorbacks have faced thus far with Western Kentucky being the only top 100 team they have faced.
Arkansas may be lower rated currently and face an uphill battle when traveling to Indiana, but they are still predicted to win more games than Indiana and make the tournament as a 12 seed per Lunardi. This is likely a product of the level of competition faced in the SEC compared to the Big Ten, which has 12 of its 14 teams in the top 55 of KenPom.
Arkansas has been a defensively minded team with a top 10 ranked team in adjusted defense. They’ll match up against Indiana’s Hoosier’s top 30 offense. The Razorbacks have not had much luck shooting from distance (29.7%, 285th) and have struggled with offensive rebounds (22%, 322nd). However, they hold opponents to a 21.7% behind the arc, which is the best in the country and 41.6% from the field which is good for sixth in the nation.
Numbers aside, the Razorbacks have many of the same concerns that the Hoosiers do in regards to where they stand among the best college teams. They have yet to be greatly tested and have had a soft early schedule. Arkansas and Indiana will play out the rest of the season with numerous Tier A/B opponents though.
Additionally, the Razorbacks have yet to be tested on the road much this season. Head coach Eric Musselman has tried to face this issue by having a “semi-home” game against Valparaiso in Little Rock, AR. He stated this would give them experience at another arena than home, but still the game was mainly attended by Arkansas fans in a different part of the state.
Despite the “semi-home” environment, the Razorbacks barely beat Valpo, ultimately winning 72-68 behind junior star Mason Jones with 20 points. He has been one of the more consistent high scorers as of late, scoring over 20 points in 3 of the last 5 games and 41 against Tulsa on 12/14. His presence on the court has been felt more than ever with the loss of Daniel Gafford from the Razorbacks to the Chicago Bulls.
Another potent scorer that the Razorbacks rely on is Isaiah Joe. As the season has progressed, he has become more consistent and scoring over 10 points in each of the last 6 games. The nation is on watch for his talents as well as he has been put on the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Watch List this season. He is a deep-threat that diversify the attack for Arkansas. He currently has 152 3-pointers on his career which is one shy of Jonathan Modica for 10th on the all-time Arkansas career list.
In the backcourt, Desi Sills is another deep threat that the Hoosiers have to keep eyes on at all times. Sills scored a game high 18 points during Arkansas’s last trip to Bloomington. He had no problem finding comfort on the court as he hit 4 of 6 from behind the arc at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The 6-foot-1 sophomore is one of the more effective scorers on the Razorbacks roster.
Adrio Bailey and Jimmy Whitt are two seniors that round out the starting lineup. While Joe replaced Gafford’s scoring, Bailey takes over as the main guy in the middle. The 6-foot-6 junior is a bit undersized, but that has not prevented him from accumulating one of the best block percentages in the country. As a general rule of thumb, the Hoosiers will have the size advantage across theboard
Whitt is a 6-foot-3 guard with an interesting career path. He played his freshman year at Arkansas, but then later transferred to SMU where he played for two seasons. For his senior year, he wanted to return back to Arkansas to finish his career. Whitt is an experienced veteran guard that plays under control and has one of the lowest turnover percentages among SEC guards. This season, he has not yet found the same rhythm in terms of dishing out dimes to his teammates, but he was averaging 4.0 assists per game during his second season at SMU, so he is certainly capable.
Arkansas has been aware of the big challenge up ahead for them this weekend. Even before the Valparaiso game, head coach Eric Musselman acknowledged that elephant in the room.
We’ve got to come back focused and understand that Indiana is playing incredible basketball right now. We all know the history of Assembly Hall.Eric Musselman
Over the course of the last 12 months, this will be the third time the two teams have faced each other and the second time to face each other in Assembly Hall. The task has not gotten any easier for Arkansas who lost their star player, Gafford, but Indiana lost its two top players as well from last year, Langford and Morgan.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Arkansas Razorbacks||Indiana Hoosiers|
|G: #33 Jimmy Whitt||G: #1 Al Durham|
|G: #1 Isaiah Joe||G: #11 Devonte Green|
|G: #3 Desi Sills||F: #3 Justin Smith|
|F: #15 Mason Jones||F: #4 Trayce Jackson-Davis|
|F: #2 Adrio Baily||C: #50 Joey Brunk|
What to Watch for
1. Ball security against a “razor”-sharp defense
Indiana and Arkansas can be a game that is decided on ball security. Indiana, on one side, has not been a great ball security team with a 9.7% (217th place) of steals when they have the ball and the Razorbacks creating steals on 13.6% (10th place). Creating these extra chances could be the difference in a close game, especially if the Razorbacks put high pressure on the Hoosiers who still look uneasy in stressful situations on the court.
Fortunately, the Hoosiers are starting to see more consistency with who handles the ball and are not battling significant injuries at this point. If they Hoosiers remain healthy, expect their ball security to improve with a more consistent back-court.
2. Waking up from the holiday food-coma
Despite the game being played in Bloomington, this will be almost a “semi-home” game for the Hoosiers. As this is over holiday break, only the Hoosier faithful will be present and will need to cheer on the young Hoosier team. The raw energy provided by the students will be mostly absent over break and thus, a huge advantage for the Hoosiers will be lost despite the home tag on the game.
If the fans are present and the team provide the fans a reason to cheer, expect the game to get broken wide-open lately. The Hoosier team feeds off the energy in the crowd and it is an essential bonus to secure close games in Assembly Hall.
3. Removing the deep-threat
Indiana has a reasonable defense from deep, allowing opponents a 31.7% chance from the arc. The Razorbacks shoot only 29.7%, but against Valparaiso they relied heavily on the deep ball and were able to capitalize. Isaiah Joe made half of the threes for the team and his heroics led to the Razorback victory. Keeping the deep pressure on Arkansas is essential to prevent the game from getting out of control for Indiana.
4. The dynamic (freshmen) duo
Armaan Franklin and Trayce Jackson-Davis are two of the best freshmen in the conference and we can expect them to continue to develop into consistent stars for the Hoosiers. TJD has shown his productivity many times this season and won Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors three times this season and Armaan has won is once (this week). Armaan scored over 10 for the first time (17) and doubled his completed three pointers from 4 to 8 after the game against Notre Dame as well. The big question is whether or not this was a fluke or something that we can expect in future games for the freshman as TJD has proven he can reproduce it early this season.
5. Can Indiana’s frontcourt get Arkansas in foul trouble?
The Razorbacks have two interesting metrics that may play a role on Sunday. First, they are one of the less reliant teams in terms of bench minutes. They spend just 22.5% of their minutes on bench players, which ranks them in the top 30 of teams that avoid going to the bench. Musselman rolls with the starters as much as possible.
Second the Razorbacks are one of the stingiest teams in terms of 2-foul participation. If any starters pick up a second whistle, Musselman will look towards the bench. This is a bit of a stark contrast to Anderson’s team from last year, who more frequently kept players in with two fouls in the first half.
Using this knowledge, Indiana can disrupt the Arkansas’s lineups by targeting one or two specific players, and the Hoosiers’ frontcourt are the best group to do so.
6. Are four guard lineups going to appear?
During Indiana’s last match up against Notre Dame, three guard lineups were deployed for the very first time this season. Against a very guard heavy Arkansas team, Archie Miller has stated in a media availability that he may look to use four guard lineups against the Razorbacks.
That means all four guards may see minutes at the same time. Indiana would have to be careful one making sure the minutes are spent effectively and that the guards do not get into foul trouble. There are only four guards available for Indiana: Green, Durham, Phinisee, and Franklin. They need all four for all 40 minutes given the depth in that position.
Featured Photo: Arkansas Athletics