1. Dynamic Duo
Two of the best players in the SEC, Arkansas’ Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe are two dynamite scorers from all over the floor. Both standing at 6’5″, the two players are one and two for the Razorbacks in scoring, assists, steals, three-point shooting, and free-throw shooting. Junior Mason Jones is third in the SEC in scoring at 18.1 points per game, to go along with leading the team in rebounds at 6.1, assists at 3.6, and steals at 1.9. Jones is 83 for 91 at the free-throw line this season for 91.2%, second in the conference and tenth in the country. He’s shooting 34.1% from three-point land as well.
Sophomore Isaiah Joe is fourth in the SEC in scoring at 17.8, as well as averaging 4.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.7 steals per contest. Joe is shooting 83% at the charity stripe and 35.8% from three. Joe is a volume shooter from deep, as he’s third in the country in total attempted threes and tied for first in threes attempted per game. He’s attempted 176 threes on the year, compared to just 56 two-point attempts. Joe hit 5 threes against Kentucky last year as a freshman, totaling 19 points for the game.
2. No threes allowed
On top of having two fantastic players on the offensive side of the ball, Head Coach Eric Musselman has the Razorbacks playing extremely high quality defense in his first season at Arkansas. The Razorbacks are the best team in the country at defending the three-ball, holding opponents to 22.8% from deep. They have allowed just 64 made threes against them all season, which ranks 4th in the country, just two off of first place.
With no three-pointers being given up on the defensive end, the Razorbacks in turn aren’t giving up too many points per game. Opponents score an average of 61.4 points per game against Arkansas, which puts them in the top-30 nationally. They’ve held their opponent to 59 points or fewer seven times this season in 16 total games.
3. Guards, guards, and more guards
Feels like I’ve had to mention in nearly every game Kentucky has played this season, that the opponent works in a four-around-one offense, meaning four-guards playing around one big. Arkansas plays a similar style, but they actually start five guards for a really small starting lineup. The starters stand at 6’1″, 6’3″, 6’5″, 6’5″, and 6’6″, giving the Cats a size advantage at nearly every position, especially at the four and the five.
The Razorbacks typically only play eight rotation players, so just three players coming off the bench throughout the game. Outside of a 6’2″ guard off the bench, the two biggest players in the lineup come off the bench, standing at 6’7″ and 6’8″. This lack of size leads to everyone getting back on defense in transition, and the Razorbacks rank 335th in the country in offensive rebounding.
4. Surprise of the season
The Arkansas Razorbacks have been the surprise of the season so far in the Southeastern Conference. Sitting with an overall record of 14-2, the Razorbacks have not lost a game at home all year. Bud Walton Arena is always a tough place to play, but their record is certainly aided by a less than stellar strength of schedule. Ranked as the 62nd best strength of schedule in the country, the lack of a few more quality opponents is the only reason that Arkansas is not ranked at this point in the year.
The two losses for the Razorbacks have both been near-hits that ended up as misses. After starting the year 8-0, Arkansas lost in overtime at Western Kentucky. Four more wins later and the Razorbacks fell in their first road SEC game of the year to the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge. Arkansas was actually in position to win the game against LSU, up by two with less than 10 seconds remaining, but an and-1 gave the Tigers the lead and the victory.
5. Cats are dogs
After dropping the ugly game at South Carolina on Wednesday night, Kentucky travels to Bud Walton Arena for a game that feels a little like a must-win for seeding’s sake in March. For just the third time this season, Kentucky will enter a game as an underdog. The Razorbacks opened as a one-point favorite, but the line has already jumped to two points. The two other times that Kentucky has been an underdog, they are 1-1 with a win over Michigan State and a loss to Ohio State.
Kentucky is 9-4 against Arkansas since Cal took over in Lexington, with three of the four losses coming at Bud Walton Arena. Additionally, three of those four losses have come in overtime, with one ending in a buzzer-beating tip-slam. Kentucky looks to avoid their second two-game skid of the season in a tough environment, as the Razorbacks announced earlier this week they’ll debut new jerseys today, as well as be giving out t-shirts to the fans in attendance.
Go Cats. Beat Razorbacks.