1. Freshman playmaker
The best player on this Arkansas Razorback roster is freshman Moses Moody. Standing at 6’6″ and 205 pounds, the Little Rock, Arkansas native was a four-star recruit and consensus top-50 player in his recruiting class. He’s played above his ranking for a majority of this season, leading the Razorbacks in scoring. Moody’s 16.4 points per game rank him seventh in scoring in the SEC, less than a half point away from being in the top five. On top of his scoring, the freshman averages 5.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.1 steals per contest. Moody can score from all over the floor, hitting 35.2% of his threes and 80.6% of his free throws.
If Kentucky is able to contain Moody’s scoring, it will go a long way toward a winning effort in tonight’s game. He has shown that he can be a bit of a boom or bust scorer this season. Despite going for 21 or more points five times this season, he’s also gone for 11 or less fives times, including three times scoring 6 or less points. If he isn’t hitting early shots, Moody is known to start forcing the issue a bit and can accumulate a big number of attempts in a hurry. He’s gone over 15 shot attempts in five of the ten SEC games that Arkansas has played, even going as high as 25 shot attempts in a loss to Alabama a few weeks ago.
2.Have to shoot to score
We all know one of the major issues surrounding the Kentucky roster this season is the inability to score, most notably from behind the three-point line. In modern day basketball, you have to be able to shoot to score, and Arkansas does just that. As a team, Arkansas plays very fast and they look to put up a ton of points. The Razorbacks average just under 77 possessions per game, which ranks them 18th in the country and just barely behind Alabama for first in the SEC. At 82.7 points scored per game, Arkansas leads the conference and ranks 7th in the nation. While not quite attempting near as many threes as the Alabama or Auburn teams that Kentucky has already faced this season, Arkansas does rank third in the SEC in threes attempted, well ahead of the fourth place team.
Similar to Auburn, the shooting percentage from three is middle of the road in the SEC at 33.7%, but the overall philosophy remains the same. If you take a bunch of threes at an average clip, you’re still scoring a high amount of points overall. As far as shooting at an individual level, Arkansas can put 10 different players on the floor who are capable of knocking down threes, and most of those players are willing shooters. The Razorbacks have two of the top ten players in the SEC as far as attempted threes, and both of those players rank in the conference’s top ten in makes as well. For reference, Kentucky has just two players who have made more than 11 threes this season, whereas Arkansas has six that meet that criteria.
3. Shopping in the transfer market
One thing that Arkansas Head Coach Eric Musselman was known for in his previous post as Nevada’s Head Coach, was taking in and making the most out of transfer players. Whether it be from other D1 schools or from the JUCO ranks, Musselman built his roster relying heavily on the transfer market. He’s continued that love for the transfer portal at Arkansas, as the Razorback roster is filled with players that have spent time at other schools in the past. Most notably, three players in the starting five for the Razorbacks started their collegiate career at a different school. Starting point guard Jalen Tate, starting power forward Justin Smith, and starting center Connor Vanover all having played elsewhere before suiting up for Arkansas. A total of nine players on the roster transferred into the Arkansas program.
Jalen Tate is a graduate transfer from Northern Kentucky University, where he started 82 of the 93 games he played in before transferring to Fayetteville. He’s scoring 10.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and team highs in assists at 4.5 and steals at 1.5 per game. Justin Smith is also a graduate transfer, but he spent the first part of his career as a two plus year starter at Indiana. This season, he’s averaging 11.3 points and a team leading 6.7 rebounds. Thirdly, Connor Vanover played his freshman season at California, before transferring to Arkansas, sitting out last season, and now starting this season. He gives the Razorbacks 7.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game as a 7’3″ – 247 pound center, who hits over 30% from three on the year. On top of those three, Arkansas also has JD Notae who spent two years at Jacksonville, Vance Jackson who played at both Connecticut and New Mexico, Emeka Obukwelu who played at Texas-Tyler, Brandon Kimble who played at Mississippi Valley State, Abayami Iyiola from Stetson, and finally, Kamani Johnson, brother of Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson, who started his career at Arkansas-Little Rock.
4. It’s been one week…
Earlier this week, Head Coach Eric Musselman was quoted as saying, “A thousand percent,” when asked if he was worried about his team being rusty after having a week between games. It’s been a full week since the Razorbacks last played a game, due to a cancellation of Saturday’s game against Texas A&M. The Covid issues for the cancellation were on the Texas A&M side, not the Arkansas side, so the Razorbacks are healthy as far as Covid goes. After starting SEC play losing four of their first six games, the Razorbacks have won three of their last four games. The sole loss was in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, in the form of a four-point loss at Oklahoma State.
While a week off may not actually be enough time to get rusty, as I suspect Eric Musselman was just using some coach-speak, the time away may have actually benefitted Arkansas in getting several ailing players back to full strength. The Razorbacks had four players battling injury, but all four are now expected to play tonight. Moses Moody and Justin Smith had both been nursing ankle injuries, but would’ve probably played on Saturday. Desi Stills and Jaylin Williams were less likely for today’s game and would’ve been out for Saturday’s game. According to Jon Rothstein of CBS, all four will play in tonight’s game.
5. Which streak wins out?
Tonight’s game against Arkansas will put two different streaks on the line for Kentucky. The Big Blue Nation is hoping to end one of the streaks, while extending the other. The bad streak is Kentucky’s current three game losing streak, two of which came in second-half meltdown fashion. The good streak is Kentucky’s eight game winning streak over Arkansas, dating back to February of 2015, and including two SEC Tournament Championship games. A win tonight for the Wildcats would kill two birds with one stone. Additionally, a win tonight would stop the Cats from starting a losing streak in Rupp Arena for the second time this season.
Tonight is also the first time since January 23rd that Kentucky will be playing an unranked opponent. As of this afternoon, Kentucky sat as a one-point favorite over the Razorbacks, but that is partially influenced by the game being in Lexington. Had this game been in Fayetteville, I think Arkansas probably gets the nod as the favorite. Kentucky does lead the overall series over the Razorbacks, 33-11, and the Cats have only lost at home to Arkansas three times ever, with just one of the three losses coming in the Coach Cal era.
Go Cats. Beat Razorbacks.