Hoop Hogs notebook: No. 14 Arkansas vs. Old Dominion preview including Monarchs scout, UA keys to success, & Muss Musings

By Kevin McPherson
on 2023-11-13 13:36 PM

By Kevin McPherson

LITTLE ROCK — Head Hog Eric Musselman declared during his Friday night post-game press conference that his top player rotation two games into the season was already “drilled down”, which could mean a noticeable reduction in how many Razorbacks play (and/or how much some play) as soon as 14th-ranked Arkansas’ next game against Old Dominion on Monday at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville that will mark the third of four consecutive home games to start the 2023-24 campaign.

The Hoop Hogs (2-0, No. 13 in KenPom.com’s rankings) and Monarchs (1-1, No. 189 in KenPom) will tip around 7 p.m. CT on Monday (SEC Network Plus livestream).

Arkansas is coming off an 86-68 home win over Gardner-Webb on Friday while Old Dominion is coming off a 73-68 road loss against Ball State in the MAC/SBC Challenge on Saturday.

Musselman voiced his disappointment in the depth on his team, lapses in defensive rebounding, stretches of giving up dribble-drives to the basket as well as and-one opportunities on defense while not playnig with enough physicality, and shot selection on offense among other things following Arkansas’ 18-point win over Gardner-Webb.

Against the Runnin’ Bulldogs, the Razorbacks trailed by as many as 8 points early but they used a 19-5 first-half-closing run for a 12-point advantage at the break before blowing the game wide open in the final 20 minutes by building as much as a 26-point lead.

Senior guard Khalif Battle led the way with 21 points (5-of-9 field goals, including 3-of-4 from 3, and 8-of-10 free throws) to go with 4 rebounds and 1 assist. Battle is averaging 21.0 points in the unbeaten Hogs’ first two games to lead the team.

Battle scored 10 points in that 19-5 game-deciding Arkansas run to end the first half in building a 48-36 lead at the break.

“He’s (Battle) been phenomenal,” Musselman said. “Battle is a starter. He’s just not hearing his name called right away. He’s been our most efficient offensive player. He stretches the floor, he can play one-on-one, he can draw free throws. He’s a good foul shooter. He did a decent job on the defensive backboards tonight. Really happy with how he played.

“I thought our depth took a huge step back tonight. I really did, with the minutes that they were given.”

The Razorbacks used a 15-7 spurt to open the second half in establishing their first 20-point lead, 63-43, with 13:31 to play before eventually growing the advantage to 26 points, 86-60, with 4:30 remaining in the game.

Junior wing and started Tramon Mark had 14 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, and a boxscore plus-18 in 27 minutes. Senior guard El Ellis finished with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, only 1 turnover, and a boxscore plus-18 in 32 minutes while sophomore forward Trevon Brazile had 10 points (4-of-4 field goals, including 1-of-2 from 3, and 2-of-2 free throws), 7 rebounds, a game-high 5 blocks, 3 turnovers, and a boxscore plus-20 in 24 minutes.

Brazile led seven Hogs who swatted shots as Arkansas won the shot-blocking battle, 15-0. It’s the most blocks in a single game by an Eric Musselman-coached team as he’s now into his ninth season as a head coach.

“I thought we did a great job of altering and blocking shots,” Musselman said. “But we have to really improve with physicality vertical. We blocked a shot or gave up a layup. So we have to get a lot better defensively. We have to become a lot more physical than where we are right now. But certainly rim protection was great with the finesse of blocking shots.

“We did a great job on their star player (DQ Nicholas) again. The whole week we really focused on No. 4 Nicholas, and he went 1 of 9. So I thought that the guys assigned to him, and the other four on the floor, did a great job on their all-league player. Disappointed with our defensive rebounding for sure. And then we gave guys an opportunity tonight, and we did not play very well the last nine minutes of the game — at all.”

Starting senior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis had 4 points but went 0-of-4 from 3, and he contributed 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, ZERO turnovers, and a boxscore plus-9 in 22 minutes. Senior starting stretch-5 Chandler Lawson had 5 points (2-of-2 field goals, including 1-of-1 from 3), 3 rebounds, 1 steal, and 4 fouls in 10 minutes.

Senior center Makhi Mitchell came off the bench for 5 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 assists, and a game-high boxscore plus-23 in 17 minutes. Senior forward / center Jalen Graham chipped in 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 block in 9 minutes. Senior wing Jeremiah Davenport had 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 block in 9 minutes. Sophomore wing Joseph Pinion had 5 points and 1 block in 8 minutes. Freshman center Baye Fall finished with 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 steal in 10 minutes.

All 12 available scholarship Hogs played as did both walk-ons. Freshman guard Layden Blocker (illness) did not play and was not on the bench with the team.

Arkansas shot 30-of-60 overall from the field (50%), including an efficient 7-of-18 from 3 (38.9%). The Razorbacks struggled at the foul line going 19-of-31 (61.3%).

“I feel like we shoot the ball as a team really well and that helped us get on a run with those big threes,” Ellis said. “I just feel like guys just got to keep shooting with confidence. Because when we shoot the ball really well, we can get to the paint and draw free throw attempts.”

Defensively, Arkansas held Gardner-Webb to 25-of-72 field goal shooting (34.7%), including only 6-of-23 from 3 (26.1%). The Runnin’ Bulldogs were 12-of-31 on freebies (57.1%).

Arkansas won overall rebounds (46-40) but lost the offensive rebounding battle (11-7) as well as second-chance-points (14-7). The Hogs held advantages in fastbreak points (16-9) and bench scoring (40-19). Each team had 36 points-in-the-paint and each suffered 10 turnovers with Gardner-Webb winning points-off-turnovers (15-11). The Runnin’ Bulldogs more than doubled up the Hogs in steals (9-4).

Arkansas limited returning Big South All Conference guard DJ Nicholas to just 3 points on 1-of-9 field goal shooting.

Scouting the Old Dominion Monarchs

Eleventh-year head coach Jeff Jones led his team to a 19-12 overall record (includes 11-7 for 5th-place in the Sun Belt Conference) in ’22-23, and his team opened the ’23-24 campaign with a 71-57 win over Virginia Wesleyan before losing by 5 points on the road against Ball State on Saturday.

The Monarchs battled in what was mostly a see-saw, one-possession-lead contest throughout against Ball State, and ODU led 63-61 with 1:32 remaining in the game before the Cardinals closed the game with a 12-5 run.

Returning All SBC performer Chaunce Jenkins (junior 6-4 guard) leads the team with 18.0 points and 4.5 rebounds (he had 20 and 6 against Ball State) in 28.5 minutes per game while shooting 53.6% from the field, including 3-of-7 from 3 for 42.9%, and 3-of-4 free throws for 75.0%. Oregon transfer Tyrone Williams (senior 6-5 guard) is averaging 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.0 steals in 26.0 minutes per game while shooting 45.5% from the field, including 1-of-6 from 3 for 16.7%, and 5-of-5 at the free throw line. Williams had a double-double — 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 steals — against Ball State.

Freshman 6-3 guard Vasean Allette is averaging 9.5 points (includes a 16-point night against Ball State on Saturday) to go with 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.0 steals in 26.0 minutes per game while shooting 50.0% from the field, including 1-of-5 from 3 for 20.0%, and 2-of-5 at the free throw line for 40.0%. Sophomore 6-5 guard Bryce Baker is averaging 7.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.0 steal in 25.5 minutes per game while shooting 44.4% from the field, including 2-of-7 from 3 for 28.6%, and 4-of-6 free throws for 66.7%. Senior 6-4 guard Jason Wade is contributing 3.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.0 assist, and 1.0 steal in 21.5 minutes per game while shooting 2-of-5 from the field for 40.0% and 2-of-2 at the free throw line. Dayton transfer RJ Blakney (junior 6-6 guard) is averaging 6.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 17.5 minutes per game while shooting 55.6% from the field, including 1-of-1 from 3, and 1-of-5 at the free throw line.

ODU has 9 players that appeared in both games with each averaging double-digit minutes of playing time (ranging from 28.5 to 11.0 minutes per game). The team is averaging 69.5 points, 41.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 8.0 steals, 3.5 blocks, and 15.5 turnovers per game while shooting 47.4% overall from the field (includes a respectable 52.3% on two-point field goals and 30.8% from 3) and 63.9% from the free throw line. Defensively, ODU is holding teams to 36.8% overall field goal shooting to rank 78th in Division 1 while limiting opponents to only 12.0 made two-point field goals per game to rank 20th in D1.

A season ago, ODU was one of the top offensive rebounding teams in college basketball, ranking 33rd in D1 with 12.1 offensive boards per outing. It was not a good field goal shooting team at any level a year ago (46.2% on two-point field goals, 31.4% from 3, and 68.0% at the free throw line), but in the early going this season the team has been efficient shooting inside the arc. Just like Alcorn State and Gardner-Webb, ODU was able to grind down tempo a season ago while holding opponents to 66.2 points per game which ranked 64th in D1. The Monarchs were solid last season in defending the three-point line, holding teams to 31.3% efficiency to rank 50th in D1. ODU ranked in the top 40 in D1 in both made two-point field goals allowed per game (15.6) and attempted two-point field goals allowed per game (32.2)

Keys to success for Arkansas

– ODU has good size in the backcourt, and it’s a team that will pressure defensive lateral movement and help rotations with downhill drives early and often on offense. Not as affective on the offensive glass as it was a season ago, but still averaging more than 10 offensive boards per game in the early going. It’s a set of factors that will challenge the Razorbacks defensively given the aforementioned areas of concern that Musselman has for his team. The Hoop Hogs will benefit from proactive footwork while maintaining positional integrity with on-ball defensive assignments while funneling drives away from the middle of the floor, then great communication, timing, recovery, and strong close-outs will be key to contesting shots and making a team that prefers to drive consider launching from three. When ODU does get downhill, Musselman would like to see his team more physical in meeting drives while minimizing fouling and old-fashioned three-point plays.

– Three-point shooting disparities could be key. ODU once again is not a good three-point shooting team (a movie Hog fans saw over and over again in the two previous seasons), while the Hogs appear to be a competent and efficient three-point shooting club with enough firepower to have a lopsided advantage from distance. Coupled with the fact that ODU predicates its defensive philosophy on limiting team’s two-point field-goal attempts, if the Hogs can give the ball energy by moving it first via the pass it could lead to a lot of open looks from beyond the arc while potentially opening up some clean driving lanes. The Hogs are 19-of-48 from distance (39.6%) to rank Top 75 in both makes and efficiency in D1 compared to the Monarchs’ 8-of-26 effort from 3 (30.8%).

– Fast start. Arkansas would like to start better against Old Dominion than it has done in 2 of its last 3 games (against Gardner-Webb and in the exhibition-season finale against Purdue). Competing better against drives and rim-runs to begin the game will surely be a pre-game talking point of Musselman and his staff, as will attention to a strong start on the glass at both ends of the floor. Both teams are dealing with quick turnarounds (3 days for the Hogs, only 2 for the visiting team) but only three games into the season travel-weary-legs may not yet be a factor. Still, the Hogs will want to continue to be stingy defensively while cranking up the live turnovers after an off night in that department against Gardner-Webb with the goal being to get into transition for easy scores while testing ODU’s endurance.

Muss musings

– On the Old Dominion Monarchs: ”Old Dominion, historically, has been a really good basketball program. He (ODU head coach Jeff Jones) does a great job. Really, really good Xs and Os coach. Got a ton of experience. We have to play a lot better on Monday. Like I’m going to continue to say, I hope we have a great crowd, too, on Monday. Williams from Oregon is a really good player. Like I said, they have an all-league guard that’s really good. They play small. They play really fast. Transition defense is going to be really, really important. ID’ing the ball as quick as possible will be extremely important. Keeping the dribble-drive in front of us is going to be the key to the game. We can’t give up dribble-drive, straight-line drives because they are really good attackers off the bounce.

– On his team’s depth and top player rotation: ”I thought our depth took a huge step back tonight (against Gardner-Webb). I really did, with the minutes that they were given … “Oh, it’s (Arkansas’ rotation) drilled down. I can already tell you that. Tonight was… you play your way in or you play your way out.”

– On the Hogs’ quick turnaround (Friday/Monday games): ”Prepping on a short turnaround, you gotta get used to it. The longer preps we have, our record’s really good the longer the prep is. But I think also late in the year, we’ve been pretty good on NCAA Tournament type preps, of our guys retaining stuff. Maybe the thing that’s a little bit frustrating tonight is I thought tonight we were really prepared and we didn’t take away enough of their stuff. Sometimes you get surprised by some things or some matchups, but Gardner-Webb played it traditional like we had seen them in the past. In particular, Robinson’s dribble-drives were quite frustrating.”

– On the potential for a revolving door at center moving forward: ””I think it probably is going to be a different guy maybe for us at that spot. And I haven’t put Brazile over there yet. Probably my fault not moving him over there a little bit. Execution. Doing what we want. Knowing the plays. And then us maybe having four guards out there. But, first two games we’ve won by pretty good margin, and we’ve gotten a lot of players in to evaluate. I think sometimes when we’ve gotten to the fourth of fifth game in years past, I’ve wished we had looked at some others… We’ve looked now. We’ve got the whole summer. I pretty much know now where we’re at.”

– On his team’s slow start against Gardner-Webb: ”I think as a group we’re not happy with how we started the game. I thought we played good about the 13-minute mark of the first half. We started playing better. I thought we finished the half really good. Sometimes the last three minutes of the half become really important, and they did tonight. Again, defensively, we’ve got to guard the ball better, and we’ve got to guard the rim better. We were 25 passes short of our goal, so the ball didn’t move as much as we wanted it to tonight as well. I give Gardner-Webb a lot of credit. I thought they were really well coached, I thought they cut hard, I thought they ran the floor really hard in their transition offense. I thought they ran harder than we did, for sure. To only win the battle of the boards by six, it’s not enough, and to give up 11 offensive rebounds is not going to cut it.”

Hoop Hogs updates and tidbits

– Musselman has never had a Razorbacks team lose a non-conference game at BWA as his teams are 35-0 in such matchups. He’s 97-42 overall as Head Hog, which includes a 52-9 record against non-conference opponents and a 45-33 mark against SEC foes (both marks include postseason results).

– The Hogs will be playing Old Dominion for the first time in program history when the two teams tipoff on Monday.

– Arkansas slipped one spot in KenPom.com’s national rankings for Division 1, going from No. 12 to No. 13 after the team’s win over Gardner-Webb. The Hogs are ranked No. 18 in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI). Arkansas checks in at preseason No. 14 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Top 25 polls with both set to release their first in-season rankings on Monday, Nov. 13.

– The Razorbacks were projected as an NCAAT 4-seed in the most-recent Bracketology update by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi released on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

– After the Old Dominion tilt, Arkansas will host the last of four consecutive home games at BWA against North Carolina-Greensboro at 7 p.m. CT, Friday, Nov. 17 (livestream via SEC Network Plus).

– Sophomore forward Trevon Brazile on Monday, Nov. 6, was selected to the preseason 50-player watch list for the prestigious postseason Naismith Trophy National Player of the Year award. In the previous week, Brazile was included among the 20 players named to the watch list for the postseason Karl Malone Award, which goes to the nation’s best forward in D1. Prior to that, junior wing Tramon Mark was included among the 20 players named to the watch list for the postseason Jerry West Award, which goes to the nation’s best shooting guard in Division 1. Brazile and senior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis picked up preseason recognition as All SEC first- and second-team selections, respectively, by SEC coaches and media.

-Hogville is your one-stop shop for complete 2023-24 Arkansas Razorbacks men’s basketball coverage (schedule, results, and game articles are linked here: https://forums.hogville.net/index.php?topic=756493.0) plus ongoing analysis including our game-to-game stock-risers (linked here: https://forums.hogville.net/index.php?topic=760558.0).

(Last updated: 2023-11-13 13:36 PM)