The Arkansas Razorbacks men’s basketball team has been successful (14-2, 3-1 SEC) under first-year head coach Eric Musselman throughout the first half of the 2019-20 season. However, the Hogs have yet to face a ranked opponent.
Saturday afternoon will be Arkansas’ first matchup against a top-25 team when the 10th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (12-4, 3-1 SEC) storm into Bud Walton Arena ready to avenge their buzzer-beating loss to South Carolina on Wednesday.
The Razorbacks and Wildcats provided the college basketball world with some incredible matchups in the 2010s, including three overtime wins for Arkansas (2011, 2014, 2014) and two SEC Tournament finals (2015, 2017). Kentucky has won the last seven meetings, including last season’s tilt in Lexington when NBA prospect Tyler Herro exploded to erase an 11-point Razorback lead at halftime.
Kentucky’s starting lineup on Wednesday featured three forwards: Keion Brooks, Jr. (6’7”), E.J. Montgomery (6’10”) and Nick Richards (6’11”). If Wildcat head coach John Calipari decides to roll out the same lineup, it could create a mismatch for the Hogs on the boards, much like their loss to LSU last week.
“They obviously present a lot of problems with their length, defensive ability, scoring ability,” Musselman said. “They’re so well coached, I could go on and on.”
The Razorbacks enter the contest on a two-game winning streak, including a 20-point win Wednesday against Vanderbilt. Senior guard Jimmy Whitt, Jr. racked up 30 points against the Commodores, becoming the third different Arkansas player to score 30 in a single game this season.
Guards Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe, both of whom are among the Southeastern Conference’s top-five in scoring, failed to register any points in the first half against Vanderbilt and finished with a combined 13 points. Joe connected on four of his 11 attempts from three-point range and Jones made only one free throw.
“The only way that we’re going to be able to play and compete with Kentucky is if we play our A-game. We can’t bring our B+-game and expect to compete,” Musselman said.
Musselman hinted that an “A-game” would likely need Joe and Jones to be at the top of their respective shooting games, but as long as any one guy is scoring with regularity, the Hogs should be okay.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN, and tipoff is scheduled at 3 p.m.