Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Musselman impressed with Rebels
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman gestures to an official as he talks with forward Jaylin Williams (10) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
FAYETTEVILLE — The only SEC teams hotter than the University of Arkansas and Ole Miss are league-leader Alabama and second-place Missouri.
That makes the Rebels’ visit to the Razorbacks tonight all the more intriguing.
Their two-game winning streaks are modest and both the Razorbacks (12-4, 4-4 SEC) and Rebels (8-6, 3-4) are lodged in the middle of the SEC standings, but tonight’s winner can see a clearer path toward the top of the conference.
“I think Ole Miss is confident,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “They’re really well-coached and have an experienced backcourt.
“I like their team. They have really good pieces. They pride themselves on defense, and some of the little things like getting loose balls and long rebounds are going to be really important.”
Said Ole Miss Coach Kermit Davis, “We’re preparing for a really, really good Arkansas team … just a nice blend of four or five really talented transfers, three freshmen that are playing quite a bit, and obviously [Desi] Sills is coming back. He’s always played good against us.”
Arkansas is scoring a league-high 85 points per game, compared to Ole Miss’ 70.4 points, which is 12th in the SEC.
“We’re not a team that is going out there and putting up huge numbers offensively,” Davis said. “That’s kind of where we are right now. We work on that every day, trying to tinker with offense, trying to get cheap baskets in transition.
“We’ve got to hang our hat on it and we’ve got to do it against a really good offensive team. … I think our guys are starting to believe in our defense and that sometimes we’re going to have to win games maybe with low scores right now.”
The Razorbacks are 4-4 in conference play and many of their statistics directly reflect that .500 record.
The Razorbacks have scored 640 points and given up 640 points, so they are scoring and giving up exactly 80 points per game.
The Razorbacks and their opponents have exactly 297 rebounds, an average of 37.1 per conference game.
Arkansas has been whistled for 152 fouls to its opponents’ 149, and it has 110 assists to its opponents’ 105.
There are wider margins elsewhere, such as Arkansas’ 113 turnovers to 132 for its opponents and the Razorbacks’ 71 steals to their opponents’ 59.
Of more concern: Arkansas is shooting 43.5% overall and 33.5% from three-point range in SEC play, while allowing 46.9% shooting from the floor and 35.1% shooting from beyond the arc.
Arkansas is expecting lots of trapping from an extended 1-3-1 Ole Miss defense, which drops into a 2-3 zone and also utilizes man-to-man concepts.
“You’re going to have to meet the pass, you’re going to have to step through traps and you are going to have to know how to play with a window, meaning shoulder to shoulder knee to knee when you have the ball in your hands,” Musselman said. “So that’s a window. And stepping through the trap, coming to meet the ball, throwing passes on ropes, those are some of the theme type terminology that we will use for this game.”
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman is impressed with the Ole Miss backcourt, led by senior point guard Devontae Shuler and transfer guard Jarkel Joiner, with swing men KJ Buffen and Luis Rodriguez also in the mix.
All four rank among the Rebels’ top five scorers, led by Shuler’s 14.9 points per game and 10.9 for Joiner, an Oxford, Miss., native who returned home from Cal State Bakersfield.
The 6-7 junior Buffen is shooting 54.1%, second on the team behind forward Romello White (67.9%).
“They control tempo,” Musselman said. “They have two really, really good guards.
“Shuler can really score the ball and is an experienced player. Joiner … can really shoot mid-range pull-ups off the bounce, jump shots. … Buffen can beat people off the dribble and score around the rim.”
Arkansas guard Moses Moody is working in notable company among NCAA freshmen as one of only three players averaging 17-plus points per game and one of only six to average 15 points and 5 rebounds per game.
Moody is the only player in the SEC to rank among the league’s top 15 in scoring, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and rebounds. He is also the only SEC player shooting at least 40% from the field, 80% from the line and 36% from three-point range.
The Razorbacks own a handy 49-33 edge in the all-time series with Ole Miss, including an active two-game winning streak.
Arkansas had a commanding 23-5 edge over Ole Miss before the Razorbacks joined the SEC for the 1991-92 season, and the Rebels have cut into that deficit with a 28-26 advantage since then.
Ole Miss is the second-most played SEC team for the Razorbacks, trailing only Texas A&M.
The Razorbacks won nine of the first 10 meetings after joining the SEC before Ole Miss went on an extended 24-9 run between 1997 and 2013. Arkansas has won eight of the last 11 meetings.
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman will participate in Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers week for the game. Musselman, who serves on the Coaches vs. Cancer council, will wear a special pair of shoes tonight.
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