Arkansas basketball is in the midst of its roughest season in more than a decade. Some fans, according to social media where everyone is reasonable, of course, have given up on the Razorbacks.
Those who have stuck around saw their favorite basketball put together a high-quality performance Saturday and leave Bud Walton Arena with a 78-75 win over a Georgia team that is better, too, than it has been in years.
Things were hardly glimmering for the Razorbacks. They are nowhere near the same bunch that has made the last three Sweet Sixteens. But as the aphorism goes, perfection is the enemy of progress.
Truth is, Arkansas beat Georgia in just about every major statistical category in the game Saturday. Not only that, but coach Eric Musselman said after the game he was glad that the team’s heart and hustle, which had been increasing over the last several games, stayed high, leading to what he called more wins on 50-50 plays.
Let’s take a look at the numbers and beyond and check just what allowed the Hogs to come out with the win Saturday ahead of an even bigger game Wednesday when Tennessee visits.
Arkansas' shot selection
The way Arkansas is built in 2023-24 is different than the Hogs have been built the last few years. Tramon Mark is, this year anyway, the only player on the roster capable of getting his own shot with regularity, which means Arkansas needs to maximize its opportunities and not force shots.
Most of the year during SEC play, the Razorbacks have struggled. Not on Saturday. Arkansas shot 57% from the floor and each of the four players who scored in double figures was over 50% from the field individually.
Mark: 13 points on 4 of 8 shooting
El Ellis: 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting
Keyon Menifield: 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting
Jalen Graham: 11 points on 4 of 7 shooting
Makhi Mitchell: 14 points on 4 of 6 shooting
Arkansas' bench shows out
Of those five players who scored in double figures, three of them came off the bench. What was especially impressive is that two of them – Mitchell and Graham – maximized their effect in fewer minutes than Musselman had planned.
The Arkansas coach said he wanted to run small lineups against Georgia as often as he could, leading to just 14 minutes from Graham and seven from starting center Chandler Lawson. Mitchell was so good that he was hard to take out of the lineup, logging 25 minutes. But the combo of him, Graham and Menifield was Arkansas’ best of the bench in ages.
Arkansas' defense had hands
Speaking of rough rankings in the SEC, Arkansas entered Saturday second-to-last in the league in steals per game, getting fewer than six per game. Against the Bulldogs, the Hogs nine balls from Georgia hands. Ellis had three, as did Mark, while Devo Davis had two and Menifield added one.