The disappointment of Arkansas basketball’s 2023-24 season is clear. That doesn’t mean, though, all is awry.
Arkansas has to, basically, win the SEC Tournament in March to make a fourth straight NCAA Tournament and have a shot at extending its Sweet Sixteen run to four, as well. Odds are long. They’re not impossible.
A big reason why is the improved play of Arkansas’ big-man corps over the last two weeks. The center-forward trio of Makhi Mitchell, Chandler Lawson and Jalen Graham have found their best run of the year in Arkansas’ last few games and have helped the Hogs stave off the cellar.
If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it is. Not toward Mitchell, Lawson and Graham, each of whom bring a different element to Arkansas’ front line.
Mitchell is the most complete of the three. In his second season with the Razorbakcs, the Rhode Island transfer’s numbers have dipped this season compared to last. Only Eric Musselman could tell you why last year’s starting center has found far fewer minutes this season.
Mitchell’s numbers are finding their way back up now. He’s played in 25 minutes or more each of the last four games while averaging almost 14 points and nine rebounds per game over that span and shooting a career-best 81% from the free-throw line. Toss in two assists a game and seven total blocks and he’s been the Hogs’ best player in February.
Graham is the offensive specialist. A player who never found a regular role in his first season from Arizona State, defense and rebounding held him back last year. Neither are exception this year, but good enough to earn more consistent minutes. His scoring touch, always the best of the three, has stayed strong, too, as he’s averaging double figures in his last three games.
Lawson is the defensive and rebounding specialist. His numbers have taken a dive with the emergence of Mitchell and Graham in recent weeks, but it’s not a slack on Lawson’s play, but instead a matchup thing with limited numbers to go around. Lawson is never going to fill it up – he has just one game in double figures – but coach Eric Musselman has counted on him for toughness and awareness in the paint as Lawson still leads all the bigs in minutes per game.
Whether their play of recent weeks is enough for Arkansas to dig at least somewhat out of its SEC hole remains to be seen. Either way, without them, the Hogs would have no chance.