Gut-check time: Hogs ready to host Missouri with future in their hands

·2 min read

January 12 generally feels like it should be too early to talk about a must-win game in college basketball. But for Arkansas, a loss to Missouri in Fayetteville on Wednesday night would all but sink the Razorbacks’ NCAA Tournament chances.

Granted, that doesn’t account for a miracle. Arkansas could swim through the back-half of its schedule, though seven of the Hogs’ last eight games come against teams currently projected to make the Big Dance. Most of them currently have high (as in, quality) seeds, too.

That makes Wednesday’s 8 p.m. tip against the Tigers supremely important. Arkansas (10-5, 0-3) has lost its first three games in SEC play and five of its last six overall after a 9-0 start had the team ranked in the Top 10 in the nation. Missouri, the team picked 10th in the SEC poll in the preseason, sits at an even .500 (7-7, 1-1) heading to Bud Walton Arena.

One statistic that points in the direction of Arkansas snapping its skid is Missouri’s shooting. The Hogs have struggled all year in defending the 3-point shot as they’re 316th out of 350 Division I teams opponent’s 3-point percentage with teams making 36.6% of their shots from range. The Tigers, though, are even worse at actually shooting that shot, checking at 348th out of those 350 teams. They’re hitting on just 25% of their 3-pointers.

But Missouri is still a team coming off a win against Alabama, the preseason SEC favorites. The Tigers pulled the upset largely by outrebounding Alabama 43-31 and making 21 of their 27 shots from the free-throw line. To that end, Missouri will look toward Kobe Brown, who scored 30 points and grabbed 13 boards against the Crimson Tide.

Arkansas should be mostly healthy after guard Chris Lykes appeared to injure his adductor/groin in the waning minutes of the Texas A&M game last time out. But even still, Arkansas coach Eric Musselman isn’t taking anything for granted, not after the way his team has started conference play.

“Obviously Alabama is one of the best teams in the conference, one of the best teams in the country,” Musselman said. “Missouri played an incredible game. But nothing really is a surprise, I don’t think, in conference play.”