Let’s get the standard disclaimer out of the way first:
In college basketball, one game, especially in November, especially on the road, determines nothing. It was an opportunity for Arkansas to bank a solid road victory, which are important for postseason resumes, but this hardly means that the Razorbacks will not have a good season. They still have plenty of chances to make that happen.
This season is about credibility for Mike Anderson. This was the first game this season against an opponent most fans will recognize, the first game against a Power 5 team, and the Razorbacks were only competitive for about the first 10 minutes. If last season was truly a bump in the road, or whatever metaphor we hear from coaches and others, that means they have to be better this year, and this performance isn’t going to inspire any confidence.
Despite the overhauled roster and dreams of dancing in March, the basketball team looked just as unprepared on the road as they’ve looked in nearly countless games over the last decade. Again, that doesn’t mean any season goals are dead. The 2015 team that won a game in the NCAA Tournament was blown out early in the season on the road at Iowa State. Of course, that Cyclones team was a 3-seed and this Minnesota program is unranked and coming off an 8-win season last year, but still.
The most glaring thing Arkansas needs to fix going forward is that Moses Kingsley has to lead the team on offense. The SEC Preseason Player of the Year has zero chance of winning that award in March if he’s not more aggressive on that end of the floor. Kingsley scored 10 points tonight, but most of those came late, and he was still just the 4th-leading scorer on the team.
He’s been in single digits twice already this season (he was only in single digits twice all year last season) and nearly escaped that against the Gophers. He’s Arkansas’ only chance to have an offensive force in the post, and the team has to take advantage of that. Relying solely on slashers and jump shooters won’t get the team very far.
There were plenty of other problems in Minnesota. Arkansas was uncharacteristically sloppy with the basketball, losing the turnover battle 21-14. When one of your program’s key defensive priorities is to create turnovers, you’re probably struggling when that number is close, but to lose it by a 3-2 margin? Doomsday.
Arkansas uncharacteristically couldn’t shoot the ball. At all. The Razorbacks only made one jump shot outside the paint in the first half, and it was from Kingsley. Dusty Hannahs finally made a three with about four minutes left in the game, but the Hogs only ended up with 7 points outside the paint. That’s not going to cut it.
It’s not just that they couldn’t make shots, they didn’t attempt a lot of them. Hannahs only shot two threes, and the team only attempted 8. Sure, when you start out 0-6, it might make you want to drive to the basket more often, but in that case, establishing your front-court star, Kingsley, has to be more of a priority.
Arkansas’ bench didn’t show up. They only scored 12 total points and no one scored more than four. If one of this team’s strengths relative to last season is its depth, we didn’t see it in their first road test of the season.
And, once again, we didn’t see a good defensive effort, particularly on the perimeter. Minnesota made 51.8% of their shots and 60% of their threes. I’d like to say this is uncharacteristic and will likely be fixed going forward but struggles in perimeter defense have been a regular presence in recent years.
Arkansas now has three home games they should win before hosting Houston on December 6th. How this team responds to the loss will obviously be something to watch.