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PREVIEW: Arkansas @ LSU

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent: LSU Tigers
Date: Wednesday, January 13
Time: 6:00pm
Place: Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
TV/Streaming: ESPN2
All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 37-32
All-Time Series at LSU: LSU leads 18-12

The Arkansas/LSU series has been a good one. Arkansas dominated the 90s only losing 1 time to LSU, but the Tigers have reigned in the 21st century. In the Eric Musselman’s first season, the teams split their 2 games.

The Tigers 8-2 (3-1)

LSU is an interesting team. The amount of talent that Will Wade has acquired is impressive. The Tigers suffered an early season L against St. Louis and lost in SEC play to Florida. What makes this LSU team different than 95% of the country is how their scoring is distributed.

LSU has 4 players averaging double figures. The SEC’s lead scorer Cam Thomas at 22.3 ppg.. Sophomore phenom Trendon Watford at 17.8 ppg.. Veterans Javonte Smart at 15.4 ppg and Darius Days at 13.5 ppg. That is a lot of points for your top 4 scorers, but what does LSU’s 5th leading scorer average? Freshman guard Jalen Cook averages 4.3 ppg.

LSU is extremely top heavy in the scoring department. Those 4 also are the only players averaging more than 21 minutes per game. Will Wade is still trying to figure out who he can rely on from his bench.

But there is a more concerning question for Will Wade on Wednesday night. Can Cam Thomas play? If he can, how effective will he be? Thomas sustained a foot injury on Saturday against Ole Miss. He missed most of game and was wearing a boot on the bench during the 2nd half. He has been listed as a game-time decision. There have been rumors that he will play though.

Will he be 100%? I’d say that is doubtful. LSU will need some help from the bench. Watford and Days need to have big games. Arkansas is thin in the paint. If Days and Watford can get a lot of 2nd chances then it will be a long night for the Razorbacks.

LSU must defend though. This Arkansas team can really score in bunches. We know defense has been an issue in Wade’s tenure. The past 4 meetings has been split and all very close games. LSU had much more talent in each of those games. If LSU defends and wins the rebounding battle by 10, Tigers will cruise.

The Razorbacks 10-2 (2-2)

Arkansas got a much needed convincing win on Saturday against Georgia. The Razorbacks were dominant in the 2nd half and the true freshmen shined. Moses Moody did what Moses Moody does. Davonte Davis was very productive with 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists! Jaylin Williams gave the Bulldogs fits!

What Davis and Williams did, could not have come at a better time. With Desi Sills struggling, Arkansas need some production and confidence at the guard spot. With Justin Smith still injured, the Hogs needed more production from Williams and Vance Jackson. They got both!

If Jackson and Williams can continue to impact games then this team will be extremely dangerous once Smith returns.

Head Coach Eric Musselman gave us an update on Smith this week. He did practice with the team for the first time. He participated in non-contact drills, but depending on how he felt the next day would determine his status going forward. I would say Smith is doubtful for the LSU game, but may have a chance of returning against Alabama.

Musselman also said that Stetson transfer Abayomi Iyiola would likely be cleared to play in early February. Iyiola suffered a torn ACL in the summer. Any added depth is a welcome sight!

For the game against LSU, there are a few areas of importance for the Razorbacks. They cannot allow LSU to dominate the boards. Williams and Jackson really need to stay out of foul trouble. I don’t expect Connor Vanover to play much this game. The bigs for LSU are too athletic to leave him on the floor for very long. That means it will be a big ask of Jackson and Williams.

Where Arkansas can take advantage of LSU is by forcing turnovers. The Tigers are giving the ball away 17.6 times per game this season. If Arkansas can force turnovers while taking care of the ball themselves, they have a great chance.

Because we don’t know how effective Cam Thomas will be, I am taking the Hogs in this one. Eric Musselman was very prepared and coached circles around Wade last year. He did so with inferior talent. Arkansas has a much better team now and I see it playing well for the Hogs.

Prediction: Arkansas 84, LSU 78