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PREVIEW: Arkansas @ Mississippi State

NCAA Basketball: Elon University at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas @ Mississippi State Preview

Opponent: Mississippi State Bulldogs
Date: Wednesday, December 29, 2021
Time: 4:00PM CDT
Place: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Mississippi
TV/Streaming: SEC Network
All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 34-31
All-Time Series in Starkville: Mississippi State leads 22-7

The Bulldogs (9-3)

Mississippi State is decent basketball team in their current state. They know their identity. They know their roles. They know what they want to do in each and every game. BUT they can be a lot better. That all starts with a healthy Tolu Smith and Rocket Watts. This team just takes a huge jump with both of them. Ben Howland said earlier this week that they are both day-to-day. Smith just started practicing this week. I imagine Howland in the spirit of gamesmanship will keep their availability quiet until game time.

Iverson Molinar has been a great bulldog in his career and is back this year doing what he has always done. He’s shooting just 30.4% from 3, but is at 45.% from the field. That means Molinar gets to the basket and scores there efficiently. He’ll be guarded by Devo today.

The transfer that Howland brought in have done well. Shakeel Moore from N.C. State has been a nice fit I think we see J.D. Notae on him today. D.J. Jeffries from Memphis is a big wing and will be a nice matchup with Au’Diese Toney. If Tolu Smith cannot play then it will be Garrison Brooks and Jaylin Williams defending each other.

Hog fans may remember Garrison Brooks as he was recruited pretty hard by Mike Anderson. He ended up at UNC before transferring to MSU this year.

MSU will look to live in the paint. They make their 3s at a good rate, but have made 2 more than Arkansas this year.

They’ll look to slow the game down, get multiple 2nd chance opportunities, and get to the free throw line.

The Razorbacks (10-2)

Can you believe we are already 12 games into this Arkansas season? I can’t. It’s a bit sad to think March Madness will be here before we know it. Or is it sad? I just have no idea what to expect from this team. We know Musselman can make pieces gel in the middle of the season.

This group simply has not been good based on the preseason expectations and raw talents. Yeah, they are 10-2 and it could be a lot worse. The softer schedule has fared well for the Hogs.

Maybe they scheduled that way on purpose because they saw this team not coming together as well as they hoped? I don’t know.

Nevertheless, SEC play is here. Things get real now. There’s no more cruising to easy wins against bad teams. We are about to know who they are. There won’t be any more guessing.

So where does Musselman turn? Who are the guys that can take the team to a new level?

There’s 3 players that come to mind.

1. Devo Davis. Devo hasn’t been what he was last year. There are few factors here. He is a real part of opponent’s scouting reports now. He is playing point guard which is new role at this level for him. If Devo can return to his freshman year form, this team will be better.

2. Jaylin Williams. J-Will has not played well as of late. He’s been a part of a lot of back pick and roll defense. His continued hesitancy on the offensive end isn’t helping anything either. Arkansas needs an aggressive J-Will. In my opinion, there isn’t a more important player on this team. He’s vocal. He’s the best passer. His rebounding is vital.

3. Jaxson Robinson. Jax can shoot. His form is effortless and one of the best I have ever seen from a Razorback. If Robinson can figure out the other aspects of the game while shooting well then Musselman has to play him.

For this afternoon’s game, Arkansas cannot have another slow start. MSU is going to play at a snail’s pace. Ben Howland enjoys ugly basketball and that is what we are going to see today. If you find yourself down 8-12 in the first 8 minutes then it’s very difficult to come back.

The Hogs must take care of the basketball. With MSU’s slow pace, possessions will be limited. They cannot give up the limited opportunities they will have.

While I do not like the matchup for Arkansas, MSU has not played well in games against Top 100 KenPom rated teams. In fact, they are just 1-3 in those games. In other words, MSU has looked great against inferior opponents, but not so great against teams with some talent.

If this game was in Fayetteville, I think Arkansas would win the game. Because it is in Starkville and because we haven’t seen this Arkansas team thrive yet, I’ll take the Dawgs

Prediction: Arkansas 70, Mississippi State 76