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Game #14 Preview: Vanderbilt @ Arkansas

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

Vanderbilt @ Arkansas Preview

Opponent: Vanderbilt Commodores
Date: Tuesday, January 4, 2022
Time: 7:30PM CDT
Place: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Arkansas
TV/Streaming: SEC Network
All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 29-12
All-Time Series in Fayetteville: Arkansas leads 16-3

The Commodores - 8-4 (0-0)

Vanderbilt has had an interesting season so far. They’ve shown great signs of improvement, but have suffered some disheartening losses in big games. The first blunder took place in mid-November when VCU came to Nashville and held Vandy to just 37 points. VCU only scored 48 themselves, but it was hard to watch.

The Commodores also took losses to SMU on the road, Temple at home in overtime, and Loyola Chicago at home. They’ve struggled to win the resumé building games. That’s normal for a team on the back end of a rebuild. Vanderbilt is improved and here’s why: They aren’t getting blown out or beaten by programs that they have no business losing too. In past few years, Vandy has lost to Middle Tennessee by 23, Bucknell at home, Belmont by 9, Middle Tennessee a second time, Kent St. at home, Liberty at home, and Davidson by 20.

Over Christmas break, VU went to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic where they went 2-0 with a huge win over BYU. In years past, they wouldn’t even be in a game like that.

Scotty Pippen Jr. is doing what he does each and every year. Jordan Wright has been pleasant surprise and a 2ndscoring option that Jerry Stackhouse desperately needed. Offense is an issue though. Vandy ranks 260th in offensive effective FG% and 304th in 3-point percentage. Vandy will need to take advantage of their open opportunities though. Limit turnovers and 2nd chance points.

VU is missing Liam Robbins. The 7 footer has missed every game this season with an injury, but they are hoping that he will be back at some point this month. Without Robbins, Vandy plays one player taller than 6-8.

Defensive metrics like Vanderbilt. They rank 60th in defensive efficiency and 65th in defensive effective FG%.

The Razorbacks - 10-3 (0-1)

I was encouraged by what we saw from Arkansas in the first half against Mississippi State. Yes, there were some careless turnovers. Yes, there were some defensive breakdowns, but that has happened all year. What was encouraging was that the Hogs were scoring the ball. They were making threes. Those points were created by the best ball movement we had seen all year from this team. I also thought they really cared. They played hard.

Then the 2nd half happened. Defensively, it was atrocious. MSU got anything they wanted at the rim including several 2nd chance opportunities. There are no moral victories in sports, but I walked away from the game feeling like this team can at least be competitive and pull off some upsets while beating the teams they should.

Given what we have seen from the Hogs, what we have seen from Mississippi State, and what we know about road games in Starkville, that was not a game that Arkansas should win.

Tonight is a different story. Arkansas is far more talented than Vanderbilt. They are improved, but they rely so much on Pippen and Wright. Even then, the team still struggles offensively.

Arkansas has been poor with transition opportunities of late. They must capitalize on those chances since things haven’t been smooth in half-court sets.

Musselman said that J.D. Notae will be a game-time decision. Kamani Johnson could also be back, but Musselman would not provide any further comments.

Arkansas has to win this game. I hate calling games during the first week of January a must win, but we may be at that point. Let’s be honest, the non-conference schedule was weak. Maybe on purpose because the staff thought they may have issues this year. I don’t know. Overall, it was weak. The loss to Oklahoma has made these games must wins. The lack of shooting from this team will make road games all the more difficult so the Hogs needs to go undefeated at home against teams in the bottom half of the league.

Tonight, I think they get the job done.

Prediction: Arkansas 73, Vanderbilt 66