Arkansas Razorbacks (10-2) LSU Tigers (8-2)
If you like high scoring Basketball games, this is the game for you. The Tigers are a horrid defensive team, and the Razorbacks love playing fast.
Coach Mussleman pieced together an astoundingly talented roster after losing both Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe early to the NBA Draft. Arkansas lost one of their top players when Justin Smith suffered an injury. Smith is out for this game. The lineup Musselman seems to favor without Smith maximizes the offensive potential of this roster with Notae-Sills-Tate-Moody-Vanover. You have five legitimate scorers, five guys that can and will shoot from anywhere, two great ball handlers, and an elite shot blocker. Then you can put in Vance Jackson off the bench. Just like every Muss led squad, they play fast, and they lose to shoot threes. LSU star Cam Thomas’s struggles on offense have been on full display this season, grading on EvanMiya.com as the team’s worst defender in the starting lineup. Expect to see a fair amount of Desi Sills using his crafty ball-handling skills to get some looks from the mid-range on Thomas. Feeding Connor Vanover in the paint will prove to be a focal point for Muss, also with the size differential between 7’3 Connor Vanover and everyone else on the LSU roster.
Similar to the past few seasons, the Tigers are brutal defensively, but they will outscore you. The previously Cam Thomas is questionable for this contest, and I’ll go under the assumption he plays because it won’t change my pick to win either way. With Thomas, they get their All-American playing, although I’m curious to see his effectiveness with ankle issues if he plays. Will Wade said that Thomas’s ankle had gotten twisted multiple times in practice due to the high landing from his jumper. His jumper is his specialty, and if he can fully land like he otherwise would, he won’t play a ton with his defensive struggles. Javonte Smart’s breakout season is being overshadowed by Thomas’s tremendous season, but Smart is having a phenomenal season. Smart’s shooting a career-best 44% from three, vastly better than any other season in his career. We’ve always known Smart is crafty, but becoming a shooter adds a different element to his arsenal. The main thing LSU needs to focus on is being able to score on & defend Connor Vanover. The 7’3 big can drop 20 with ease and block five shots. LSU’s best bet defensively would be turning up the defensive pressure, and try to make Arkansas play too fast, and make some bad passes, trap them. You have to figure out ways to defend when you have a lousy defense.
Keys to the game:
Assuming Thomas isn’t as effective as usual, the Tigers need to find a way to supplant offensive production loss.
Arkansas needs to feed their big-man Vanover until LSU stops him or doubles him.
Players to watch:
LSU: Darius Days
Arkansas: Connor Vanover
Tulsa Golden Hurricane (7-3) Wichita State Shockers (7-3)
Very dissimilar to the previous game I previewed, get ready for a slow-paced game, with not a ton of scoring between two teams hoping to emerge on the bubble.
The Golden Hurricane head to Kansas to play the Shockers, coming in Tulsa is undefeated with some significant wins, most notably over Houston. Frank Haith’s team ranks 27th in defensive efficiency in KenPom, and have only allowed ONE team to score in the 70 point range or above this season. When did that happen? The first game of the season against TCU, where the Horned Frogs scored exactly 70. Tulsa fell significantly under-the-radar coming into the season… and it’s almost like they were Co-Regular Season champs in the AAC last season and return nearly everybody. I was also down on Tulsa. I have zero clues why and thought they were fraudulent last year. Clearly, I was incorrect.
Brandon Rachal continues to be an elite player in the conference, averaging 15.5 PPG with outstanding defense, and the biggest thing, Rachal’s three-point shooting is much-improved from last season. Rachal’s shooting improvements is one of the main points of success for this Tulsa team in my eyes. Outside of Rachal, Tulsa doesn’t have any double-digit scorers. However, they have guys that can get timely baskets, like Rey Idowu, Elijah Joiner, and Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, and Darien Jackson. The turnover problems continue to plague the Golden Hurricane, something in a loss possession game that needs to be improved upon. As a whole, Tulsa doesn’t shoot the ball consistently from deep, at 30% for the team, with Rachal and Joiner being the only ones above 30% from three. Tulsa will never blow anybody out, but they’ll win ugly games.
The entire Wichita State program was in turmoil the entire offseason and shortly before the season due to Ex-Head Coach Gregg Marshall’s issues. The Shockers lost most of their team from last season and gave the interim job to a coach from the Mike White tree, which never was the HC of a game in Isaac Brown. You can only get an interim coach in a short offseason, but they have found their guy. Hire Coach Brown had no reason to look elsewhere, and Brown led this team to a 7-3 record with some solid wins.
The Shockers play smart, with limited turnovers, but struggle with efficiency. Tyson Etienne is having an unreal sophomore season with 17.7 PPG, shooting nearly 40% from deep, and is a candidate for conference player of the year. Coach Brown got a substantial performance in the Shockers’ most recent contest against Cincy from Ricky Council IV. The 6’6 freshman posted 23 points and now will likely earn himself more shots and more minutes. The three-point shooting from the Shockers need to improve in this game, and if you shoot 30% from deep, you’ll eventually notice the downfall from that.
Keys to the game:
Tulsa needs to limit the turnovers. If you turn the ball over on the road, it’s a tough thing to do.
The Shockers need to make threes. Tyson Etienne is the only consistent shooter on the roster. Isaac Brown needs more from Dexter Dennis, Alterique Gilbert, and Trey Wade in this one.
Players to watch:
Tulsa: Elijah Joiner
Wichita State: Dexter Dennis
Wichita State: 63
Texas Tech Red Raiders (10-3) Texas Longhorns (10-1)
Let’s GO! A big 12 battle between two teams from Texas.
The Longhorns have been extraordinarily hot lately, having won every single game in conference play so far. The Horns have won six straight games after the loss to Villanova, including wins over Kansas, OKST, and WVU. There isn’t anything that Texas can’t do, and the Horns have athleticism, length, shooting, and HIGH-IQ. Shaka Smart’s tenure in Austin hasn’t gone as planned, but we’re there now. This contest could go one-of-two ways, a defensive slugfest due to the Red Raiders’ defensive ability, or, The Horns will win big. The scoring discrepancy between the two teams is insane. Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, and Greg Brown are all high-level scorers, with Kai Jones being the sixth man for the team.
The Red Raiders have looked significantly better as of late against K-State and Iowa State. That can mean one of two things, and both those teams are terrible (which is true), or their offense is actually improved. We know how elite the defense from Texas Tech is, ranking 5th in defensive efficiency on KenPom, but 37th in the offense. That isn’t bad, but a significant discrepancy from offense to defense. Mac McClung is an elite ball-handler and facilitator at times but needs to stop shooting so many threes. McClung is talented and can be a great player, but shoots too many triples for a 31% shooter, drive to the hoop, draw fouls, hit some mid-range shots, and then he becomes an elite player. McClung is so good from-the-line; he needs to focus on getting there often. The Red Raiders’ most pointing issue has been the lack of a consistent third/fourth scorer after McClung and Terrance Shannon Jr. Against Iowa State, we saw Kyler Edwards drop 19 points, and Kevin McCullar has 15 points in that one. If those two can contribute consistently, that changes the outlook of this team significantly. Chris Beard needs big performances from those two, along with Jamarius Burton in this game.
Keys to the game:
Texas Tech needs to play this game in the 70 points or lower range. I don’t think against a good defense that Tech can score above 70 points.
The Horns must force McClung to shoot from deep. McClung will shoot it, give it to him, don’t let him drive.
Players to watch:
TTU: Kyler Edwards
Texas: Kai Jones