LITTLE ROCK — With the potential to add (or announce) only a couple more non-conference opponents as well as up to two exhibition-game opponents while also sorting out dates and times against known SEC foes, the Arkansas Razorbacks are very close to completing their 2021-22 basketball schedule.
Understandably, there is much anticipation throughout the Hogs’ fan base coming off a national Top 10 and NCAA tournament Elite Eight finish a season ago with the team likely to enter the upcoming campaign ranked in the national Top 15.
Typically, the basketball schedule for the upcoming season is released no later than late August, so as we enter the final week of the month before the page turns to September, let’s review what we know: The dates, sites, and opponents for 11 of the Razorbacks’ non-conference opponents — Arkansas can schedule up to 13 games outside of league play — as well as the single-game and home-and-away matchups in the SEC.
Here’s what the ’21-22 schedule looks like so far …
* Mercer, Nov. 9, Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville
* Gardner-Webb, Nov. 13, Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville
* Northern Iowa, Nov. 17, Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville
* Kansas State, Nov. 22, Hall of Fame Classic, Kansas City
* Illinois or Cincinnati, Nov. 23, Hall of Fame Classic, Kansas City
* Central Arkansas, Dec. 1, Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville
* Charlotte, Dec. 7, Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville
* Oklahoma, Dec. 11, Tulsa
* Hofstra, Dec. 18, Simmons Bank Arena, North Little Rock
* Elon, Dec. 21, Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville
* West Virginia, Jan. 29, SEC/Big 12 Challenge, Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville
* Arkansas’ SEC home opponents (game dates TBD): Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
* Arkansas’ SEC road opponents (game dates TBD): Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M
What Arkansas lacked with last season’s covid-redo schedule has been added back in a year later — tests against other high-major teams away from home.
With three Big 12 opponents — Kansas State, Oklahoma, and West Virginia — on the slate (two of those at neutral sites, the other at home) and the possibility of a fourth high-major opponent in their second game of the Hall of Fame Classic against Illinois of the Big Ten, the Hogs are facing arguably their toughest non-conference gauntlet in years.
Illinois finished last season ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll while West Virginia came in at No. 13, and Oklahoma joined the Illini and Mountaineers among the 68 teams that made the postseason NCAA tournament field.
All American big man Kofi Cogburn withdrew from both the NBA Draft and transfer portal to return to Illinois, and with other key returnees and transfers look for the Illini to enter the season ranked in the national Top 20. West Virginia is nationally relevant annually under hall of fame coach Bob Huggins, and Oklahoma will be looking to build an NCAAT team for the eighth time in the last 10 years.
All-time, Arkansas is 16-12 against Oklahoma, 1-0 against West Virginia, 3-8 against Kansas State, and 0-5 against Illinois.
For the second consecutive season, the Hogs will host an in-state foe at BWA as Central Arkansas University makes a return trip to BWA, site of last year’s 100-75 Arkansas victory over the Bears. Counting six UA-UCA games played prior to the 1950s, the Razorbacks are 7-0 all-time against the Bears.
Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley Conference) and Charlotte (Conference USA) play in respectable mid-major leagues, but both teams had subpar seasons a year ago. The Hogs are 1-0 all-time against Charlotte and they have never played UNI.
After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Razorbacks return to central Arkansas for their annual, lone in-state appearance outside of Fayetteville as they’ll face the Hofstra Pride of the Colonial Athletic Association at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock. Arkansas is 2-0 all-time against Hofstra, and the last time the two teams played was in January, 1978, when junior guard Sidney Moncrief racked up a double-double — 29 points and 11 rebounds — to lead the 3rd-ranked Hogs to a 95-70 win in Pine Bluff.
Division 1 opponents Mercer, Gardner-Webb, and Elon round out the home part of the non-conference slate, and the Hogs are a combined 6-1 against those teams with the lone defeat coming against Mercer in overtime the last time the two teams met in December 2015 in North Little Rock.
Taking a peek at SEC play, Tennessee and Mississippi State rotate onto the round-robin / home-and-away portion of the schedule, joining permanent round-robin / home-and-away foes LSU, Missouri, and Texas A&M. The remaining eight SEC teams will face Arkansas only once each during league play in ’21-22.
Matchups that immediately catch the eye are home games against Kentucky, Tennessee, and Auburn and road games against Alabama and Tennessee. A season ago, the Hogs were a collective 4-2 against those teams.
The defending SEC champion Tide lost league player of the year Herbert Jones as well as freshman guard Joshua Primo who was a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but the ‘Bama backcourt is still loaded as scorer-facilitator Jahvon Quinerly, dangerous shooter Jaden Shackelford, former 5-star and Texas Tech transfer Nimari Burnett, and 5-star JD Davison are all in the fold. Furman transfer Noah Gurley and freshman big man Charles Bediako will play significant roles.
The Wildcats fell down in the SEC and missed the NCAAT last season, but they return covid-senior guard Javion Mintz and forward Keion Brooks, Jr. — both double-figure scorers last season — to go with veteran transfers Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia), Kellan Grady (Davidson), and Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) and 5-star freshman TyTy Washington.
Tennessee lost a great bit from last season’s team that under-performed but nonetheless made the NCAAT. The Vols add 5-star point guard Kennedy Chandler and Auburn transfer Justin Powell to a trio of proven veterans in John Fulkerson, Josiah-Jordan James, and Victor Bailey, Jr.
Auburn will be led by Little Rock native Allen Flanigan, who will likely be among the preseason all league picks, with West Memphis native Chris Moore entering his second season with the Tigers.
If there is a sleeper in the league, perhaps Vanderbilt should be considered with preseason SEC Player of the Year candidate Scotty Pippen, Jr., returning and joined by 4-star freshman Shane Dezonie along with a trio of transfers in 7-footer Liam Robbins (Minnesota), guard Rodney Chatman (Dayton), and forward Terren Frank (TCU).