LITTLE ROCK — Before the Arkansas Razorbacks go on the road for the first time in 2019-20 — a Monday tilt at Georgia Tech of the ACC — there’s a big home test against unbeaten South Dakota on Friday in what will be a tantalizing matchup of offense vs. defense.
Arkansas (4-0) will host South Dakota (5-0) at 8 p.m. CT tonight on Nolan Richardson Court at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville in game that can be seen on SEC Network. It’s the third of four November home games that are being billed as the Collegiate Hoops Roadshow.
The Razorbacks are top 10 nationally in multiple defensive categories — scoring defense, 3-point-field-gaol defense, overall field-goal defense, turnovers forced, and steals — while the Coyotes lead the nation in 3-point field-goal shooting (47-of-92 for 51.5%). Overall, South Dakota is averaging 79.4 points per game on 51.6% overall field-goal shooting and 78.9% free throw shooting.
Leading the way is 6-10 senior forward Tyler Hagedorn, who is averaging 19.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.0 blocks while shooting a blistering 63.0 field goals (including a nation’s best 16-of-19 from 3 for 83.2%) and 81.3% free throws. Junior 6-6 guard Stanley Umude — the Summit League preseason Player of the Year pick — is averaging 16.4 points per game and 4.8 rebounds while heading up a capable Coyotes’ 4-guard corps that includes Tyler Peterson, Triston Simpson, and Cody Kelley.
“I think the biggest thing with Tyler is he can post up a little bit, too,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said during his Thursday press conference. “It’s not just pick and roll pop type stuff. You switch he’ll roll into the post a little bit. He’s a really good basketball player. He can shoot the ball. He’s a fifth-year player. So he’s an older, veteran type guy. They have five seniors on their team and it shows in how they play on the road. It’s not easy, as everyone on the West Coast knows, playing at Hawaii. It’s really, really difficult. Especially in their own tournament. And they went in there and won that tournament which doesn’t happen often. Then they won two neutral games there so they’ve been away from home, three of their five games.
“Cody Kelley who played against us at Nevada when he was at Wyoming is a really tough kid. You are talking about a basketball team that has three All-League players and the Preseason Most Valuable player in the league in Stanley Umude. So they present a lot of problems.”
Musselman is familiar with South Dakota head coach Todd Lee, having hired Lee as an assistant in the 1990s when Musselman was head coach of the Rapid City Thirllers of the Continental Basketball Assocation.
“Todd is a lifetime friend,” Musselman said. “Obviously we worked together in Rapid City with the Thrillers and had some great teams with a lot of stories … But he’s a guy that we talk basketball all the time. Everywhere he’s been they’ve won … His teams play smart, they play hard and they play tough.”
The Hogs and Coyotes have one opponent in commom — Texas Southern. South Dakota defeated the Tigers, 88-69, last Friday, while Arkansas disposed of the Tigers, 82-51, in its last game played at BWA on Tuesday.
In that win, Razorbacks sophomore guard Isaiah Joe broke out of a mini shooting slump from 3 by banging home 6-of-8 from distance in the second hald en route to a Hogs-season-high 33 points, one shy of Joe’s career-high of 34 points as a freshman. A preseason All SEC pick by the media and league coaches, Joe is leading Arkansas in scoring (20.5 points per game), assists (3.0), and 3-pointers made (16-of-28 for 41.0%) to go with 4.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals in 36.0 minutes per outing.
Junior guard Mason Jones is second on the team in scoring (18.3 points), third in rebounds (5.0), second in assists (2.5), and first in steals (2.5) in 29.3 minutes per game. After 21 inconsistent minutes against Texas Southern, Musselman elected to bench Jones for the final 13 minutes of the game.
“Focus,” Musselman cited as the reason he sat Jones. “I felt like he needed to be a little bit more focused on both ends of the floor. Defensive assignment stuff. Also, the team’s playing well, so when you’re playing well sometimes you roll with those guys, well not sometimes, I’m always going to roll with whoever’s playing well. Whoever is playing with a ton of energy and a lot of enthusiasm.
“I’m sure that just like any player he’d love to play as many minutes as possible, which means 40 minutes. But he’s been great. He and I talked yesterday after practice. Now that he’s four games into his junior year, we need leadership from him, not just to be a good player. Obviously, he is a good player. We all know that. I think the next step in his progress is to become a leader. That’s part of our job as coaches. There are a lot of people that say, ‘This guy is a natural born leader,’ and all that. Well, yes some guys are, I think that’s true. But then there are other guys that with nurturing and talking to them, you’ve got to explain what the true meaning of leadership is. A lot of these guys are still learning stuff, as I’m still learning, too.”
Senior guard Jimmy Whitt, Jr. has scored a total of 44 points in Arkansas’s last three games — reaching double-figures in each of those outings — and he’s the Hogs’ third-leading scorer on the season at 11.5 points per game. He’s also the second-leading rebounder on the team (5.5) while notching 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals in 31.3 minutes per game.
Arkansas has struggled shooting the ball, especially from beyond the 3-point arc (28.0% on the season), but Whitt has emerged not only as Arkansas’s third most-reliable scoring option, but he has often been the catalyst to score early for the Hogs in getting them out of the gates offensively. His ability to back down his defender and score with a variety of turnaround jumpers in or near the paint has been especially impressive.
After serving a three-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules, sophomore forward Reggie Chaney saw his first action of the season against Texas Southern and logged 19 minutes, 6 points (on 3-of-4 field goals), 4 steals, 2 rebounds, and 1 block.
“I thought Reggie was really good from a energy standpoint,” Musselman said. “He’s unique. When you’re running sets and stuff and he’s on the scout team, you’re always worried because you’re adding new plays. We try to add a new play to start every game and we’ll continue to do that. So I’ve been kind of worried with him being out where he would be from an execution standpoint … He’s one of those guys that you’re not sure how much he’s paying attention, and then when he goes out and executes, he always seems to be in the right place. He’s got this innate ability to kind of figure out where he should be and to have good spacing.
“I thought he was really good for us. I think his wind, that’s going to get better and better with each game, so we’ll kind of have to watch how long his minutes are. He might not be a guy that plays 12 straight minutes. He might be a guy that is a little bit more short bursts of minutes until he gets his wind exactly where it needs to be.”
After South Dakota, Arkansas goes on the road for the first time to play Georgia Tech (2-1) in Atlanta. Tip is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT on Monday and the game will be televised by ACC Network.