The No. 16 Arkansas Razorbacks play away from home for the first time this season when they face the Kansas State Wildcats in the opening round of the Hall of Fame Classic on Monday night. The game is scheduled for a 9 p.m. ET opening tip at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo.
The Razorbacks (3-0) have rolled in their first three games, including a 93-80 victory over the Northern Iowa Panthers on Wednesday. Arkansas will take on either the Cincinnati Bearcats or the Illinois Fighting Illini in their second game of the tournament on Tuesday.
Kansas State (2-0) has also played at home for its first two contests and is coming off a 79-64 win over the Omaha Mavericks on Wednesday. The Wildcats are hoping for a better season than 2020-21, when they went just 9-20.
Arkansas may have a perfect record, but coach Eric Musselman definitely has things for his team to work on. One of those is defending the 3-pointer, especially after Northern Iowa connecting on 17 from beyond the arc in Wednesday’s game.
“They hadn’t shot the ball very well before they met our defense,” Musselman said after Wednesday’s win. “I can promise you guys that defending the three was part of the game plan coming in. We seem to have solved most of the issues that have come up through a small three-game sample size. We have not solved defending the three-point line.”
The Razorbacks, usually known for their stifling defense under Musselman, have allowed opponents to connect on 43.4 percent on their three-pointers. That’s not a stat that can continue if Arkansas is going to compete in the SEC.
Senior guard JD Notae has led the way offensively for the Razorbacks, scoring 21.7 points per game. Notae leads the team with 10 three-pointers.
Another senior guard, 5-foot-7 reserve Chris Lykes, is scoring well also, averaging 15.7 points while hitting 60 percent from beyond the arc. Senior Au’Diese Toney is scoring 11.3 points and grabbing a team-high 7.3 rebounds per contest.
Kansas State’s improvement was shown in its last game against Omaha, a team the Wildcats beat by just two in the 2020-21 college basketball season. Things were a little easier this time, with Kansas State leading by as many as 26 points before giving up some garbage-time buckets to make it a more respectable final.
Much of the turnaround has been at the offensive end, with the Wildcats shooting 52.8 percent against the Mavericks. Sophomore guard Nijel Pack has led the way this season with 16.5 points per game and has connected on 63.6 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Senior guard Mark Smith — a transfer from Missouri — has also played well to start the season, averaging 11.5 points and 7.0 rebounds. Another transfer, sophomore forward Ismael Massoud (Wake Forest), could be a big factor on the interior after scoring 15 points in the win over Omaha.
Razorbacks Earn Win
Kansas State is much improved from last season, but it will have trouble keeping up with the Razorbacks. Look for Arkansas to pull away late to advance to Tuesday’s title game.
When making your college basketball picks, take Arkansas to win and cover.