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#11 Auburn at Arkansas Game Preview and Open Thread

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Auburn’s tough stretch continues tonight in Fayetteville!

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Tuesday February 4th

Opponent: Arkansas Razorbacks

Location: Bud Walton Arena - Fayetteville, Arkansas

Time: 6PM

Network: SEC Network, Auburn Radio Network

Auburn is in the middle of a tough 4 game stretch against teams all ranked in the Top 45 of the NET Rankings. Auburn picked up their best win of the season knocking off Kentucky at home to kick off this 4 game stretch. Tonight is their lone road game of this stretch and it’s against a team and a program who has been rejuvenated this season.

Tonight will be the first time Bruce Pearl faces off with Eric Musselman as Auburn heads to Arkansas to take on the Razorbacks. Musselman has done wonders in his 1st year in Fayetteville, not only on the court but off the court as well. His immediate connection to fans around the state, plus locking down most of the top High School talent in the state to become future Hogs suddenly has put the Arkansas program back on the rise in the SEC.

Get to Know Arkansas

Tonight is a huge game for Arkansas as they come into tonight’s game at 16-5 (4-4 in the SEC). But like Auburn on Saturday, this team needs a signature win and can get one tonight. Their best wins so far are at Indiana and against Tulsa but 3 of their 4 SEC wins are against Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. They come into tonight’s game off a win in Tuscaloosa against Alabama so they have some momentum coming into tonight’s contest. As a team, the Hogs average 74.6 PPG while giving up just 64.6 PPG.

Junior Guard Mason Jones (#15) - 19.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.5 APG

The biggest reason for the Hogs success this year has been the emergence of their guard play, led by Mason Jones. When Daniel Gafford left for the NBA, Joe was expected to take over the leading scorer role. Joe has had a great year but Jones, has become a star for this Razorbacks squad.

Jones leads the SEC in scoring, has been SEC Player of the Week 3 times (including last week) and leads the Hogs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game. He plays multiple positions on the floor, including time at point guard. He’s a 34.2% 3-point shooter and has scored 34 and 30 in his last 2 games, the first time an Arkansas player has scored 30 in consecutive games done that in 18 years. Jones has 4 games this year where he has scored at least 30 including a 41 point performance against Tulsa. Jones also gets to the free throw line at a high rate. Auburn shot 44 free throws against Kentucky. That’s the number of free throws Mason Jones has attempted in the last 3 games (he’s made 31 of them). I would expect to see Isaac Okoro and Samir Doughty get the bulk of the defensive assignment on him and this could be a good/bad night for the IOE (Isaac Okoro Effect). Here’s Eric Musselman talking about Mason’s emergence this season.

Sophomore Guard Isaiah Joe (#1) - 16 PPG, 4.3 RPG

Joe is questionable with a knee injury and we’ll see if he is able to play tonight. He was scoreless in 21 minutes of action against Alabama. Joe is a big piece on this team which makes their win on Saturday even more impressive. Joe is a high-volume 3-point shooter, averaging 10.6 attempts a game. Saturday’s game was the first time all year he had taken less than 6 3-point attempts (he took 3). He’s a 34% 3-point shooter (72-212) this season and 76.3% of his shots come from long range.

Senior Guard Jimmy Whitt Jr. (#33) - 15.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG

Whitt has an interesting story. He began his college career at Arkansas before transferring to SMU after his freshman season. He played 2 years there before transferring back to Arkansas for his senior season. I’m having a hard time recalling ever seeing that before but nevertheless, Whitt has flourished this season providing Arkansas with another scorer. While listed as a guard, he has only attempted 1 3-pointer this season. With Joe injured, Whitt had 26 points in the Alabama game on Saturday and is capable to score 25-30. With Auburn giving up big numbers to team’s secondary leading scorers this year, Whitt might be the guy to keep an eye on, especially with Isaiah Joe not at 100%.

Sophomore Guard Desi Sills (#3) - 9.5 PPG

Sills is another guy that will be asked to do more this evening and he has the ability to score 20, as he did earlier this year at Western Kentucky where he tied his season-high making 3 3-pointers.

Senior Forward Adrio Bailey (#2) - 6 PPG, 4.5 RPG

Bailey rounds out the starting 5 for the Razorbacks. He played just 6 minutes in Tuscaloosa and didn’t score and Coach Musselman is looking for more out of his big man.

Arkansas only goes about 7-8 deep with primarily Jalen Harris and Reggie Chaney coming off the bench.

Keys for Auburn

You may have noticed above that nearly everyone I listed above is a guard. Arkansas has a shortage of big men and this is a favorable matchup for Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore. Wiley had a great game against Kentucky going for 12 points and 10 rebounds and doing an effective job slowing down Nick Richards. McLemore also had his part in slowing down Richards and Auburn could use some of Mac’s 3-point shooting we saw in Oxford last week.

Isaac Okoro took the Kentucky game over late and personally, I hope we see more of that coming down the stretch. With about 7 minutes to go, Okoro had just 3 points but finished the game by making a pair of 3s and getting to the free throw line. With Arkansas struggling with depth, this is another game in which Auburn would be wise to get the ball in the paint and draw fouls. It worked well against Kentucky.

From a guard perspective, we’ll see how J’Von McCormick and Samir Doughty fare against Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe. McCormick had 9 turnovers last Tuesday against Ole Miss and will need to protect the ball much better tonight. Doughty had 23 against Kentucky, including 16 of Auburn’s first 21 to keep the Tigers afloat in the 1st half. In 4 SEC road games, Doughty is shooting 3-20 from 3-point range and Auburn needs to be able to make some 3s if they want to get out of Fayetteville with a W.

Prediction

As of this writing (late Monday night), Auburn is a slight underdog going into this game. This is an important game for both teams, especially Arkansas as they look for a signature win. For Auburn, this win would further validate their win over Kentucky and would set them up well for a showdown with #18 LSU on Saturday. In addition, this will be one of the toughest SEC road environments Auburn faces all year as Bud Walton will be rocking. If Auburn can assert their will in the paint, I think the Tigers get the job done. If Auburn’s big men struggle, Arkansas will get that signature win they need.

Auburn 79 Arkansas 76