Busting Brackets

Arkansas vs LSU: 2019-20 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

LUBBOCK, TX - JANUARY 26: Mason Jones #13 of the Arkansas Razorbacks goes to the basket against Tariq Owens #11 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the second half of the game on January 26, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated Arkansas 67-64. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - JANUARY 26: Mason Jones #13 of the Arkansas Razorbacks goes to the basket against Tariq Owens #11 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the second half of the game on January 26, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated Arkansas 67-64. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /

Arkansas basketball opens up its SEC road schedule in Baton Rouge Wednesday night against LSU. Both teams are looking to get out to 2-0 starts in league play.  Can the Razorbacks get the win in this mid-week match-up?

TV Schedule: Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 | 8 pm (CST) | ESPNU

Location: Pete Maravich Assembly Center | Baton Rouge, Louisiana

It will be a battle between two teams with NCAA Tournament aspirations when Arkansas travels to Baton Rouge to take on LSU Wednesday night.  Both the Razorbacks and Tigers are looking to start 2-0 in league play in what is shaping up to be a wide-open SEC.

Eric Musselman has Arkansas out to one of their best starts in quite some time.  The Razorbacks are 12-1 and knocking on the door of the AP Top-25 that was released Monday.  That record is tops for a first-year coach in program history.

A large part of the Razorbacks’ success so far this season is thanks to a stingy defense that is ranked among the best in the country in points per game allowed, adjusted defensive efficiency, turnovers forced, and three-point field goal defense.

It is also helpful that Arkansas boasts one of the top “1-2 punches” in the country in Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe, who get it done on both ends of the floor combining to average 37 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 3.5 steals per game.

The Razorbacks have won four straight and opened SEC play over the weekend with a 69-59 home win against Texas A&M.  In a tight game that saw the Arkansas front-court in foul trouble, Musselman utilized a rare 5-guard lineup for the final 12:02 to help pull away for the victory.

LSU has gotten off to a bit of an up-and-down start.  They sit at 9-4 on the season, but 1-0 in SEC play after an impressive 78-64 road win at Tennessee over the weekend.  The Tigers have a potent and balanced offensive attack that ranks 18th in the country in scoring.

Five players average double figures for LSU.  Skylar Mays leads the way with 15.9 points per game and leads the team shooting 40.4% from beyond the arc.  Fellow back-court mate Javonte Smart is pitching in 11 points per game and is coming off a 21 point, five three-pointers, performance against Tennessee.

Versatile 5-star freshman Trendon Watford has been as good as advertised, averaging 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.  The lineup is rounded out by a pair of 6’6″ forwards in Emmitt Williams and Darius Days.

Williams has taken a big step forward in his sophomore season and is second in the team in scoring at 13.5 points per game while also pitching in 7.1 rebounds.  Days leads the team in rebounding with 8 per contest and is pumping in 12.7 points per game.

The pundits say that defense travels and Arkansas will need it to if they want to come away with a victory Wednesday.  The Razorbacks rank 18th in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 59.8 points per game.  LSU ranks 22nd in scoring offense at 80.8.  If the Hogs can meet somewhere in the middle and hold the Tigers around 70 points on the game their chances to win increase significantly.

One advantage that Arkansas holds on that end of the floor could be its ability to force turnovers at a high rate.  Arkansas ranks 16th nationally in turnovers forced (18+), and LSU has shown to be a bit turnover prone at times this season.  If the Razorbacks can turn the Tigers over at a rate near their season average, they will be in good shape.

The Razorbacks’ defense can keep them in the game, but they are going to need to score it efficiently to win it.  What is an equally critical component to forcing turnovers for Arkansas is the fast-break opportunities it creates on the other end.  Arkansas has been the definition of streaky offensively this season.  They have two guys, in Joe and Jones, capable of giving you 30 on any given night.  They have two others, Whitt and Sills, who can score it at a high rate as well.

At times, this Razorback team can strike quick.  At their best the Hogs force turnovers, get out in transition, and heat up from three.  They have put some big runs on teams in a hurry. In each of the last four games, Arkansas has connected on ten or more three-pointers.  With their ability to defend the 3-point line (#1 3pt FG defense in country) this puts a lot of pressure on opponents.

On the other hand, they are prone to prolonged scoring droughts where they have to rely heavily on their defense to generate stop after stop until they can take the lid off.  Arkansas can ill afford one of those lulls against an offense as capable as the Tigers.

Winning on the road is never an easy task, but Arkansas should have reason to believe they can get it done.  LSU already has a blemish at home at the hands of East Tennessee State.  Arkansas, on the other hand, are already battle-tested away from Bud Walton.  The Razorbacks have already notched a pair of non-conference Power 5 wins at Georgia Tech and at Indiana.

Next. SEC power rankings entering league play. dark

In the end, this is a coin flip match-up that could truly go either way.  It would be a quality win for the resume of both a certainly not a bad loss regardless of the outcome.  LSU needs to hold serve on their home floor, while Arkansas would love to come out with at least a split on this week’s road trip.  Due to LSU’s balanced offensive attack and homecourt advantage, I will give the Tigers a slight edge in this one.