Busting Brackets

Arkansas Basketball: Takeaways from crucial SEC win over Missouri

Dec 21, 2022; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks guard Ricky Council IV (1) reacts after scoring in the second half against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs at Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas won 85-51. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 21, 2022; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks guard Ricky Council IV (1) reacts after scoring in the second half against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs at Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas won 85-51. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

Looking to avoid starting 0-2 in the SEC, Arkansas Basketball took on a ranked Missouri roster on Wednesday night. The Razorbacks were able to prevail thanks to defense.

Arkansas Basketball rebounded (literally and metaphorically) well after a disappointing upset loss to LSU in their SEC opener with a win over a red-hot Missouri team by a score of 74-68 in Bud Walton Arena. It didn’t come easy either, as they dug a quick 21-8 deficit in the first ten minutes of the game.

But the Hogs responded by chipping at the Missouri lead before regaining it in the second and holding on to the finish. For an Arkansas team that is dealing with some big adversity with the lingering injury to star freshman Nick Smith and the season-ending injury to freakishly athletic big man Trevon Brazile, this was a much-needed win to carry them forward heading into a weekend match-up with a large, physical Auburn team that will look to bounce back following an embarrassing loss to SEC bottom-dweller Georgia.

But even with the injuries they have sustained so far this season and the early deficit they faced in this game, Arkansas found the one big advantage they had against Missouri’s zone defense and finally exploited it. Let’s start there.

Figuring out the Missouri zone defense/Offensive rebounding

Now, usually, I identify three things in each game and point them out afterward. However, zone-busting and offensive rebounding kind of went hand in hand in this scenario so I’m combining two keys to their victory into one here. Let’s start with the challenge they faced to begin the game with Mizzou’s zone.

Dennis Gates’ Missouri team has been great at dictating tempo and throwing teams out of rhythm with their zone defense this year (see Illinois and Kentucky games). Early on against Arkansas, it seemed as if the Razorbacks’ only hopes at getting the ball into the paint would be to hand it off to the 2007 version of Darren McFadden and let him run it in there (easily the coolest era of Arkansas football).

But, they figured it out. And did so without acquiring a time machine and summoning the greatest running back in school history to do the job for them. It started with Jordan Walsh flashing to the soft spot of the zone and fellow freshman Anthony Black finding him with a quick, sharp pass at the free throw line. Walsh took advantage by burying a clean look and after that, cutting into the Missouri lead.

Finding the soft spot of the zone isn’t the only way to beat one. Outside of relying on mid-range jumpers, good offensive rebounding teams can easily take advantage of compact zones. The Hogs absolutely bludgeoned Missouri on the offensive glass and proved that those zone defenses can sometimes be the hardest to block out in. Arkansas crashed the glass, Missouri failed to adequately block out, and it resulted in the Hogs grabbing over 51% of their missed shots in the game! A majority of Arkansas’s first-half points came from second-chance buckets. Overall, Arkansas held an almost unfair 51%-26% offensive rebounding percentage advantage in the game.

The players who feasted the most off of these opportunities were Walsh, Makhi Mitchell, and Kamani Johnson. All three of them grabbed three offensive rebounds apiece and that glass domination out of Missouri’s zone was vital to the first-half comeback effort and cutting the deficit to a manageable number by halftime.

An unexpected hero emerges

Coming into Wednesday night, freshman guard Joseph Pinion only played more than ten minutes in a game once this season, and that came against UNC-Asheville. He logged 27 minutes against Missouri and provided the one thing Arkansas desperately needed to blow the doors off the Missouri zone: three-point shooting.

Arkansas is great at so many things on the basketball court. Three–point shooting is absolutely not one of those things. They made only four of their 25 attempts against LSU and for the year, they’re making under 30% of their tries. The brick houses they toss up from behind the arc in some games can be enough to warrant Lionel Richie speechless.

On Wednesday night, when facing a zone defense that made dribble penetration a near impossibility, the Tigers all but dared Arkansas to make shots from the outside. What they didn’t plan for, was for Pinion to come off the bench and score a career-high 13 points and make three of his six three-point attempts. One of them cut the deficit to single digits in the last minute of the first half. The second came in transition to cut the lead to one during the opening minutes of the second half. The last came from a contested shot on the break of the arc after Missouri abandoned their zone and went to man.

For a kid who only played more than five minutes in a game once this season, he filled in greatly and succeeded in his role to help his team come back. His 13 points were second on the team. Outside of his 3-6 shooting performance from behind the arc, the rest of the team went 3-15.

Turning their elite defense into offense

Arkansas’ bread is buttered on the defensive side of the ball. Against Missouri, their tenacious defense turned into offense to push them past Missouri for good once it finally got them their first lead of the game.

Missouri still managed 1.03 points per possession, but Arkansas took the lead when they converted a few of their seven steals and four blocked shots into transition buckets. Most notably when Pinion came up with a loose ball steal and was able to find Black, who instantly started the fast break and found Ricky Council IV for a dunk to cut the deficit to one. On the next possession, Mitchell swatted a Kobe Brown shot off the backboard that resulted in a Council rebound which then resulted in a Davonte Davis reverse lay-up in a matter of seconds. That gave Arkansas their first lead at 43-42 and never surrendered it back.

The Hogs did a fantastic job of turning many of the tough shots they forced Missouri to take and miss into transition opportunities. Davis and Council are one-man fast breaks and once the Arkansas defense did its job, their best athletes and scorers made it worth it on the other end.

Arkansas also faced a tough challenge with Kobe Brown, who some believe could be a dark horse for SEC player of the year. Brown was coming off two games of 31 and 30-point scoring performances against Illinois and Kentucky. Against Arkansas, he was held in check to only 11 points on 3-7 shooting from the field.

Final Takeaway 

Arkansas is a tough out. This isn’t news to anyone who has watched them this year. They have also faced early injury adversity that many other SEC teams haven’t had to face. Not many teams lose their starting center for the season before conference play or recruit the number one high school player in the country only for him to miss almost all of the season. Arkansas has been punched in the mouth by the injury bug. They also got punched in the mouth on the road against LSU to start the most important stretch of their season.

Missouri came out with a good gameplan. Arkansas got hit in the mouth once more in the first ten minutes of this game but coach Eric Musselman and his team made adjustments and came back for a tough win against a tough physical team.

Next. Underrated impact transfers. dark

It’s also important to note that Council put the team on his back in that game and scored 25 points to lead all scorers. Eleven of those points came from the free throw line. His aggressiveness was another key catalyst to starting the comeback and also putting the game out of reach. Arkansas is still one of the three best teams in this conference and Council is still putting up a convincing campaign to be a first-team All-Conference player.