Tuesday February 8th, 2022
Auburn Tigers at Arkansas Razorbacks
Bud Walton Arena - Fayetteville, Arkansas
Time: 6:00PM CT
Network: ESPN2, Auburn Radio Network
A lot of the talk in the SEC lately has been focused on Auburn and Kentucky but the hottest team in the league aside from Auburn might be Auburn’s opponent tonight. It’s not only one of the hottest teams in the league, but for Auburn, it will be one of the toughest environments, if not the toughest environment the Tigers will face this season.
Auburn (22-1, 10-0) looks to win their 20th straight game tonight as they head to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas (18-5, 7-3), winners of 8 straight themselves. Arkansas is now 7-3 in the league after an 0-3 start to league play, which also featured a win over West Virginia in the middle of their winning streak.
Auburn comes into today’s game after a much closer than expected 74-72 win over Georgia in Athens. It was certainly not one of Auburn’s best games who missed Zep Jasper who missed the Georgia game due to a non-COVID illness. It sounds he is questionable for tonight and would certainly be a huge loss if he does not play tonight.
Auburn built a 42-30 halftime lead that was immediately erased by the Bulldogs who suddenly went from ice cold to red hot shooting the basketball. The teams went back and forth the last 15 minutes with Wendell Green’s game winner with 3.3 seconds left being the difference. Green played a season-high 36 minutes and had 19 points and 5 rebounds. Green’s game against Georgia along with his huge outing against Alabama last Tuesday earned him SEC Player of the Week honors as Green averaged 21 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 4.5 APG last week for Auburn.
KD Johnson returned to Athens for the first time and led Auburn with 20 points Saturday in what was a successful trip considering Auburn got the win. But Auburn will need much more from Jabari Smith this evening. In his last 2 road games, Smith is averaging just 6 PPG and took the second fewest shots on Saturday (7) that he’s taken all season. Auburn needs to involve Jabari more in the offense and if Auburn wants to walk out of Fayetteville with a win, they’re going to need a game from Jabari that mirrors his performance at Coleman Coliseum instead of at Stegeman Coliseum.
A lot of folks are waiting for Allen Flanigan to return to his last season form and perhaps tonight is the night as he returns to his home state. Flanigan is averaging 7.1 PPG this season but I thought he played well against Alabama last Tuesday. If Jasper is unable to go, I would expect he might get a little bit of run at Point Guard but also the assignment of guarding JD Notae, the leading scorer for Arkansas.
Tonight’s a massive game though for both teams as Auburn will be the first visiting team to come to Bud Walton Arena as the #1 team. UNLV was the last team to come to Fayetteville as the #1 team back in 1991 when they were still playing in the old Barnhill Arena.
Get to Know Arkansas
After making it all the way to the Elite 8 last season, there were high expectations for this Arkansas basketball team this season. I picked Arkansas to finish 2nd in the preseason and the first couple of games of league play made me look pretty foolish. But after destroying Missouri on January 12th, Arkansas has reeled off an 8-game winning streak, with their win at LSU on January 15th being the catalyst for the Hogs recent success.
Arkansas started the season 9-0 but then lost 5 of 6 games between early December and early January. The Razorbacks have done a lot of it improving their defense as in the winning streak, teams are scoring just 60.5 PPG.
Currently, Arkansas sits at #27 in KenPom and #37 in NET. As a team, they average 78.6 PPG and allow 68 PPG. They shoot 30.6% from 3 and 73.8% from the free throw line.
Leading the way for Arkansas is senior guard JD Notae (#1) who leads the SEC averaging 18.7 PPG and also averages 4.6 RPG. Notae was the named SEC Sixth Man of the Year last season by the SEC coaches but has taken on a much bigger role in his second season in Fayetteville after beginning his career at Jacksonville University. Notae has established himself as the go-to player for the Hogs this season. He has over 150 more shot attempts than the next closest player and nearly 100 more 3-point attempts. Notae is shooting 30.4% from 3 (48-158) and shooting 74% from the FT line this season.
Next is senior guard Au’Diese Toney (#5), a Huntsville native, who transferred in from Pittsburgh last offseason. This season, Toney is averaging 10.8 PPG and 5.3 RPG. Toney has the best FG% on the team (minimum 100 FGA) at 57.9% and shoots 37.5% from 3, albeit on just 16 attempts (6-16).
Next is grad transfer guard Stanley Umude (#0), the South Dakota transfer, who averaged 21.6 PPG last season for the Coyotes and was a first-team all Summit League player. This year for Arkansas, he is averaging 10.7 PPG. Umude is shooting 33.9% from 3 this season and had a season-high 31 points last Wednesday at Georgia.
Like Auburn, Arkansas has a small guard coming off the bench that plays a big role on their team. 5’7” graduate transfer guard Chris Lykes (#11) is averaging 9.4 PPG this season after transferring from Miami. Lykes played just 2 games last year due to injury but 2 years ago averaged 15.4 PPG for the Canes. Lykes is an 84.6% FT shooter and 30.3% from 3.
Sticking with the guards, sophomore Davonte Davis (#4) is another important contributor to this Arkansas team off the bench averaging 8.7 PPG and 4.3 RPG. His numbers have been down in league play but he’s certainly capable of going out and getting 25 points if need be.
Now we’ll shift to the frontcourt, which is led by sophomore forward Jaylin Williams (#10). The Fort Smith native was a highly sought after recruit by Auburn but elected to stay home and play for Eric Musselman in Fayetteville. He is averaging 9.4 PPG and 9.1 RPG this season as he’s played a much bigger role this season than last. He also is shooting 31.3% from 3.
Starting alongside Williams in the frontcourt will be another graduate transfer, Trey Wade (#3). The Wichita State transfer is averaging 3.6 PPG this season.
Lastly, rounding out the expected rotation, which is about 8-deep is junior forward Kamani Johnson (#20), a transfer from Little Rock averaging 3.2 PPG this season.
Tonight will be the toughest road environment Auburn has faced and likely will face this season. The school has deemed this a White Out game and students camped out overnight to be in line for tonight’s contest. It’s going to be quite the scene at Bud Walton Arena and the people around the area are fired up for this one. Unlike several road games for Auburn, this won’t be one that a bunch of Auburn fans will be able to help this team out as much. This is a game that for months now, I looked at as a game that Auburn could very well lose. I’ve still kept that mindset as the season has gone along and the past 2 road performances have only made me think that’s even more possible.
That said, tonight is a great opportunity for Auburn to remind America of how good and talented this team really is. The status of Zep Jasper will be critical to tonight’s outcome. This would be a great time for Jabari Smith to remind everyone why he is the potential #1 pick in the NBA Draft this summer. My head tonight says Arkansas but my heart says Auburn. Either way, if tonight’s the night Auburn loses, I won’t be too surprised but this would be one of Auburn’s best wins of the season if they’re able to pull it off. I’ll pick Auburn for the sake of “Peacocking” but I’m not very confident in this prediction.