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Hoops Preview: Arkansas and Missouri are headed in opposite directions... for now

Missouri is trending up and the Razorbacks are sinking fast. Can the Tigers maintain the status quo in Fayetteville?

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Just two weeks ago, we were talking about worst-case scenarios for the Missouri Tigers. The disappointment of preseason expectations unmet already lingering, it also appeared unlikely that Mizzou would find any sort of hope to give fans heading into the offseason. The Rally For Rhyan game against a rival Arkansas seemed like a last chance at restoring any sort of positive momentum.

And what do you know? It worked! The Tigers’ thrilling OT victory over Arkansas has acted as a launching pad for Mizzou 2.0. Since then, the Tigers almost upset LSU on the road before dismantling No. 11 Auburn and squeaking out a win against a feisty Ole Miss squad. Behind the resurgent play of Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith, Missouri seems to have found itself.

On the other hand, Arkansas has hit the skids in a major way. In the three games since the meeting in Columbia, the Razorbacks have suffered road beatdowns against Tennessee and Florida, failing to capitalize on a home date with Mississippi State in between. Isaiah Joe has been absent for five straight games and the Razorbacks are scuttling for any traction without him. Once 14-2, Eric Musselman’s squad has now lost eight of their past 10 games and seem to be in danger of missing out on an NCAA berth that once seemed guaranteed.

So, for now, Missouri and Arkansas are headed in opposite directions; the Tigers even passed Arkansas in the SEC standings. But as we saw just two weeks ago, it only takes one game to turn your fortunes. With their season teetering toward disaster, Arkansas desperately needs to find a way to beat a Missouri team that is playing with more confidence than its had all season.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (13-13) Arkansas (16-10)
Position Missouri (13-13) Arkansas (16-10)
PG Xavier Pinson (So., 6'2", 170) Mason Jones (Jr., 6'5", 200)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Desi Sills (So., 6'1", 196)
WING Javon Pickett (So., 6'5", 220) Jimmy Whitt Jr. (Sr., 6'3", 175)
PF Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) Adrio Bailey (Sr., 6'6", 217)
POST Reed Nikko (Sr., 6'10", 240) Ethan Henderson (So., 6'8", 210)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

For a complete scout on the Razorbacks, visit our preview from the Rally for Rhyan game. The main difference between that game and this one is the possible return of Isaiah Joe from injury. Arkansas’ five-game skid has come without Joe in the lineup, and his addition would give Eric Musselman another explosive guard that Missouri would have to account for. It’s also unlikely Mason Jones will have another 3-for-14 performance like he did in Columbia, so Missouri will need to crack down on his support — four other Razorbacks scored in double figures on February 8.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Arkansas Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Missouri 104.5 (135) 17.8 (219) 47.6 (260) 21 (298) 30.6 (88) 35.9 (94) 31 (284) 48.4 (217) 77.1 (21) 11 (319) 8.8 (146)
Arkansas 92.1 (27) 17.1 (105) 46.2 (46) 23.1 (20) 30.7 (290) 40.7 (317) 25.7 (1) 49.8 (196) 70.3 (151) 10 (114) 11.6 (24)
NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri
Xavier Pinson has been on a tear over the past four games. Will he make it five on Saturday?
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | When will Xavier Pinson cool down?

It’s rare that you see a player put all the pieces together over the course of a few games (rather than a full season), but that’s what appears to be happening with Xavier Pinson. X still isn’t a perfect player, but he’s become a relentless attacker and hot shooter in the past four games, and appears to be taking the lead point guard role by force. The shift has given Missouri a go-to scorer and allowed Missouri’s secondary players to slide into more comfortable roles.

However, as good as Pinson could end up being, he won’t keep this streak of career-highs forever. If Pinson cools down in Fayetteville, the Tigers will need someone (Dru Smith? Javon Pickett? Tray Jackson?) to step in and pick up some slack.

When Arkansas has the ball...

Arkansas Offense vs. Missouri Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Arkansas 105.7 (101) 16.9 (101) 49.6 (166) 16.6 (38) 22 (331) 39.7 (31) 31.3 (266) 51.2 (97) 72.4 (120) 8.9 (177) 7.1 (16)
Missouri 98.1 (103) 17.9 (272) 45.8 (37) 21.6 (45) 29.6 (256) 46.8 (346) 28.5 (9) 47.7 (116) 73.5 (304) 9.6 (128) 10.3 (85)
NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri
Reed Nikko will be the biggest man on the court in Fayetteville. Can he lead the way in the rebounding battle once again?
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Can Missouri dominate the glass again?

It’s not exactly in Arkansas’ strategy to win the board battle, but Missouri absolutely throttled the Razorbacks two weeks ago, out-rebounding them on the offensive and defensive glass for a +17 margin. The teams were fairly even matched in other areas, so it’ll be imperative for Missouri to once again limit second chances and create some of their own with their size. The recent play of Parker Braun could be a major boon for the Tigers — he grabbed a career-high 7 boards and notched 4 blocks against Mississippi.

KenPom predicts...

Arkansas 72, Missouri 64 | An eight-point difference feels like a lot, especially considering the way these two teams are playing. Arkansas is leaking oil without Isaiah Joe, and it’s hard to see them fully righting the ship in his first game back. Missouri, on the other hand, is playing arguably its best ball of the season. That being said, Bud Walton is an intimidating place to play, and it’ll still be impressive if the Tigers continue their streak by picking up their first road win in conference play.