Cunningham a challenge for Moody and Razorbacks

Arkansas freshman guard Moses Moody said the Razorbacks’ matchup with Oklahoma State at 3 p.m. Saturday is more than just a showdown between him and his former Monteverde Academy teammate and top NBA prospect Cade Cunningham.

Moody, one of the most mentally mature freshmen to suit up for the Hogs in recent memory, said the game is about the two teams not the two individuals.

That said, pride will no doubt be on the line for the 6-8 Cunningham, who plays the point for the Cowboys, and 6-6 Moody, who plays a little bit of guard and forward in the Razorbacks’ system – team pride that is.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Oklahoma State
When: 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30
Where: Stillwater, OK
Current Record: 13-4

Next four games

Feb. 2 – Mississippi State (8 p.m. SEC Network)
Feb. 6 – Texas A&M (5 p.m. SEC Network)
Feb. 9 – at Kentucky (6 p.m. ESPN/2)
Feb. 13 – at Missouri (3 p.m.ESPN2/U)

The Cowboys (10-4, 4-4 Big 12) and the Hogs (13-4, 5-4 SEC) are attempting to position themselves for a run at making the NCAA Tournament.

A loss wouldn’t be a killer for either squad’s NCAA resume, but a victory would help bolster either team’s chances of having their dance card punched on March 14’s Selection Sunday.

The Razorbacks went 8-0 in nonconference play in November and December but didn’t exactly play the toughest slate of teams. Their lone road nonconference game against Tulsa was called off because of Covid-19 issues plaguing the Golden Hurricane.

Picking up a road nonconference victory Saturday against a highly regarded opponent like OSU would only lend more legitimacy to the Razorback cause of returning to NCAA Tournament play for the first time since 2017.

A defeat of the Hogs would also be another notch on the Cowboys’ holster as they play their way through the turbulent Big 12 Conference.

While there is no doubt Cunningham, who missed OSU’s last two games because of contact tracing, and Moody will see each other on the court, grad transfer Jalen Tate will likely draw the difficult task of guarding Cunningham most of the afternoon if he can stay out of foul trouble. Tate always draws the defensive assignment of the best guard on the opposing unit.

At 6-6 the slender but sinewy Tate usually has a height advantage on his assigned player. That won’t be the case with the 6-8, 220-pound Cunningham, who is built more like an outside linebacker than your average point guard.

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman could deploy the soft half-court double team the Razorbacks have used with success against Auburn and Ole Miss in hopes of forcing Cunningham to give the ball up; however, doing so might a double-edged sword.

Cunningham is one of the best young passers in the college game. He might eat such a double team alive with his pin-point dishes.

That being said, Musselman will likely have something up his sleeves to help his Hogs handle the pressure Cunningham puts on a defense.

The Razorbacks are riding a three-game SEC winning streak going into their game at Stillwater. The Hogs throttled Ole Miss, 74-59, last Wednesday night, thanks to a strong 48.1 percent shooting night from the floor.

JD Notae led the Hogs with 19 points off the bench, with Davonte Davis also adding 14 points and 6 rebounds in a relief role. Justin Tate scored 10 points and had 6 rebounds, while Desi Sills and Tate each scored 9.

Connor Vanover had one of his best all-around performances of the season with 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots.

Moody did not play poorly against Ole Miss, but with just five points and 3 rebounds, he was under his averages of 16.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

Win or lose Saturday, my expectation is for Moody to play well, and hopefully that will lead to an impactful victory for the Razorbacks as they head into the second half of their SEC season next week.