Will Battle 4 Atlantis bring out the best in the Razorbacks?

Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

When the No. 20 Arkansas Razorbacks take the floor at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against the Stanford Cardinal for their first game in the Battle 4 Atlantis Invitational in Imperial Arena at Paradise Island, Bahamas, head coach Eric Musselman will be looking for more intensity and much better defensive play from his Hogs than in their last appearance.

North Carolina-Greensboro took the starch out of the Razorbacks’ uniforms last Friday, upsetting the Hogs, 78-72, in a contest that Arkansas’ players could not have taken seriously.

The Razorbacks (3-1) embarrassed themselves and their fans with lackadaisical play to a degree that we’ve not often seen in the previous four years under Musselman.

The Razorbacks did not shoot that bad from the field in the contest at 43.6 percent even compared to the uncommonly good 48.1 percent that the Spartans shot. 

However, the Hogs continued to fire up too many 3-point shots on a night when they were not falling. Arkansas hit just 17.1 percent of their treys as compared to the Spartans’ 37.5 percent.

The Spartans also beat Arkansas on the boards 32-30. The discrepancy wasn’t much, but it meant everything in a game where a major underdog out hustled and outplayed the Hogs like the Spartans did.

It seemed like the more treys the Hogs missed, the more they wanted to shoot. 

No doubt, it takes more work to get the ball inside for better shots, but the Hogs were intent on winning easy instead of busting their tails to deny the ball and defend on defense and execute on offense.

As frustrating as the Hogs’ play was offensively, their lack of passion on defense was striking. 

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Stanford
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 22
Where: Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas

Next 5 games

Nov. 23 – Memphis or Michigan, Battle 4 Atlantis (ESPNU)
Nov. 24 – TBD, Battle 4 Atlantis (ESPNU)
Nov. 29 – Duke (ESPN)
Dec. 4 – Furman (SEC+)
Dec. 9 – Oklahoma (ESPN2)

The Spartans, who aren’t a bad team, beat the flat footed Razorbacks with solid execution, sound passing, and excellent cuts to the basket. They got the shots they wanted and worked for all night against a bunch of Razorbacks who looked disinterested at times. 

Arkansas’ perimeter defense once again was not up to Musselman’s expectation.

It’s going to be interesting to see who and how the Razorbacks play this week in their three appearances in the invitational. I have no doubt Musselman made his frustration known to his team in any number of creative and provoking ways since last Friday.

I would not be surprised to see a different starting lineup and player rotation when the Hogs face Stanford (3-1), which should be a formidable test for the Razorbacks. 

Stanford will have a size advantage over the Razorbacks no matter who draws playing time for the Hogs. Maxime Raynaud, is a 7-1 junior, who is a dominating presence for the Cardinal, averaging 19.3 points, 9 rebounds, 2.3 assist and 1.5 assists per game. He’s shooting at 56 percent from the field, and is as potent of an inside threat as the Razorbacks have seen since their exhibition victory over Purdue.

Raynaud is bolstered by the play of 6-8 senior Brandon Angel, who is averaging 18 points a game and has an almost unbelievable 100 percent shooting average from 3-point range and the free-throw line through two games. He missed Stanford’s last two games, but is expected to play against the Razorbacks.

Michael Jones, a 6-5 senior, is a steady hand for the Cardinal, and 6-7 freshman Andrej Stojakovic, the son of former NBA sharp-shooter Peja Stojakovic, is playing better and better for the Cardinal with the more time he sees on the court.

Senior point guard Jared Bynum (5-10) is averaging an incredible 8.5 assists per game, which leads the nation. Stanford moves the ball with precision, and if the Razorbacks are not on their toes Wednesday, the Cardinal could slice them up like a holiday ham.

If the Razorbacks don’t bring a better effort to the court than they did last Friday, this game could be more embarrassing than dropping a game to UNC-Greensboro. 

Of course, Musselman knows that, and he has no doubt been pushing the Razorbacks’ psychological and physical buttons since that loss. It is going to be interesting to see how the Hogs respond to the unexpected piece of adversity from that loss, and the challenge playing a team that shoots as well as Stanford.

The Hogs can not continue the two-game trend of playing so poorly on defense, particularly guarding and closing out on 3-point shooters. Old Dominion and UNC-Greensboro combined to nail 20 of 48 3-pointers against the Razorbacks for 41.7 percent. That’s a percentage that will get you beat on many nights.

Musselman is a master of making adjustments, and while the Hogs did have a long flight, no doubt he has put much thought and work in attempting to straighten out the Razorbacks’ defensive hurdles.

Despite his poor shooting night against UNC-Greensboro, Khalif Battle continues to lead the Razorbacks in scoring with 16.5 ppg., followed by Tramon Mark at 14.5 ppg., El Ellis at 14.3 ppg., Trevon Brazile at 10.8 ppg., and Devonte Davis at 8.8 ppg.

Brazile leads the Hogs in rebounding with 6.5. boards per game, and is blocking 2.8 shots per contest. Ellis leads the Razorbacks in assists with 3.75 per game, while Davis is averaging 3 per game.

Brazile is generally considered to be the Hogs’ most talented player. We’ve seen his skill and ability stand out in spurts, but we have yet to see him truly exert himself after last year’s knee injury. He has the ability to be a double-double guy on any given night, but is he willing to give that effort every night out? Maybe the killer instinct will kick in during this trip?

The Hogs will play three games in three days while in the Bahamas. On Thanksgiving Day, the Razorbacks will play either Memphis or Michigan at either 4 or 6:30 p.m., depending on the outcome of Wednesday’s games. Arkansas will also play on Friday at a time to be determined.