Hogs making most of time between games

FAYETTEVILLE — The 13th-ranked Arkansas men’s basketball team is wrapping up an odd stretch of its schedule ahead of Wednesday’s home game against Missouri.

Since Dec. 10, the Razorbacks have played only four games. Meetings with Bradley in North Little Rock on Dec. 17 and at LSU on Dec. 28 came one week after the previous game.

Arkansas’ next game against 20th-ranked Missouri will tip off one week after its SEC opener in Baton Rouge, La. The schedule will then return to normalcy the remainder of the regular season.

Eric Musselman, the Razorbacks’ fourth-year coach, said Monday that his group has taken advantage of the latest gap between outings. The team has combined a couple of days off with good practices in which players fine tuned a number of things on both ends of the floor.

Musselman threw a wrinkle into workouts, as well.

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“We’ve gone more live than we probably ever have in the seven-and-a-half years I’ve been a college coach to try to clean up some areas that we want to improve on, both offensively and defensively,” Musselman said. “We have been going live a lot more than what we normally would do.”

Asked which aspects of the game the Razorbacks need to tend to most, Musselman noted “there are a lot of areas” before pointing first to three-point defense.

Arkansas ranks in the top 25 nationally in that category at 28.4%, and it has held three straight opponents under 27.0% from deep. Bradley, North Carolina-Asheville and LSU combined to make 10 threes on 44 tries.

The Razorbacks will be tested by a Missouri offense that sits inside the top 50 in the country in perimeter shooting. The Tigers have hit 37.1% of their three-point looks, including 47.1% of 70 attempts in the last three games.

Cleveland State transfer D’Moi Hodge leads Missouri with 41 threes (98 attempts), and Clemson transfer Nick Honor is second with 25 (56 attempts). Both players are shooting better than 41% beyond the arc.

“We’ve done a pretty good job defending the three all year,” Musselman said. “Missouri is a little bit different because Hodge will get some leak-out threes where he’ll shoot those in transition. He’s got great confidence.

“I think every team’s got a different identity, but you’ve got to locate those guys quickly in transition, and they’re really good at getting loose balls, so that’s a big part of the game, as well.”

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This time of the year and juncture of the season is also ideal for self scouting, Musselman said. The up-and-down stretches of practices have helped in that regard.

But perhaps more than anything else, Musselman is hopeful live segments will keep the Razorbacks crisp.

In December, they allowed 0.85 points per possession, according to HoopLens. Arkansas will need to continue its high-level defensive play against Missouri, which, per KenPom data, posted offensive efficiency ratings north of 130.0 in blowout wins over Illinois and Kentucky the last two times out.

“I think if we would have played two games this week we probably would not have had the ability to go live,” Musselman said. “It’s kind of weird and unique that you have a three-day Christmas break, you play one game then have another week off. Not much basketball has been played over a 12-day stretch, so to speak.

“In the past, we’ve tried to make sure that we don’t go live so it keeps everybody healthy. We’re at a point right now where we’ve got to keep getting better in a lot of areas.”