On Saturday, the Vols fell to the Kentucky Wildcats in Knoxville by a score of 77-64. The Vols did a good job of slowing down the Cats’ two best players, and even the one I consider to be option number three. However, we failed to stop a scrub and two second-tier UK players though, and that is what got us.
That being said, Kentucky is (for now) in the rear view, and up ahead is a team that I have gained a lot of respect for over the past decade or so; the Arkansas Razorbacks. Let’s take a look at the program over there in Arkansas and how this season is shaping up, as well as talk about who the Vols will need to key on and how we matchup. Finally, I’ll give you my final score prediction. So let’s dive in!
- School: University of Arkansas
- Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas
- Mascot: Razorbacks
- Conference: SEC
- Coach: Eric Musselman (1st season)
- 2019-2020 Record: 16-7 (4-6 SEC)
- Current NCAA Tournament Projection (Lunardi): 9th seed in Midwest Region
- Last Game Against the Vols: 1/15/2019- The Volunteers outpaced the Razorbacks 106-87. Lamonte Turner led the Vols with 21 points, and Jordan Bowden scored 19.
- Notable Former Player: Joe Johnson- At Arkansas, a freshman Joe Johnson was the catalyst for a Razorbacks SEC Tournament Title in 2000. In only two years in Fayetteville, Johnson was a 2-time All-SEC player (regular season and tournament), a member of the SEC All-Freshman Team as well as 1999-2000 SEC Rookie of the Year. During his two-season stint in Arkansas, Johnson averaged 15.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists, and was an Honorable Mention All-American as a sophomore. In the NBA, “Iso Joe” was the 10th overall pick for the Celtics in 2001, and played for 7 teams in 17 seasons, most notably with the Atlanta Hawks. He was selected to the All-Rookie team in 2000-2001, All-NBA team in 2009-2010, and was a 7x NBA all star. Over the course of his NBA career, Johnson averaged 16.0 points, 3.9 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game.
Joe, Jimmy, and Jones
The backcourt is as far as you need to look into the Razorbacks’ lineup to know who the Vols will need to key on in Tuesday’s showdown. Arkansas’ team is so unbalanced towards the backcourt that their complete lack of an inside presence is often their undoing. I’ve heard tale of the tallest player in the SEC being on the end of the Arkansas bench, but I’ve also been told he cannot chew gum and breathe, let alone walk, at the same time.
With the news coming down that Isaiah Joe will be out of action for the foreseeable future after undergoing an arthroscopic procedure of the right knee, the Razorbacks are going to be hard-pressed to replace his production. As a sophomore this season, the likely first round NBA draft pick was averaging 16 points, 1.6 steals, and 4.3 rebounds per game and was shooting 34.0% from behind the arc. He was the obvious deep-threat for the Razorbacks, and they are going to sorely miss his ability to stretch defenses.
No, not Jimmy Chitwood, though he definitely would have fit in at Arkansas. The Jimmy I’m speaking of Is Jimmy Whitt. After transferring from Arkansas following his freshman season, sitting out a year, playing two seasons at SMU, and oddly transferring back to Arkansas (my word- how convoluted), the former top 100 recruit is having a pretty good senior campaign. Averaging 14.7 points per contest, Whitt is number three on the Razorbacks’ season scoring list. While he is more of a solid player than an actually good one, I have included him in this portion of the article not only for the alliteration opportunity his name provided me with, but also to reaffirm how skewed the Razorbacks scoring is towards the backcourt.
***Sidenote- if anyone saw the faux-pas that ESPN/SECN had the other night with John Fulkerson’s name being under a much different looking feller allegedly in Tennessee’s lineup, this was the guy the picture was of.
Here is the player the Vols really need to pay attention to. Not just the Vols, but the entire SEC. Bias and fandom aside, one of my favorite players in the SEC is Mason Jones. The 6’5” Guard from DeSoto, Texas is the heart and soul of this Razorbacks team. He has also been on a tear as of late, averaging 27 points over the last six games. For the season, Mason Jones is averaging 20.5 points (current #1 in SEC), 6.1 boards, and 3.4 assists per game, and even has a couple of games of 40+ point performances.
Of all players in the SEC, Jones’ usage percentage (a measure of how many possessions directly incorporate the play of said player) is second highest at 30.9%, trailing only UGA’s Anthony Edwards. He is an average shooter, but uses his frame to get himself to the basket and can score on the attack or draw a foul and head to the stripe, where he is the SEC’s leader in FT attempts and converts at an 81% rate. Jones has the 6th highest player efficiency rating in the conference and is the league leader in overall points produced at 444.
He is a very good defensive player and will likely be matched up with whichever Vol Musselman deems the biggest threat. Jones leads the SEC in Defensive Win Shares at 1.8, which in a nutshell means his defense alone has a MAJOR impact on games and their outcomes. Even if he is having an off-night on the offensive end, he will definitely find a way to impact the game. At season’s end, look for Jones to be an either 1st or 2nd All-SEC Team selection, as well as find a place on some defensive awards lists.
I am pretty sure I have mentioned it before, but it’s astonishing when you look at how well the Vols play against teams with smaller lineups compared to teams that are larger and have more of an inside presence. The average Razorback player on this year’s team is 6’4” tall (and that is including the big kid I made reference to earlier), and they very rarely have a player taller than 6’6” on the court.
Because Isaiah Joe is not a player the Razorbacks seem to have a substitute for, combined with their VERY small lineup, I think the Vols will have the upper hand in this contest. I look for it to be a lower scoring affair, but my prediction is Vols 64 Razorbacks 56. Look for our post players to have big games; I for one will be keeping a close eye on John Fulkerson and Uros Plavsic, as I anticipate Rick Barnes doing all he can to reinforce the post-advantage we should possess.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. The Vols are 13-10 and all but certainly out of the NCAA Tournament barring some sort of miraculous run. However, we will be able to get more looks at the players that we will be seeing a lot more of next season. Also, with such a wide-open conference, a 4th place finish in the SEC which comes with that ever-elusive double bye IS still in play. So I’ll keep watching, and suggest you do the same!
For minute to minute news concerning all aspects of all Volunteer sports, be sure to check out MoreImportantIssues on Twitter (@More_Issues), as well as listening to the podcast on any of the various podcast platforms! Trust me, Landon and Caleb won’t let you down If you’re looking for quality Big Orange talk with a laid-back attitude. Until we meet again, this is Dakota Robertson saying see ya later and Go Vols!
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