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Arkansas presents final chance for Indiana to bolster nonconference record

After what has been a solid 11-1 start to the season, Indiana will close out nonconference play on Sunday night when the Hoosiers host 10-1 Arkansas.

The game will serve as a good opportunity for either team to get a good boost to the resume. Both teams are in the top 40 of the KenPom rankings with Indiana at No. 34 and Arkansas coming in at No. 37.

Like their KenPom ranking, Indiana and Arkansas are similar for the sake that both teams are viewed a bit skeptically because of the lack of schedule strength to go along with their great records.

Indiana head coach Archie Miller draws up a play during Indiana’s win over Notre Dame on Dec. 21. (Bailey Wright/HN)

It should be noted that at the same time, Indiana’s quality of wins is a lot stronger at this point by comparison to Arkansas. The Hoosiers have beaten a nationally ranked team in No. 17 Florida State and three other major conference opponents in Connecticut, Nebraska and Notre Dame. Arkansas has only played one major conference opponent all season thus far and that was a 62-61 overtime win over Georgia Tech who is 6-6 and No. 101 in KenPom.

Familiar foes

The Razorbacks are a very familiar opponent to the Hoosiers. The two teams squared off twice last season, a very rare occurrence for two teams that are not in the same conference.

Both games were very close matchups and the teams split them. In the first game, Arkansas edged a 73-72 victory over Indiana at home in November. The second time around, Indiana hosted Arkansas and beat them 63-60 as part of the second round of the National Invitation Tournament in March.

The two teams are familiar with one another, but the matchup looks a little bit different from a year ago. The Razorbacks have a new head coach in Eric Musselman who left Nevada, where he made the Sweet 16 in 2018, and replaces Mike Anderson.

Replacing stars

Arkansas and Indiana also each lost some star power in Daniel Gafford of Arkansas and Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford of Indiana all now playing professionally.

In the absence of Gafford, the Arkansas backcourt of junior Mason Jones and sophomore Isaiah Joe have done a good job of replacing the scoring and on-court production.

Jones is the leading scorer and rebounder with an average of 19.6 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game. Jones is also excellent from the free throw line, converting 93 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.

Similar to Jones, Joe is a solid scorer, 16.8 points per game, and good rebounder as well, 4.6 per game. Joe is also a good defender, as he and Jones both have exactly four blocks and 20 steals. Joe is by far Arkansas’ most consistent 3-point shooter, evidently having the green light as he has taken 114 attempts from beyond the arc this season. The next highest 3-point attempt total comes from Jones who has taken 55. Joe has made 34.2 percent of his looks from deep.

Another test for the defense

In addition to trying to slow down Jones and Joe, IU’s defensive collectively will look to bring a lot of on-ball pressure on Arkansas while also clogging the paint and force the Razorbacks to shoot from the 3-point line.

Arkansas commits a decent number of turnovers per contest, 13.7, disrupting passing lanes and forcing the Razorbacks to commit that many turnovers, or more, will be key for Indiana.

Joey Brunk celebrates during Indiana’s win over Notre Dame on Dec. 21. Brunk asserted himself in the paint in Indianapolis, and IU will likely need to perform well down low against Arkansas. (Bailey Wright/HN)

Additionally, owning the paint defensively, as IU has shown it is more than capable of doing this season will be another point of emphasis. Arkansas’ offense scores a lot — 75.1 points per game — but most of that work is done from close to the basket. On the other hand, the Razorbacks struggle tremendously from the 3-point line, only making 29.7 percent of attempts.

While making Arkansas shoot from deep would be a defensive win, it will still end up being a test as IU’s perimeter defense has struggled all season, and many teams who aren’t characteristic of being good 3-point shooting teams have excelled against Indiana.

At the end of the day, this will be an important test for Indiana. This will be the last nonconference opportunity to bolster the Hoosiers’ resume before the gauntlet of Big Ten play takes over full time.

A year ago, Indiana entered the first week of January with an impressive 11-2 record, they left Big Ten play with an 8-12 conference record. This year won’t be any easier.

From the ESPN Basketball Power Index, Indiana is projected to have the toughest strength of schedule in the country for the rest of the season.

Indiana’s true identity is slowly coming to fruition, the Arkansas game and conference play to follow will showcase what exactly that identity entails.

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