Despite a strong start twelve games into the 2019-20 season, no one would slap a “perfect” label on Indiana.
But in at least one regard, the Hoosiers have a chance to claim perfection before the new year. For the first time since the 2011-12 season, Indiana can finish the nonconference portion of this campaign undefeated if they can get past one more high major hurdle.
For the second time in the last nine months, Arkansas will venture north to Bloomington to face IU.
While the foe is familiar, much has changed with the Razorbacks. Out is former head coach Mike Anderson, with Eric Musselman taking his place after a very successful four year run at Nevada.
While Arkansas hasn’t been tested extensively, Musselman has his new team off to a good start in Fayetteville. Contrasting styles and a hard nosed Razorback defense will force Indiana to have to earn an unblemished mark playing outside of the Big Ten.
GAME DAY ESSENTIALS
Arkansas (10-1) vs. Indiana (11-1)
- Tip time: Sunday / 6 p.m. ET
- Location: Simon Skjodt Assebly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
- Television: The Big Ten Network
- Series: Tied 2-2 (Last meeting Indiana won 63-60 in 2019)
- Point Spread: Vegas likes Indiana by 4.5 points. KenPom likes IU by 4.
- Tickets (Seat Geek affiliate link)
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Arkansas Statistical Leaders
- Mason Jones (G) 19.6 ppg
- Isaiah Joe (G) 16.8 ppg
- Jimmy Whitt (G) 14.1 ppg
- Mason Jones (G) 6.2 rpg
- Jimmy Whitt (G) 5.8 rpg
- Jimmy Whitt (G) 2.5 apg
- Isaiah Joe (G) 2.5 apg
A look at No. 37 Arkansas’ noteworthy KenPom metrics
- An Aggressive and Effective Defense— Coming in at No. 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency, Arkansas is getting results. Unlike IU, the Razorbacks will look to speed you up and force turnovers. The Razorbacks are No. 6 nationally at effective field goal percentage defense and No. 12 at turnover percentage.
- Best in the Nation Defending Three-Pointers — If you think all of that aggression on defense leads to poor positioning and open three-pointers, think again. The Razorbacks have the speed and quickness to recover and close out on shooters. Opponents are shooting just 21.7% from long range.
- Not a lot of Second Chances — With no starters taller than 6-foot-6, the Razorbacks do not get a lot of offensive rebounds. Their 22% offensive rebound percentage is No. 324.
- Defense Leads to Offense — The Razorbacks only shoot 29.7% from three-point range despite playing with four guards. But Arkansas gets a lot of transition points and shoots 55.9% from two-point range, good for No. 16.
HEALTHY AND RESTED HOOSIERS
Indiana has played just one game in the last 15 days, and the Hoosiers will enter Sunday’s contest well rested.
With their final exams behind them, the IU players have had a chance to refresh mentally as well.
“We were coming off of finals week leading into Notre Dame, so that’s always a mentally really challenging week, Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. “To be able to come through and win that game, obviously you get a breath of fresh air.
“Our guys had a nice break and came back ready to go, and we’ve had some good workouts.”
Indiana played against Notre Dame with all eleven scholarship players available, and with more than a week since that contest the Hoosiers are perhaps as healthy as they have been in well over a year.
“All eleven scholarship players were here of late, and all scholarship players have been available for practice,” Miller said. “So it’s given us the chance to have the most depth that we’ve had.”
Senior co-captain Devonte Green believes that the long stretch without a game plus some down time has helped the team refocus when they returned to practice this week.
“Taking a couple of days off of everything is always good,” Green said. “You can tell a difference at practice.”
FOUR GUARD LINEUPS FOR INDIANA?
Indiana has struggled at times against small and quick teams like Louisiana Tech and Nebraska. Notre Dame went to a smaller lineup in the second half last weekend as well.
The Razorbacks might be the smallest team IU has faced, with no starters taller than 6-foot-6.
While Miller likes to go with a big lineup and try to win games via the rebounding margin and the foul line, he recognizes that there have been shortcomings against teams like Arkansas.
“We’re going to need to find a way to play smaller than we’ve played, and we’re going to need to find a way to have our other lineups that have played traditional to be effective (against a team like Arkansas),” Miller said.
Miller suggested that one approach may be to play four guards around freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis at times in an effort to counter the Razorbacks’ transition game. Obviously with just four scholarship guards on the roster, there are limitations with just how far IU can go with that approach.
The game within the game might be just how small Arkansas does indeed up playing.
Musselman indicated earlier this week that he has been tinkering with bigger lineups.
“The last ten days we’ve been working with double bigs,” Musselman said.
THIRD MEETING IN 13 MONTHS
After meeting just twice previously throughout the long storied histories of these two programs, Sunday’s contest will mark the third meeting in just the last 13 months. IU and Arkansas scheduled a home-and-home series beginning in 2018 at Arkansas, and then an unscheduled meeting in Bloomington in connection with last season’s NIT Tournament caused the scheduling anomaly.
While there are Arkansas players that have carried over from the coaching change, that familiarity isn’t breeding comfort for Miller.
“There’s no comfortable about anything. They’re a really good team,” Miller said.
Musselman takes some small measure of comfort in the fact that some of his players have played in Bloomington.
“It doesn’t hurt having played in that building for sure,” Musselman said.
But while the building may be familiar, the first year Arkansas head coach doesn’t expect the opponent to look all that familiar to his players.
Musselman sees a much more cohesive group in Indiana when compared to last season.
“They really understand their roles this year,” Musselman said. “I thought last year they were discombobulated at times and this year they seem a lot more connected.
“I think it’s a better Indiana team this year. Bigger, stronger, better rebounding. They certainly have an identity of drawing free throws attempted.”
MUSSELMAN WITH CHILDHOOD INDIANA / KNIGHT MEMORIES
Musselman’s father Bill was the head coach at Minnesota in the early 1970’s. In fact, the late Bill Musselman started in the Big Ten at the same time as legendary Indiana coach Bob Knight.
“My dad’s first Big Ten game was Coach Knight’ s first Big Ten game,” Musselman said.
Minnesota won that game 52-51 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
But Musselman remembers joining his father on a trip to Indiana during a season when no one beat Knight’s Hoosiers.
“I was probably 12 years old. I think it was my dad’s last year at Minnesota and it was the year that Indiana had Benson and Buckner and it was probably the greatest team in the history of Indiana basketball. I went on that road trip.”
IU got the best of Minnesota 76-64 in 1976 in front of the younger Musselman.
Despite that being his father’s last time at Assembly Hall to coach against the Hoosiers, it wouldn’t be the final time in the building for with of the Musselmans.
When Bill and Eric Musselman were both in the NBA in 1998 and the league was on lock-out, they were both sent to Bloomington.
“We spent a week with Coach Knight and watched their practice and sat in on all of their film sessions,” Musselman said.
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