Arkansas and Missouri are border-state rivals whose NCAA Tournament aspirations have been buoyed by fast starts to the 2020-21 season. But when the Razorbacks host the No. 12 Tigers Saturday on CBS, their vast differences as programs will be on display.
The Razorbacks (9-0) are coming off an impressive win over Auburn to begin SEC play and are an offense-oriented team relying heavily on newcomers. The Tigers (6-1), meanwhile, are a veteran squad with a defensive identity that just cracked the AP poll for the first time in seven years this week. But Missouri will need a strong performance against Arkansas if it wants to stay ranked after it was blown out at home by No. 7 Tennessee on Wednesday.
These teams have played twice annually since Missouri joined the SEC for the 2012-13 season, and Arkansas leads the series 9-7 since then. Half of those games have been decided by five points less, and with both teams expected to inhabit the top half of the league this season, it would be no surprise if this meeting is also a close.
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- When: Saturday, Jan. 2, noon ET
- Where: Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas
- TV: CBS | Live stream: CBSSports.com, CBS Sports App (Free)
- OTT: CBS Sports App (Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast)
Missouri: Cuonzo Martin’s fourth team at Missouri appears to be his best after his earlier squads were reliant on youth and besieged by injuries to key players. Media predicted the Tigers would finish 10th in the league’s preseason poll, but this veteran group proved during a brief but challenging non-conference slate that it should do significantly better than that. Yes, a 73-53 home loss to Tennessee was a discouraging way to start conference play. But the Volunteers are the clear favorite to win the conference, and Missouri showed in an 81-78 win over then-No. 6 Illinois on Dec. 12 what it is capable of. If the Tigers are going to reach their full potential, they need to start hitting more shots from beyond the arc. Mark Smith is the only starter shooting better than 30% from 3-point range, and the team’s cringeworthy 27.3% 3-point shooting clip ranked 307th nationally entering Friday’s action.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks entered Wednesday night’s 97-85 win at Auburn as the SEC’s biggest mystery, despite their undefeated record. Unlike Missouri, played no one of note in the nonconference slate. Beyond that, the rotation features only one player — Desi Sills — who played for last year’s team that finished 20-12 (7-11 SEC). But second-year coach Eric Musselman became a master of remixing his rosters with transfers while at Nevada, and the early returns on a tweaked version of that formula are encouraging at Arkansas. Auburn hit 15-of-29 3-point attempts against Arkansas and still lost by 12. So if the Razorbacks can win by double-digits on the road in the SEC even when an opponent hits better than 50% of their 3-pointers, what will happen when they put the clamps on an opponent defensively?
Game prediction, pick
Arkansas feels like the trendy pick after its impressive win at Auburn. But Missouri will be out to prove that its loss to Tennessee was nothing more than a poor night against a great team. The Razorbacks have not played a defense nearly the caliber of Missouri’s, and the Tigers have proven they can finish off close games. Prediction: Missouri 70, Arkansas 68
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