The average Arkansas fan might look at the non-conference men’s basketball schedule in one of two ways.
One point of view is to have the five-star freshmen dangle like sugar plums and not have any worry about what lies ahead. The other, denies that any team should even step on the same court as the Razorbacks, because why play the game?
Both ways, while less stressful, are no fun. Join us as we break down each Arkansas hoops non-conference opponent and what to expect out of each game.
The early parts of the season will be important for head coach Eric Musselman to figure out his rotation and for younger players to get acclimated to the college game. In what we’ll be a multi-part series, we’ll be giving a look at every Arkansas non-conference foe for the upcoming season.
On Thursday, we looked at South Dakota State, which comes to Bud Walton Arena on Nov. 16. The Razorbacks leave Fayetteville for the first time when they head to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.
That’s where they’ll be from Nov. 21-23. The lone known opponent, however, is Louisville. Arkansas will battle the Cardinals to open the invitational. The Maui slate also includes Arizona, Cincinnati, Creighton, Ohio State, San Diego State, and Texas Tech.
vs. Louisville – Nov. 21
A brutal down year for the Cardinals concluded with a 13-19 overall record with a tragic ACC record of 6-14. A seven-game losing streak in conference was symbolic of how the season felt overall. Not a single player averaged double-digits in scoring or even rebounds per game which might explain their troubles.
The top two leading scorers, despite the lacking numbers, departed from Louisville since last season. Veteran coach Kenny Payne will be asked to turn the ship around in a hurry — if at all possible.
67.3 points per game
42.2% field goals and 30.9% 3-pointers
67.4% free throws
+1.2 rebound margin
-1.2 turnover margin
70.1 points per game
43.7% field goals and 34.9% 3-pointers
11.1 turnovers forced per game
Despite the horrid record during the 2021-22 season, it is worth noting that the Cardinals did go 3-1 in neutral-site games. Five players return with some level of production. Senior guard El Ellis is the returning scoring leader after averaging 8.7 points per game.
Big man Sydney Curry returns as the best shooter in terms of quality while hitting a clip of 67.2% from the field last season. Three freshmen come in with two of them being four-star recruits, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Two transfers join the action including guard Hercy Miller, son of rapper Master P. Former five-star forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield is the contrasting second transfer. The former Tennessee Volunteer started in 13 games as a freshman last season and averaged 3.9 points and three rebounds per game.
Game Difficulty – 6.5/10
The challenge of this game comes with the location and jetlag more than with what Louisville brings to the table. One drop-off year shouldn’t define what is a historic program, but it will be very difficult for Coach Payne to make Louisville’s record do a full 180.
In terms of size and athleticism, this will be the first test to see just how tough Arkansas truly is. An average height of 6-foot-6 is, without a doubt, the highest through four games for Arkansas opponents.
As for the game itself, there are way more questions than answers as it stands presently. Louisville has much to improve on. If there isn’t more of a pulse than there was last season, expect grit and an ounce of hope to at least keep the Cardinals in the game.
The Razorbacks need to arrive and take over early instead of letting Louisville hang around. That’s for the birds. Look for Arkansas to move onto the second round of the invitational barring insanity or a volcanic eruption.
Featured image courtesy of Louisville athletics