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.
Following the trip to the BOK Center to face Oklahoma, another neutral-site game awaits the Razorbacks. Hoping to erase the woes from last season against Hofstra at Simmons Bank Arena, Arkansas will host the Bradley Braves in Little Rock.
vs. Bradley (Little Rock) – Dec. 17
Another small school that finds success often in the Missouri Valley Conference is Bradley. Hailing from the state of Illinois, the Braves fought to a 17-14 overall record last season with an undemanding schedule.
In conference play, the internal heat was applied as the Braves went 11-7 on their way to a conference tournament exit. The leading scorer leaving trend continues with the Braves. Averaging 14.5 points per game, Terry Roberts left for a chance to play at Georgia.
70.5 points per game
44.4% field goals and 33.7% 3-pointers
68.9% free throws
+7 rebound margin (most among Arkansas non-conference opponents)
-1.1 turnover margin
65.2 points per game
40.5% field goals and 32% 3-pointers
12.4 turnovers forced per game
Diving in, forward Rienk Mast was the leader in rebounds per game with 8.4 while also attaining 11.6 points per game. He was also second on the team in blocks. Standing at 6-foot-9, he’s a dominant presence under the basket and brings the physical tools to combat a tame build.
Mast did, however, suffer a recent injury in practice. His status moving forward is unknown.
Overall, the Braves return nearly the entire roster — an almost impossible feat in modern college basketball.
Eight total players had noteworthy contributions from last season who remained a Brave. Including Mast, the second through fifth leading scorers return. Senior forward Malevy Leons returns as the best three-point shooter at 38.1% while also shooting 50% from the field.
Another player listed at 6-9, Leons presents his own threat. While owning the experience, the matchup will come down to whether or not Bradley has the athleticism to compete for 40 minutes.
Only one freshman joins the returners. Sulaiman Agiste was nearly a double-double guy in high school in Illinois. While Bradley doesn’t need immediate help at forward, it will be interesting to see if the lone youngin can get valuable time. Three transfers fell into place.
The State College of Florida makes another appearance with guard James “Pop” Weathers. He averaged 18.2 points, six rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game for the junior college. Like his former teammate, he brings great physical intangibles and consistency from his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Goanar Biliew is another forward coming by way of JUCO. He brought 12.3 points and nearly seven rebounds per contest.
The final transfer came from one of Arkansas’ previous opponents, Troy. Small point guard Duke Deen comes in after averaging nine points and 3.1 assists per game for the Trojans last year. As a very sporadic shooter, his twitch keeps defenders on their toes. The downfall for the Shreveport native comes from shot selection.
Game Difficulty – 2.5/10
What the Braves bring to the table isn’t anything different than what Arkansas will have seen or battled to this point. They do, however, bring back the most experience of any team in non-conference. With no high-caliber games from last season, Bradley is a difficult team to gauge.
The guy with the most impact on the team is Mast — without a doubt. Unfortunately for Bradley, Arkansas has the tools to neutralize him. While the transfers could come in and make noise, it won’t make a wild difference.
Arkansas’ guard play will be lightyears better, but there should still be a grain of respect for Weathers and company. Coach Brian Wardle will be bringing a pack of trees to Little Rock, so finding success inside will be crucial.
Nonetheless, stress should still be kept at a minimum. When the mascot of the team is scarier than the team itself, one need not worry. The only downside is that this game will be played in Simmons Bank Arena where the Razorbacks lost last season. If the presence of a neutral-site game doesn’t threaten the Hogs this time around, they should pull away by game’s end.
Featured image courtesy of Bradley athletics