Arkansas Basketball: Non-Conference Schedule Analysis

In Features by Blake Lovell

The SEC non-conference schedule breakdowns continue as we head to Fayetteville to focus on the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Let’s dive into the Hogs’ non-conference slate for the 2017-18 season.

vs. Samford

Date: November 10

2016-17 Record: 20-16

Season Outlook

While Samford might not be a household name in the college basketball world, Mike Anderson’s team had better not overlook the Bulldogs.

Scott Padgett returns a lot of major contributors from a team that won 20 games last year, and adds even more production with the addition of former Alabama guard Justin Coleman.

No one should be shocked if this game is decided in the final minutes thanks to guys like Demetrius Denzel-Dyson (16.1 ppg), Wyatt Walker (12.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg), and Christen Cunningham (11.4 ppg) making plays for the Bulldogs.

Here’s my interview with Padgett from this summer to give you a better idea of what to expect with a Samford team that may very well be the preseason favorite in the Southern Conference.

vs. Bucknell

Date: November 12

2016-17 Record: 26-9

Season Outlook

Speaking of 20-win teams that return everyone, the Bison get their entire starting lineup back from a season ago.

Bucknell is easily the overwhelming favorite to win the Patriot League yet again, and with four double-digit scorers back in the mix, this is another game that will test the Razorbacks.

vs. Fresno State

Date: November 17

2016-17 Record: 20-13

Season Outlook

Make it 3-for-3 in terms of 20-win opponents to start the season.

Leading scorer Jaron Hopkins (13.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is back and junior Deshon Taylor (12.5 ppg) is coming off of a second-team All-Mountain West season.

Jahmel Taylor will also be fun to watch after finishing fourth in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage (44.8 percent).

We talked to head coach Rodney Terry about his team on the Marching to Madness podcast this summer.

vs. Oklahoma

Date: November 23 (PK80)

2016-17 Record: 11-20

Season Outlook

What we know is that the Sooners are going to be nowhere near as bad as they were a season ago.

The Final Four and post-Buddy Hield hangover was real last year, but this year’s team is filled with talented scorers and playmakers.

Of course, the most noteworthy of those is 5-star freshman guard Trae Young, who will immediately become the team’s go-to scoring option.

vs. UNC/Portland/TBD

Date: November 24, 26

Season Outlook

After meeting the Sooners, Arkansas will turn its focus to either North Carolina or Portland.

The Tar Heels will have a different look than they did in winning the 2017 national championship, but that won’t stop them from competing for the ACC crown. Joel Berry (14.7 ppg) will lead the way, but the addition of the versatile Cam Johnson (11.9 ppg last season at Pitt) is a big boost for a team that lost three double-digit scorers.

As for Portland, second-year coach Terry Porter has a completely revamped roster with seven new players on board for this season.

After that game, the Razorbacks will play another game two days later to cap off the tournament.

at Houston

Date: December 2

2016-17 Record: 21-11

Season Outlook

After struggling in his first season with the Cougars, Kelvin Sampson has had back-to-back seasons of 21 or more wins.

Considering that Rob Gray Jr. (20.6 ppg, 1st in AAC) returns for another season, there’s a good chance that Houston will reach that win total yet again.

However, replacing Damyean Dotson (17.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg) won’t be easy.

It’s also worth noting that this is Arkansas’s only true road game in the non-conference.

vs. Colorado State

Date: December 5

2016-17 Record: 24-12

Season Outlook

The Rams will likely take a step back after losing its two top contributors – Gian Clavell (20.4 ppg) and Emmanuel Omogbo (13.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg).

On the bright side, point guard Prentiss Nixon (13.2 ppg) should be set for a fantastic season after scoring double figures in 25 of the team’s final 29 games.

vs. Minnesota

Date: December 9

2016-17 Record: 24-10

Season Outlook

Minnesota is a legitimate Top 15 team heading into the season.

Richard Pitino brings back his top four scorers, which means that Nate Mason (15.2 ppg, 5.0 apg), Amir Coffey (12.2 ppg), Jordan Murphy (11.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg), and Dupree McBrayer (11.1 ppg) will once again present a difficult challenge for opponents.

If the Golden Gophers can be more consistent shooting the ball (43.5 percent FG, 229th nationally), they may be in the Final Four sleeper discussion come March.

vs. Troy

Date: December 16 (North Little Rock)

2016-17 Record: 22-15

Season Outlook

The Trojans got hot at the right time last season in capturing the Sun Belt’s automatic bid as a No. 6 seed, and the good news is that the main pieces from that team are still intact.

Junior forward Jordon Varnado (16.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) should once again be the team’s best all-around player, while sharpshooting senior Wesley Person (14.8 ppg) will try to expand on his impressive shooting percentages (40.0 percent 3-pt, 81.8 percent FT).

vs. Oral Roberts

Date: December 19

2016-17 Record: 8-22

Season Outlook

Paul Mills takes over as head coach after Scott Sutton was fired after 18 seasons on the job.

The Golden Eagles will likely go through a bit of a transition thanks to the coaching change, but senior big man Albert Owens (17.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is a nice player for Mills to build around this year.

vs. CSU Bakersfield

Date: December 27

2016-17 Record: 25-10

Season Outlook

The Roadrunners ran all the way to the NIT Final Four last season, but this year’s team will look a bit different.

Three of Bakersfield’s top four scorers have departed, leaving junior guard Damiyne Durham (12.7 ppg) with the need to expand his role even further.

vs. Oklahoma State

Date: January 27

2016-17 Record: 20-13

Season Outlook

It’s been a strange offseason for the Cowboys after making the NCAA Tournament.

First came the surprising exit of head coach Brad Underwood after only season, and then came the firing of assistant coach Lamont Evans following his arrest on federal charges for his role in the major college basketball recruiting scandal.

But in a Big 12 that will offer plenty of obstacles, at least new coach Mike Boynton will be able to turn to a dynamic scorer like Jeffrey Carroll (17.5 ppg).

Overall Schedule Analysis

The Razorbacks certainly have some intriguing matchups on the non-conference schedule.

The home games against Samford, Bucknell, and Minnesota should all provide interesting challenges, as well as the loaded PK80 field.

Anderson should be able to lean on his experienced group to get him through many of these games, but this schedule is far from easy.

However, this appears to be the type of schedule – even if it is light on road games – that should get Arkansas ready for the rigors of the SEC.

Blake Lovell is the founder of Southeast Hoops. He hosts the Marching to Madness podcast, which features interviews with coaches around the country. He also hosts a weekly college basketball show on WNSR 560AM/95.9 FM in Nashville. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Athlon Sports, Rivals, FanRag Sports, and many more.