Mountain West Basketball: San Jose State vs. Arkansas–Preview, Odds, Prediction
Spartans head to Fayetteville to take on nationally ranked Hogs
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Game 9: San Jose State Spartans (6-2) @ Arkansas Razorbacks (6-1)
When: Saturday, December 3rd – 1:00 PT
Where: Bud Walton Arena; Fayetteville, Arkansas
How to Watch: SEC Network
Odds: Arkansas -19 Over/Under 137
The San Jose State men’s basketball team heads to SEC country in their return to the court Saturday afternoon. Following a 2-1 showing in the Bahamas on Thanksgiving weekend, the Spartans enjoyed a much needed break in the schedule prior to the trip to Arkansas. Three games in three days deserves some down time, and SJSU was able to get exactly that, before heading back east to take on their most talented opponent of the season.
The Razorbacks enter 6-1 and ranked #11 the country, with their loss coming to Creighton in the loaded Maui Invitational. They finished that event with a thrilling overtime victory against Mountain West Conference favorite San Diego State. With the Maui tournament taking place before Thanksgiving, the Hogs scheduled another game this week, and shook off the rust just in time to get by Troy on Monday night.
SJSU’s holiday MTE may not have had the star power that Arkansas’s did, but Tim Miles and his men got two wins in Nassau, and that’s all that he was looking for. They did it by pulling out a nip and tuck 5th place showdown versus Ball State on Sunday, 67-65. The Spartans made five more shots from the field than the Cardinals did, but BSU attempted twice as many free throws (28 to 14) and made 10 more (21-11). Miles will need to find a way to keep the defensive intensity up, without the increased amount of fouling. An old coaching adage says fouling negates hustle, and giving your opponent two times as many shots at the line is going to cost the Spartans some games if it’s not cleaned up. The fact that they were able to pull out the win despite this, speaks to the potential of this squad.
It’s also been a very balanced lineup for the Spartans as of late. Omari Moore of course is the leader, but there are six others averaging between 7 and 11 points per game. True to form, there were 5 double figure scorers in the win over Ball State, and all three games in the Bahamas featured a different high scorer, with Robert Vaihola taking his turn on Sunday. At 13.4 per game, Moore has the highest average, though most may have assumed he would be scoring closer to 20 a night. He has been a willing passer, with 14 assists in the last two games, and is collecting six boards per outing. While the Spartans wouldn’t turn down a few extra buckets from Moore, as long as he is doing other things on the floor, it gives this team a chance each night out.
That last statement applies to the Mountain West Conference slate, and the other non-conference games for sure, but maybe not Saturday afternoon. In Arkansas, the Spartans will face a team featuring two projected first-round picks in next year’s NBA draft, Anthony Black and Nick Smith, both freshmen, along with the current leading scorer in the SEC, Ricky Council IV. Smith, expected to be taken among the first 10 picks next summer, made his season debut against Troy, returning from a knee injury. He likely is not ready to play 35 minutes against the Spartans, but should see an increase from the six he played on Monday. Black has been Mr. do-it-all. He ranks near the top of the SEC in multiple categories, including assists, steals, and points per game. Council has similar numbers in those areas, and is pouring in a whopping 20 ppg. He and starting power forward Trevon Brazile have provided the highlight material so far, with several impressive dunks and blocks.
Razorbacks head coach Eric Musselman was ahead of his contemporaries in using the transfer portal to assemble rosters. He did it masterfully while the head man at Nevada from 2015-2019, and has brought that trait with him to Fayetteville. He had to replace five massive contributors off of last year’s Elite Eight squad that upset Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen. He did so with his pair of top 10 recruits, but also by grabbing Council from Wichita State, Brazile from Missouri, and the Mitchell twins (Makhi and Makhel) from Rhode Island.
Unfortunately, Musselman has found himself in the middle of a firestorm after an ugly post-game incident in Maui. The compact venue and the intensity of the game may have raised the temperature for all, but there’s little to no excuse for the veteran coach’s behavior, toward Aztec fans and players, which included hand gestures and expletives. Episodes like this can tend to serve as distractions, as Musselman has been forced to answer questions about it numerous times since his team’s return from the islands. It is something worth monitoring as the season progresses.
Saturday’s game figures to be a major challenge for the Spartans. They have really only played one bad half of basketball all year, the first 20 minutes against North Texas. They also, however, have not seen anywhere near the athleticism and basketball skill that they will see on Saturday. Additionally, when the Hogs are rolling, Bud Walton Arena is a raucous place to play. This will be only the second road game for SJSU, and playing at Arkansas is a far different animal than playing at Northern Colorado.
How do we think this one will play out? The one opponent that presented a real challenge to the offense of San Jose State, was North Texas, and they held the Spartans to a season low 54 points. The Mean Green are the definition of a disciplined defensive squad. The Razorbacks meanwhile, just come at you with athletic, long bodies. With the exception of 7-footer Ibrahima Diallo, each Spartan is going to give up an inch or 2 at minimum to his counterpart. Points may be hard to come by for SJSU in this one. Musselman’s teams historically start slow, before making halftime adjustments and getting things rolling in the 2nd half. Miles will want to see his team compete for 40 minutes, even if the outcome is not in doubt down the stretch. He will likely get that effort, but it’s unlikely to be enough to overcome the talent disparity.
Prediction: Arkansas 73 San Jose State 59