LITTLE ROCK — For the second time in two weeks, both Arkansas and Missouri will have significant lineup question marks due to injuries when they square off for a weekend SEC battle at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
The difference is, the Hogs are in the midst of a 5-game losing streak — including an 83-79 overtime setback at Mizzou on Feb. 8 — while playing without second-leading scorer Isaiah Joe (knee), while the Tigers have won 3 of their last 4 games with second-leading scorer Mark Smith (back) and big man Jeremiah Tilmon (foot) both out with injuries.
The Razorbacks (16-10, 4-9 SEC, NCAA NET No. 48) take on the Tigers (13-13, 5-8 SEC, NCAA NET No. 84) at noon CT on Saturday in a game that will be televised by SEC Network.
After undergoing an arthroscopic procedure to his right knee on Feb. 4, Joe has not played in Arkansas’ last five games but did return to practice with limitations on Monday. He traveled with the team, participated in pre-game shootaround, but did not play in the Hogs’ 73-59 loss at Florida on Tuesday.
During his press conference on Friday, Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said Joe went through limited practice on Thursday without subsequent swelling to his knee, and that he plans to go through Friday’s practice as well. Musselman said Joe’s knee will be re-evaluated by trainer Mark O’Neal on Saturday morning and that a decision on his availability to play against Missouri would be made then.
“I think it will either be a go or not a go,” Musselman said. “I don’t think it’ll be play him 12 minutes. It’s gonna be, you know, he’s able to go or not to go. Obviously we’re not going to play him 40 minutes if he’s available, but it’s not some huge minute restriction if (being cleared to play) would be the case.”
Musselman said Joe’s attitude and outlook while dealing with the injury have been positive.
“I think his mindset’s awesome,” Musselman said. “I really do. He’s shooting on his own. I think he’s excited about getting closer to being able to play.”
Musselman talked about the value that Joe brings to both ends of the floor.
“I think we’ve missed him in so many different areas,” Musselman said. “Obviously the natural thing is just shooting, and even on nights when he didn’t have great shooting nights he always drew extra (defensive) attention. But I do think from a defensive standpoint … he’s not one of those (high-fouls-per-minute) guys. I also think he does a great job rebounding for his position. So I think he gives us a lot of things.
“In college basketball, when you’re missing one of your stars it changes things dramatically.”
The SEC’s leading scorer, Hogs junior guard Mason Jones (20.8 points per game), comes into the game 17 points shy of reaching 1,000 points in his Arkansas career.
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Scouting Missouri: In his third season as head coach, Cuonzo Martin’s team has been dealing with injuries, too, but the Tigers have depth and have been playing well in the second half of league play with wins over Ole Miss, then-No. 11 Auburn, and Arkansas — all were at home — with a four-point loss at then-No. 25 LSU sprinkled in. Mizzou also has wins over an Illinois, Florida, and Georgia.
Martin indicated on Friday that Tilmon could possibly be back in the lineup against the Hogs on Saturday — it would be his first action since playing 11 minutes against Texas A&M on Feb. 4 — but that Smith will not play. A 6-5 junior guard, Smith is the Tigers’ second-leading scorer (10.9 points per game) but has missed significant time due to a lower back injury. Tilmon, a 6-11 junior, has played in only two league games due to a stress fracture in his left foot.
Junior 6-3 guard Dru Smith, a transfer from Evansville, leads the team with 12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.1 steals in 32.2 minutes per game while shooting 42.5% field goals, including 31.8% from 3, and 90.2% free throws. Sophomore 6-2 guard Xavier Pinson is averaging 10.3 points, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 rebounds in 22.9 minutes whuile shooting 40.0% field goals, including 31.6% from 3, and 81.4% free throws. Pinson had 24 points and 7 rebounds in Mizzou’s home win over Arkansas a couple of weeks ago, and he and Dru smith each scored 28 points in the team’s upset win over Auburn.
Sophomore 6-5 guard Javon Pickett averages 7.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 27.2 minutes per game. The Tigers go 9-10 players deep in their rotation, including 6-9 junior and Van Buren native Mitchell Smith, who’s averaging 4.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game. Guard Torrence Watson, forward Kobe Brown, and center Reed Nikkom average between 15 and 18 minutes per game. In 13 games played, Tilmon averaged 8.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 20.2 minutes per game while shooting 61.4% field goals.
As a team, Missouri averages 67.4 points per game, 34.5 rebounds, 11.5 assists, 7.0 steals, 3.1 blocks, and 14.3 turnovers while shooting 41.2% field goals, including 31.0% from 3, and 77.1% free throws (2nd SEC).
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Up next for the Razorbacks: After Missouri, Arkansas remains at home for a Wednesday matchup against Tennessee in Knoxville before going back on the road to play at Georgia on Saturday, Feb. 29.