By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — No, it’s not Christmas, but if you were hoping to unwrap the Arkansas Razorback’s 2019-20 men’s basketball schedule before the end of August — the release of which has consistently been sort of a late-August gift to Hoop Hog junkies in recent years — we do offer at least a look at ALL of the Hoop Hogs’ opponents, game sites, and more than a third of their game dates as we turn the page from August to September.
It’s likely a matter of days before the University of Arkansas’s sports information department releases the entire schedule — after all, full practice begins at the start of October with the season tipping off roughly a month later in the first week of November — but we are determined to give you a deep-dive look now at what we already know about the ’19-20 Arkansas schedule.
While we don’t know yet if the Hoop Hogs will host two non-NCAA Division 1 opponents in preseason exhibition games (as has been the tradition for years), we do know all 13 regular-season non-conference opponents and game sites, and we know 12 of those game dates …
* Tues., Nov. 5 vs. Rice at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville … the Hogs start the season on opening day for all of college basketballl at home against their old Southwest Conference foe Owls … Arkansas is 102-41 all-time against Rice, which ties the programs’ second-most series wins with the 102 victories against Texas A&M … all-time most series wins is 104 against TCU, but more on that later.
* Tues., Nov. 12 vs. North Texas at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville … the Hogs are 14-0 all-time vs. the Mean Green, which represents yet another Conference USA program that has popped up on the hoops slate — last season, Arkansas faced three C-USA opponents and this season there are two on the schedule.
* Sat., Nov. 16 vs. Montana at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville … shapes up to be a good early season test as Montana has won the Big Sky conference 3 of last 5 years & has played in back-to-back NCAA tournaments … this will be the first matchup between the two schools in men’s basketball, and it will be the first of four home games being played as part of the six-team College Hoops Roadshow event.
* Tues., Nov. 19 vs. Texas Southern at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville … the SWAC opponent marks the second of four home games that make up the College Hoops Roadshow event … the Hogs are 6-0 all-time against Texas Southern … the Tigers missed the NCAAT last season but have represented the SWAC in the Big Dance in 3 of the last 5 seasons.
* Fri., Nov. 22 vs. South Dakota at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville … the Hogs are 1-0 all-time against the Coyotes of the Summit League … South Dakota was 13-17 under first-year head coach Todd Lee in ’18-19, but in the previous two seasons the Coyotes won a total of 48 games while winning the Summit League once and reaching postseason play twice … this matchup will be the Hogs’ third home game as part of the College Hoops Roadshow event.
* Mon., Nov. 25 at Georgia Tech … the Hogs will look to avenge last season’s 69-65 December loss at BWA in the return game … the Hogs are 1-5 all-time vs. the Yellow Jackets … it marks Arkansas’s first game away from BWA in ’19-20 … it will be GaTech head coach Josh Pastner’s fourth season leading the program, and following a first season when he led the Yellow Jackets to a 21-16 overall record and the postseason NIT finals he has failed to win more than 14 games overall and has twice finished 6-12 in the ACC.
* Date TBD vs. Northern Kentucky at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville … this is the fourth and final game for Arkansas in the College Hoops Roadshow event, and it will likely be played in November … the two teams have not previously met … the Norse have only been competing at the NCAA Division 1 level for seven years, but in the last three seasons fifth-year head coach John Brannen has led Northern Kentucky to 72 overall wins, back-to-back conference titles in the respected Horizon League, and two NCAATs sandwiched around one NIT appearance.
* Tues., Dec. 3 vs. Austin Peay at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville … the Hogs are 4-0 all-time vs. the Governors of the Ohio Valley Conference … Third-year head coach Matt Figger led Austin Peay to 41 total wins in his first two seasons … Arkansas defeated Austin Peay, 76-65, in late December last season in the final non-conference game before the start of SEC play/
* Sat., Dec. 7 at Western Kentucky … this will be another shot at redemption for the Hogs who lost a nail-biter at home, 78-77, against the Hilltoppers in early December last season … one of the top big men in the country — Charles Bassey — pounded the Hogs with 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks a season ago, and he will once again be a load inside … Arkansas is 4-3 all-time against Western Kentucky, another C-USA team on the schedule.
* Sat., Dec. 14 vs. Tulsa at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville … the Golden Hurricane play in a mid-major-plus league, the American Athletic Conference … all-time series has forged some memorable and meaningful games … Hogs hold a 36-24 advantage in the series … former Arkansas guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson transferred to following his freshman season in ’18-19 … Tulsa finished 19-12 (including 12-6 in the competitive AAC) in Frank Haith’s fourth season in ’18-19.
* Sat., Dec. 21 vs. Valparaiso at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock … the annual game in Central Arkansas offers fans a chance to watch the first ever meeting between the Hogs and Crusaders, who are entering their third season in the Missouri Valley Conference after dominating the Horizon League earlier this decade … Valpo has failed to win more than 15 games in each of the last two seasons.
* Sunday, Dec. 29 at Indiana … the Hogs and Hoosiers — two of the most successfull programs in college basketball history — struggled for long stretches in ’18-19 on their way to disappointing NIT finishes, but their two meetings including the second-round of the NIT provided two exciting games and finishes as the teams split with each winning on their home court … the big-stage stars last season were the Hogs’ Daniel Gafford and the Hoosiers’ Romeo Langford in the first metting, both missed the second meeting, and both have since departed early for the NBA … the all-time series is tied at 2-2.
* Sat., Jan. 25 vs. TCU at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville … it’s the annual SEC/Big XII Challenge to be held in the middle of SEC play … the Hogs have won more games against the Horned Frogs — 104 — than any other program as the two were long-time foes in the old SWC … TCU has won 68 games in Jamie Dixon’s first three seasons at the helm, including an NCAAT appearance sandwiched between two NIT appearances … TCU won the NIT title in 2016-17, and the Frogs advanced to the NIT Final Four in ’18-19 where they lost to rival Texas.
Although several of the non-conference opponents had not been made public at the time, first-year Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman talked about the Razorbacks’ non-conference schedule during an interview with a gathering of reporters on Aug. 13.
“When you look at the other SEC programs and you start thinking about some SEC schools don’t have any true road games,” Musselman said. “Obviously, (Arkansas has a) true road game at Georgia Tech, true road game at Indiana, true road game at Western Kentucky. We have three true road games that are gonna all be challenging. Then some of the other games, really good mid-majors that are really well-coached. It’s kind of weird because some of the games were set up before me, but a lot of them are really good friends of mine that are coaching other programs that we’re gonna end up playing.
“We’re playing teams that can beat you if you’re not ready to play and you take them for granted. So I think the schedule puts us in a position that you try to put yourself in come non-conference. It’s gonna be challenging enough, then you add TCU (at home in the SEC/Big XII Challenge) — we’ve got some good games.”
In addititon to knowing all of the non-conference opponents and game sites, we also know the SEC opponents and locations for all 18 regular-season league games thanks to the SEC releasing that information in late May, although dates and times have yet to be announced likely in the interest of television scheduling.
Arkansas will host SEC games at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville against Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt.
The Hogs will play SEC road games at Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas A&M.
This means that in addition to the Hoop Hogs’ annual home-and-away series against Texas A&M, Missouri, and LSU, for ’19-20 they’ll also rotate in home-and-away against Tennessee and Mississippi State.
From this vantage point — and granted, we’re still more than two months away from the start of the season — the top five teams in the league appear to be (in no particular order) Kentucky, Florida, LSU, Auburn, and Mississippi State. Arkansas will play host to four of those teams while facing three on the road.
Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, and Ole Miss could be the next in line if not challenging for that top 5, and Arkansas hosts two games against this group while playing three games on the road.
Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Vanderbilt make up the group (in no particular order) most likely to be picked to finish 10-through-14 in league play, which would be reflective of how that bunch finished the ’18-19 season. The Hogs host three games against this group while playing three on the road.
It’s a bit early to make projections with several unknowns and the beginning of the season more than two months away, but it’s conceivable if not likely that a 20-11 overall record (let’s say 10-3 in non-conference and 10-8 in the SEC) going into SEC tournament play would have the Hoop Hogs on the NCAAT at-large bubble.
That scenario may not end up on your Christmas wish list in December, but come March it may be all there is under the tree.