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Razorbacks start tough Big 12 slate

by Bob Holt | November 21, 2021 at 3:14 a.m.

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No. 16 Arkansas men vs. Kansas State

WHEN 8 p.m. Central Monday

WHERE T-Mobile Center, Kansas City, Mo.

RECORDS Arkansas 3-0; Kansas State 2-0

SERIES Kansas State leads 8-3

RADIO Razorback Sports Network

TV ESPNews

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas basketball team is getting a heavy dose of Big 12 competition this season.

The No. 16 Razorbacks (3-0) play the first of three Big 12 opponents when they take on Kansas State (2-0) on Monday night in the Hall of Fame Classic at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Arkansas also will play Oklahoma in Tulsa on Dec. 11 and host West Virginia on Jan. 29 in Walton Arena in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Monday night's opener in the Hall of Fame Classic will be No. 10 Illinois (2-1) playing Cincinnati (4-0), with the winning and losing teams meeting on Tuesday night.

Playing two marquee neutral site games on consecutive nights, Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said, is big for the SEC as well as the Razorbacks because of how it can impact NCAA Tournament bids.

"You feel that on Selection Sunday," Musselman said. "Right now is the time that you certainly want your league to do really, really well.

"I've heard other coaches say, 'I don't want someone in our league to have momentum.' That's a bunch of bologna.

"We want everybody in our league to win every single night unless we play them and until we get to conference time. We're rooting for every SEC team, and we're hoping we can represent our conference in this tournament to the best of our ability.

"This time of year, you have to take great pride in your conference."

Kansas State, which beat Florida A&M 67-57 and Nebraska-Omaha 79-64 at home to open the season, is led by 6-0 sophomore guard Nigel Pack (averaging 16.5 points), 6-4 senior guard Mark Smith (11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds) and 6-9 sophomore Ismael Massoud (averaging 10.0 points, 7.0 rebounds).

Pack averaged 12.7 points and shot 40.5% on three-pointers (60 of 148) last season. This season he's 7 of 11 from beyond the arc.

As a freshman, Pack's scoring high was 26 points against Texas A&M when he hit 8 of 14 three-pointers.

"Pack is one of the nation's best shooters," Musselman said. "He's a guy that can score in spurts, can put points on the board in a hurry.

"Definitely a star-type player in their conference. We've got to all be alert to any time Pack has the ball for sure."

Massoud transferred from Wake Forest, where last season he averaged 8.3 points and shot 33.6% on three-pointers (36 of 107). He scored 31 points against Pittsburgh and 17 against Duke.

"You have to give him no air space, have to meet him early in transition," Musselman said. "We'd prefer to make him put it on the deck. Don't want him to have any catch-and-shoot threes."

Smith transferred from Missouri, where last season in three games against Arkansas he averaged 7.3 points and 8.0 rebounds.

"Smith can really rebound the ball," Musselman said. "He's got good strength. He's got a good body. He's got good size. He's not afraid of contact."

Musselman said all of the Razorbacks' focus is on Kansas State and there is no planning ahead for Illinois or Cincinnati.

"It's 40 minutes of, 'How do we beat Kansas State?' " he said. "I'm not really concerned or worried about anything beyond that.

"I know some coaches will sub a little bit more knowing that they have a game the next night. My philosophy is that's a good way to also lose two games in a row.

"You've got one game that's the most important game, and that's the game on our schedule. And the next opponent is Kansas State, and anything else to me, right now, is meaningless."

Only seven Razorbacks have played in all three games this season.

"Now, as soon as the final buzzer goes off against K-State, the most important game will be against Cincinnati or Illinois," Musselman said. "Then we'll figure out at that point do we need to give guys on the second night an extra blow, because they might've played a little bit more the first night.

"If we have to play five guys 40 minutes to compete against Kansas State, we'll play five guys 40 minutes and worry about the next game the next day."

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