Across the (By)Line: Arkansas Razorbacks


Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) celebrates a teammate’s three pointer during the UK vs. Florida mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 78-57. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

The “Across the (By)Line” series will give Kentucky basketball fans an in-depth look at their opponent for this week — from the mind of the opposing school’s sports editor.

This week: Mason Choate, Arkansas Traveler, University of Arkansas

What do you attribute to Arkansas’ season turnaround in the middle of SEC play?

Choate: Early on in SEC play, they didn’t really know their identity yet. They were trying to tinker with the lineup a lot. It was a different starting lineup every week. They settled in on this lineup where they’ve got two guards, three forwards, so it’s a bigger, more physical lineup. It’s really worked since they went on the nine-game win streak. And then their guys off the bench. You have two main guys in Devonte Davis and Chris Lykes. Both of them, they’re kind of spotty, if they’re going to be good or not on any given night. But if you can get one of them to give you some good minutes, then Arkansas is in a great position night in night out. So I think that’s been the biggest thing is just going with a more physical lineup.

Just how important is JD Notae to Arkansas this season?

Choate: He’s the reason that Arkansas is so good, because he’s their best scorer, obviously. He’s the best player at making plays happen. He creates something out of nothing all the time, and that’s what makes him so good. Something that he’s added that he didn’t really have last year was his defensive presence. I think he still leads the conference in steals as well. So he’s just a pest defensively. Sometimes that gets him in trouble though. There’s been a couple of games where he gets in foul trouble early. So when he’s not on the court, because he’s in foul trouble, you can really see or really notice that he’s not there, and you can see it in the way that Arkansas plays offense. So his impact is just astronomical for this team. If he’s not on the court, then you can feel that.

How do you see the Arkansas frontcourt handling the challenge of trying to contain Oscar Tshiebwe?

Choate: I think Jaylin Williams has proved that he’s a legit big in the SEC. And that was a question that a lot of people had coming into the season. He’s not going back down, and he’s shown that he can score offensively too. On the defensive end, he’s going to take charges, he’s going to block, he’s going to go up for rebounds. He’s not going to make it easy for you, but he’s now turned it into ‘Hey, I can score on you too,’ like he’ll pull up for a mid range or pull up for three. And then you look at a guy like Trey Wade. The only reason Trey Wade is in the starting lineup is because he’s an elite defender. He’s a big guy, but he’ll probably be on the opposing team’s second or third best scorer, because he’s that good of a defender. He’s not going to put up many points but he’s a really, really physical guy.

How big of a home court advantage can Bud Walton Arena be?

Choate: Yeah, going into the Auburn game. I was telling everybody, ‘Arkansas is gonna get at least five to 10 points just from the crowd alone.’ And sure enough, they win the game by four points. And if you look back at that Auburn game, how many points did they leave at the free throw line? It was deafeningly loud in the arena … I don’t know who could have made a free throw there. So that is key for Arkansas to have those fans show up. I know people who have been season ticket holders for 40 years, and they said that the Auburn game was the best atmosphere they’ve ever seen.

What is Arkansas’ main key to victory? What is your score prediction?

Choate: Okay. I think the key to victory for Arkansas is you just have to shoot efficiently. There’s been so many games where they just go really cold on offense. And we talked about it earlier, but if JD Notae is not on the court, it’s hard for the offense to run when he’s not on the court. There’s not a guy who can score at will. If Notae can stay out of foul trouble, then that just opens up the floor so much. As far as Arkansas goes, you’re not really worried about the defense. I feel like they’re going to put pressure on Kentucky offensively. They’re gonna do what they can there, but they just got to get it done offensively, man, that’s there’s been so many games where it just hasn’t happened. As far as the score prediction goes, I’d have to say probably Arkansas 67, Kentucky 62.