You may recall that about a month ago, Coach Pitino released his first blog post of the off-season. In it, he said that Minnesota was in negotiations for a new home & home series with another Power 5 team:
We are currently working on completing our nonconference schedule for next year. We believe we will be on the road for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and playing in the Gavitt Games against a Big East team. We have a verbal agreement from another Power 5 team to start a series at our place. We will announce that very soon when it's official.
It appears as though we may now know the identity of our mysterious future opponent. According to
Minnesota and Arkansas will start a home-and-home series next season in Minneapolis, source told @CBSSports. Return game at BWA in 17-18.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) May 2, 2016
I haven't seen this confirmed by any local media sources yet, but I have no reason to doubt Jon. Since I buy this as the opponent that Pitino was alluding to, let's quickly talk about what kind of team Minnesota might be facing.
Who are the Arkansas Razorbacks?
The Razorbacks finished this past season 16-16 (9-9 SEC) in head coach Mike Anderson's 5th year at the school. It was the 4th year during those 5 seasons that the Razorbacks failed to make it to the NCAA tournament. This has understandably raised some questions for fans of the program, which fellow SBN blog Arkansas Fight covers in detail here (strongly recommend you read it).
Arkansas was the 90th ranked team by KenPom this past season (for comparison's sake, Minnesota finished 223rd). I'll be honest in saying I haven't watched a minute of Arkansas basketball since, well, the last time they played Minnesota like 3 years ago so I have no first hand observations to offer. But here are some key stats from 2015-2016 according to KenPom:
- Arkansas was one of the best 3 point shooting teams in the country (12th). Their best 3 point shooter was RS junior Dusty Hannahs. He shot 46% from three and will return next season. If this is a stat they stay strong in and Minnesota keeps...well, doing that thing they allege is 3 point defense, then things could get messy.
- Arkansas wasn't so good from inside the arc though: The Razorbacks only shot 46% on 2 pointers, 273rd in the nation.
- Arkansas does a decent job at forcing turnovers and protecting the basketball: While they are much better at the latter than the former, the team's defense was still top 80 in both turnover and steal %.
- Arkansas might be without their 2nd & 3rd leading scorers: Moses Kingsley, a 2nd Team All-SEC junior forward who averaged 15.9 ppg declared for the NBA draft but did not sign an agent. Senior guard Anthlon Bell (averaged 15.87 ppg) graduates. I'll just assume Moses is back next season based on what we know now.
- Arkansas is bringing in a decent 6 player recruiting class: While it's not one of the highest ranked classes in the land, it does include two 4 star players. I know nothing about any of them and will refrain from further uneducated hypothesizing about what this means for next year's team.
Arkansas was a much better team than Minnesota in 2015-2016. That said, they were not world beaters. If we're only using KenPom overall team rankings they were essentially Nebraska level only a little better. Their strength last year (3 point shooting) has been a huge weakness for the Gophers, so that's worrisome. In terms of opponent quality for SOS purposes Arkansas is a pretty good pickup. It's a winnable game and the Razorbacks should remain decent at the very least. They aren't a "EVERYONE BUY TICKETS TO SEE THEM NOW" level opponent from a buzz perspective, but it was always unlikely that kind of opponent would plan MN. All in all, I'd rate this a 7/10 pickup in terms of the basketball side of things and a 5/10 pickup on the "buzz" side of things.