San Diego Invitational: Arkansas Can Make A Major Statement

The December 12 Associated Press Top 25 lists eight undefeated teams, including three representatives from the Southeastern Conference. Comprised of national championship-winning head coaches, two of these SEC rosters have impressive legacies, both new and historic.

The group’s surprise, Arkansas at No. 21, is fast becoming one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2022-23 season.

If Saint Nick has downed chimneys worldwide, the Razorbacks might no longer surprise. Arkansas embarks on a crucial tour of high-profile matchups after visiting Creighton for a top-25 showdown on Dec. 17 with two days at the loaded San Diego Invitational.

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Arkansas tips 16th-ranked Oregon at the San Diego Invitational on Dec. 20 for a matchup between teams with similar statistical profiles. The Razorbacks go into their big three-game stretch with the No. 37 offensive rating in the nation, per; Oregon ranks 12th.

Both teams have top-30 defensive stats: Arkansas at No. 23 and Oregon at No. 28. However, one area where the Razorbacks have really made a name for themselves through their excellent start is their dominance on the glass.

Arkansas, which ranks fourth in the nation in terms of rebounds per game and leads the country in rebound metrics from, features 6-foot-5 Jersey Wolfenbarger and 6-foot-4 Maryam Dauda, 6, via one of the richest lineups in the country -foot-3 Emrie Ellis and 6-foot-2 Saylor Poffenbarger.

“When you play smaller teams, they tend to be more aggressive just because they have to be,” Wolfenbarger said after the Razorbacks’ 77-63 win over Arkansas State on Dec. 11. “We have a lot of big players and I think that understanding that just like we have to be aggressive, they’re going to come back ten times harder. So not only do we have to use our size advantage, but we also have to use our speed and agility and all that to really dominate the boards.”

As Wolfenbarger alluded to earlier, Arkansas is not a big-bodied team that relies solely on its size and plays a lumbering style of old-school basketball.

The Razorbacks can pace the court and score, going north of 78 points per game, and they do it with a balanced attack. Four Arkansas scorers average double-digit points, ranging from Chrissy Carr’s 13 points per game to Samara Spencer’s team-best 15.8 points per game.

And that only scratches the surface of Arkansas’ depth of ratings. Poffenbarger, the UConn transfer, averages nearly nine points per game and is the Razorbacks’ second most productive assist distributor. Wolfenbarger, an All-Freshman award winner in the SEC last season, brings a modern brand of near-positionless basketball to Arkansas’ approach as the team’s tallest player, but shoots the 3-pointer and attacks the rim from dribbling.

None of this is meant to mean Arkansas can’t mix it up in a traditional way on the inside, either. In fact, Erynn Barnum, the 6-foot-2 forward who controls color offense and defense, is the breakout star of the Razorbacks’ even play and strong start.

Barnum blocks a shot per game, has more than seven rebounds and is one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball with a field goal average of almost 70 percent. Barnum’s outstanding play on the inside reflects the Razorbacks’ maturation, coach Mike Neighbors said after a November win against Tulsa.

“This is a child who is now the fifth year in our program,” Neighbors said. “And she understands. She knows when her number is called, she knows she can dominate.”

The San Diego Invitational will be a fitting warmup for Barnum and the ranging Razorbacks to prepare for the SEC game, when the Arkansas forward will face counterparts like LSU’s Angel Reese and South’s National Player of the Year nominee Aliyah Boston Carolina, hits.

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