An eventful offseason got a little more exciting for Arkansas men’s basketball this week. School officials announced the Hogs will play a neutral-site series with Oklahoma at Tulsa’s BOK Center starting Dec. 12, 2020. A return game is set for Dec. 11, 2021. Two more games could be added in 2022 and 2023.
“I have tremendous respect for (Oklahoma) head coach Lon Kruger and the Sooner basketball program,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said in release this week. “We are also appreciative of the city of Tulsa and the BOK Center. This is a great game for both programs and Tulsa is the perfect neutral-site location. Not only will it be exciting for the region, this is the type of game that will draw national exposure. We feel like this will be a great experience for both our student-athletes and fans, while the environment versus a premier program from one of the top power conferences will help us in SEC play and beyond.”
This is good news for the program for a couple of reasons. One, Oklahoma is a respectable nonconference opponent from the Big 12 that should help the strength of schedule. A win over the Sooners will look good in March. Secondly, Arkansas gets to play them on a neutral floor where a 50/50 split of the arena is being promoted. With Tulsa being a close drive from Northwest Arkansas and not a bad drive from other parts of the state, the crowd could be a factor unlike other neutral site games played in another part of the country.
From a fan’s point of view, this will be a fun outing. Tulsa is a destination many Arkansans are familiar with and visit on a regular basis. They will head over and make a day of it eating out and shopping.
Interestingly enough, Arkansas, who is playing for the first time at the BOK Center, hasn’t played well in the city. The Hogs are 9-15 all-time against the home-standing Tulsa Golden Hurricane. As surprising as that is, Arkansas is also only 1-2 against even smaller mid-major Oral Roberts, who also calls Tulsa home.
The last neutral site game Arkansas played at Tulsa was against Oklahoma State at the Mabee Center at Oral Roberts. Arkansas lost 74-73 in a hotly contested game that saw tempers flare. I covered that game and remembered it being odd two Power 5 schools playing each other at a smaller mid-major arena. The atmosphere was decent, but not nearly as good as it will be with a 50-50 split at the state-of-the-art BOK Center. Next season’s game should have an exciting atmosphere.
“Our series with the University of Oklahoma will bring together two storied basketball programs and two passionate fan bases from bordering states to create a compelling regional rivalry,” said Arkansas Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek. “I am excited for our student-athletes, coaches and Razorback fans. I believe this series, with games being contested at a neutral location less than two hours from our respective campuses, will positively enhance the exposure of college basketball in our region.”
The other interesting aspect of the series is Musselman served as an assistant with the Atlanta Hawks under Krueger from 2000-02. Arkansas assistant coach Chris Crutchfield was on Kruger’s Oklahoma staff from 2011-19 and served the final three seasons as the associate head coach.
This is series is a good sign for the program. It shows Musselman has it moving in the right direction. After a solid first season, which most likely would have included an NIT berth, and a recruiting class that has been ranked as high a No. 5, others have noticed the progress. The more the Hogs improve, the more games like this will pop up on the schedule.
Image courtesy of the BOK Center