The Crimson Tide basketball team will hit the road tonight for a tough road contest in Fayetteville against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Tip off is set for 6:00 pm CST with the game being televised nationally on ESPN2.
Despite all the turmoil on the team with the recent--and in JaMychal Green's case, still ongoing--suspensions and the fact that the Tide has dropped six of its last ten games, Alabama is still in position to make the NCAA Tournament if Bama can close the season strongly. Winning on Thursday night on the road against an Arkansas team that is 17-1 at home and ranked in the top 100 of the RPI would certainly give a big boost to Bama's chances.
The challenge for Alabama will be great. Tony Mitchell is done for the year. JaMychal Green is still suspended. That means once again the Tide will be forced to play a tough conference game without its two best players. Arkansas has fallen out of contention for an NCAA at-large berth, but the young Hogs are extremely tough to beat in Bud Walton Arena. Not only are they 17-1 at home, but their wins have included notches over three projected NCAA Tournament teams, including top-10-ranked Michigan, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State.
Arkansas is a program in transition under first-year coach Mike Anderson, with one of the youngest lineups in the SEC. Like typical young but talented teams, the Hogs have shown flashes of being very dangerous, especially at home, never more so apparent than when they ran an elite Michigan team off the floor for a half back in January en route to a big win. However, the Hogs have also been extremely inconsistent, as evidenced by their 0-9 record outside of Bud Walton Arena.
Despite their road struggles, Arkansas gave Alabama all they wanted in the two teams' first meeting in Tuscaloosa. The Tide actually didn't take the lead for good until under 5 minutes to go in what was a very competitive game within one possession in the final two minutes. Clearly the Razorbacks have proven they have what it takes to take on the Tide, and doing so on their home court with a shorthanded Bama team has them as slight favorites according to Vegas. Alabama will need a big-time effort from all four freshmen players and the two little-used 7-footers who will be filling in for Green, not to mention some major leadership and production from Releford and Steele, the only two players dressing out who have any significant experience beyond this season. Hope for the best.
Quick Look at Arkansas
17-10 overall, 8th place in SEC
12-3 in non-conference play: overall played a very weak non-conference schedule, so the inflated record doesn't do much for their tournament chances. Lost games to lowly Houston on a neutral court, bubble team UConn on the road, and a middling Oklahoma team on the road. They did manage 11 non-conference wins before SEC play started, but all were at home against sub-100 competition. Their only top-100 non-conference win was a big one, taking out a highly ranked Michigan squad at home a few weeks after SEC play began.
5-7 in SEC play: chalked up home wins over South Carolina, Auburn, LSU, and projected NCAA Tournament teams Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. Their sole home loss of the season came in their last game, a blowout loss to projected NCAA Tournament team Florida on Saturday. They have also lost all six SEC road games thus far, falling to Georgia, Ole Miss, LSU, Tennessee, Alabama, and #1 ranked Kentucky.
: The 6'3" freshman guard has been one of the SEC's top young freshmen. He leads the team in scoring with 15.1 points/game.
: The 6'2" sophomore is the team's top perimeter shooter, nailing 2.0 treys per game. He is 2nd on the team in scoring with 10.4 points/game.
The 6'3" sophomore guard is more of a slasher relative to Wade, but he still gets his points. He is 3rd on the team in scoring with 9.1 points/game.
: The 6'1" junior guard is arguably the most well-rounded of the Razorback guards. He leads the team with 3.3 assists/game while also providing a shooting threat. He is 4th on the team with 8.9 points/game.
Rashad Madden: The 6'5" freshman guard is yet another young but talented player in Anderson's 5-man backcourt. The rookie averages 6.9 points/game, 5th on the team.
The post: The Hogs lost their top post player and leading scorer in Marshawn Powell after only two games this season. His absence has left a huge void, as the Razorbacks have struggled to rebound well or score consistently in the post. Four players typically rotate down low: 6'8" freshman Devonta Abron, 6'9" senior Marvell Waithe, 6'10" freshman Hunter Mickelson, and 6'9" senior Michael Sanchez (although he has missed the last several games). Abron and Mickelson have some nice upside, but none of the Hogs' post players averages more than 6 points/game.
Keys to the game
- Avoiding turnovers. Arkansas ranks next to last in the SEC in overall defensive efficiency, yet they lead the league in defensive turnover rate and defensive steal rate. Probably the biggest key to beating this team is protecting the ball. If Bama does that well, the Razorback defense is beatable, and the Tide can deprive the Hogs of something they typically thrive on to get stops, score in transition, and get the home crowd pumped up.
. One area in which Arkansas has struggled during SEC play is rebounding. The rank last in the league in offensive rebounding rate and next to last in defensive rebounding rate. Obviously, Alabama will not be in a good position to take advantage here with the Tide's far and away two best rebounders suspended, but post players like Jacobs, Engstrom, and Gueye can help to make sure Arkansas isn't able to pull in an uncharacteristic amount of rebounds. Perimeter players will also be key in chasing down long rebounds and boxing out.
- Aggressive on offense. Without JaMychal Green, Alabama has struggled even more than usual in the halfcourt offense. However, this smaller Bama lineup has been most dangerous when players are getting the ball into the paint, whether by dribble penetration or by passing into (and out of) the high post against a zone. In particular, players like Releford and Steele have typically been strongest in this area and will need to step up even more, but additionally, players like Lacey and Cooper need to continue to be more aggressive offensively in the absence of Green.