Alabama and Arkansas share a lot in common on the basketball court. Both teams had really high expectations for their current coaches that haven't really paid off yet, have a solid, underrated basketball history, seem to love giving their fans heart attacks no matter who the opponent is, and both teams are drastically different animals depending on whether or not they play at home or on the road. Which is just fantastic considering where this game will be played. What makes the Arkansas Razorbacks (13-8, 2-6 in SEC play) much different from Alabama, however, is how dynamic the offense is. The Razorbacks are 18th in the country in PPG, averaging 82 points exactly. Their defense is very stingy as well, though it is much more effective at home than it is on the road. This has always been an issue for Mike Anderson-led basketball teams. The reason why is that the away team never seems to be able to play as aggressively as the home team does, and the whistles really hurt the hogs on the road. Arkansas is one of the fastest teams in the country in terms of pace. They want to speed things up on both sides of the court. The Razorbacks are always looking to make plays, and they don't seem the least bit interested in this whole "work the shot clock" thing. Again, this aggressive Nolan Richardson-esque style can get them in trouble at times, but when they are at home, watch out.
The Razorbacks are a very deep team, as they usually rotate 12 players. This goes well with their style of play, of course. In the backcourt, Junior G Rashad Madden (13.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.9 SPG) and Sophomore G Michael Qualls (11.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.6 BPG) are their two workhorses. Both players are very quick and can turn a defensive rebound into a quick score on the opposite side in a hurry. Madden is also a very good shooter (49.1% FG%, 44.9% 3P%, 79.5% FT%) and can swing the momentum of the game in a heartbeat. Qualls is a good shooter in his own right (42.3% FG%, 33.8% 3P%, 70.5% FT%), but he is mostly a slasher who uses his length (6'6) to create shot opportunities. His ability to rebound is also very good for a guard. Sophomore G Anthlon Bell (6.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.0 APG) is a solid player off of the bench. He isn't a great shooter or defender, but he is an athletic presence who is very good at getting to the foul line and knocking down free throws (83.3%). The Hogs also have a quartet of senior guards who provide great experience off of the bench. Senior G Fred Gulley (5.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 2.0 APG) is another very good shooter and deep threat (44.0% FG%, 42.1% 3P%). Senior G Kikko Haydar (4.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.7 SPG) is the spot up three point shooter of the team, as he shoots 50.0% from deep. Senior G Rickey Scott (3.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.3 APG) is a slashing guard who gets all of his looks inside of the arc. He isn't a great shooter, however. Finally, Senior G Mardracus Wade (2.6 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.7 SPG) is used mostly as a defender.
The Arkansas frontcourt is long, fast, and athletic. Freshman F Bobby Portis (12.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.3 BPG) is a stud in the making. He is already one of the better players in the SEC, as he can play at a high level on offense, defense and hitting the glass. Portis shoots 52.6% from the field and 75.7% from the line, which when combined with his 6'10 frame, is tough to stop. Junior F Alandise Harris (9.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.1 BPG) is a very good defender (92.6 defensive rating) and plays a larger offensive role away from the basket than Portis. Senior F Coty Clarke (8.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG) is a threat in nearly every phase of the game. He can score (47.1% FG%, 39.3% 3P%, 79.2% FT%), rebound, deal out assists, and play great defense (88.8 defensive rating). Freshman C Moses Kingsley (4.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.8 BPG) is a serious presence in the middle. At 6'10. Kingsley has quickly developed himself as a shot blocking specialist, and he has a fantastic defensive rating of 87.5. Lastly, Sophomore F Jacorey Williams (3.4 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.6 APG) rounds out the rotation. He has played in every game this year and is a nice, solid player off of the bench.
What To Watch For
1. Jekyll and Hyde. If you think that Alabama has a personality disorder when it comes to home and away games, you haven't watched Arkansas play this year. The Razorbacks take the whole Jekyll and Hyde persona to a whole new level. Arkansas is one of the toughest teams in the country when they are playing in Fayetteville, but if they hit the road, things really fall apart for them. Unfortunately, this game is being played in Bud Walton Arena. But fret not, as they return to play us in Coleman Coliseum the final game of the regular season.
Three Keys to Victory
1. Slow it Down and be Efficient. This key is very similar to when we played LSU for this reason: Arkansas is an even deeper, albeit less talented, version of the Bengal Tigers. The Razorbacks like to get everything in a hurry and speed things up, so naturally, it would be in Alabama's advantage to try and prevent that. Arkansas is ranked in the top 30 in the country in both steals and blocks, so Alabama needs to take care of the ball and not force poor shot attempts. Arkansas will make you pay dearly for it if you don't do those two things.
2. Create Contact on Offense. If there has been one constant to Mike Anderson-led teams over the years, it's the fact that their losses usually come because they foul like crazy. I went over this a bit earlier, but usually the home team gets the calls, which doesn't bode well for Alabama. But for Arkansas, this is even more extreme. The Razorbacks style of play puts a lot of pressure on officials, and it has been well documented that the Hogs get quite the benefit when playing at home. Regardless of this fact, the best way to beat Arkansas is by creating contact with those long bodies. There is no conspiracy here, if you draw contact, the refs are still going to call it. And Alabama needs that to happen.
3. Three Pointers. Alabama isn't a very good three point shooting team, but the big flaw in Arkansas's style of defense (swarm the ball handler, go for blocks and steals, crash the boards, etc.) it's that they expose themselves to a ton of wide-open three point opportunities. Trevor Releford and Shannon Hale could be huge in this game, if our team can get the ball to them.
Arkansas is in full-on desperation mode at this point. They still have a slim chance at going to the NCAA Tournament, but they don't have much more room for losses. That's not a good thing for Alabama in this one. With it being on the road in Fayetteville, I just don't see this defeated Alabama team winning this game. But that's why they play the games, right? The game is set to tip at 7:00 pm CST and will be televised by SEC TV.