The Crimson Tide basketball team will continue SEC play in Fayetteville early Saturday afternoon when they face the Arkansas Razorbacks. Tip-off is set for 12:30 CT with the game being televised regionally on the SEC Network and streamed world-wide on ESPN3.
Bama is currently 2-0 in SEC play, and the Hogs, with a 1-1 SEC mark, had the best non-conference record of any SEC West team, so this game could have big implications in the SEC West race. Like South Carolina, Arkansas can probably be considered a middle-of-the-road SEC team right now, but this will be an even tougher test as it will come on the road in front of a hostile crowd.
Arkansas, led by fourth-year coach John Pelphrey, is in the midst of slowly rebuilding a once-proud program that has struggled in recent years with players leaving the program. Many feel that the program is headed in the right direction now with a good crop of young players and one of the nation's top recruiting classes coming in next year. For now the Hogs are hoping they can take advantage of a down SEC West to garner enough SEC wins to sneak in the Big Dance for the first time since Pelphrey's first season in 2008, but that will be a tall task as they'll need a stellar SEC record and several big-time wins to get that done.
I said earlier that Arkansas resembles South Carolina as a team on paper, and the statistics back that up. Like the Gamecocks, the Razorbacks are one of the best shot-blocking teams in the country, ranking 6th in the nation in shot-blocking efficiency. Carolina ate our lunch around the rim, so this has to be a very big concern for the Tide heading into this one. Arkansas is also very good in field goal efficiency defense, ranking 14th in the nation in that category while ranking 25th in forcing turnovers. This is a very, very good defensive team, but their big weakness on that end is giving up offensive rebounds, where they rank a lowly 233rd. Despite those poor rebounding numbers, they are still ranked 46th in overall defensive efficiency, about where South Carolina is.
Offensively the Hogs have struggled about as badly as the Tide this season. They rank 176th in overall offensive efficiency, thanks in large part to their inability to get offensive boards (ranked 263rd) and their inability to get to the free throw line (ranked 228th). Like South Carolina, they rely heavily on 3-point shooting, so if they are going to hurt us on that end, that's probably how they'll do it.
I'd say that's the biggest key to this game. Arkansas is likely to put up a lot of 3's against our defense and if they hit a high percentage and score into the high 60's or 70's it's not a good sign for us. Arkansas's defense is likely to give us trouble, so we won't win if the game is high-scoring and especially if that allows the crowd to get into it. However if Arkansas is limited in their long-range shooting percentage, I think we could see another ugly low-scoring game like we did on Wednesday, which would give us a great chance to steal another SEC West road win.
Full Arkansas roster breakdown and game analysis after the jump...
The big name for Arkansas on the offensive end is junior shooting guard Rotnei Clarke. He leads the SEC in 3-point shooting with 3.2 made treys per game, and he does so while shooting an impressive 42% from the arc. The kid can flat out shoot, as they say, and he certainly has the ability to get off good shots. Although most of his points come from the arc, he is still capable of scoring in other ways on occasion. He is the team's leading scorer at 14.1 points per game.
The Hogs also have two dangerous players in the paint. 6'9" senior Delvon Johnson only became a major contributor late last season as a JuCo transfer, but he's certainly found his comfort zone now. He is second on the team with 10.1 points per game and leads the team in rebounding (8.4 per game) and blocks (3.8 per game). He is an outstanding shot blocker and is currently neck-and-neck with South Carolina's Sam Muldrow, who blocked 6 shots against us on Wednesday, for the league lead.
The other starter in the post is the player most expected to be the Razorbacks' star player this year, sophomore Marshawn Powell. As a freshman last season he was outstanding, averaging 14.9 points and 6.7 rebounds en route to unanimous Freshman All-SEC selection. However, after missing the first few games this season it has taken him a while to get warmed up, and his numbers have fallen a bit as a result. He is now back in the starting lineup, though, and he led the team in scoring in their last game, so he may be getting close to full strength again, which is a bad sign because he was extremely impressive as a freshman last year and is an outstanding talent.
Joining Clarke in the backcourt are actually a pair of point guards. 6'1" sophomore Julysses Nobles has been promoted from his backup role last season and now leads the team with 3.6 assists per game and is third on the team in scoring with 8.8 points per game. 6'0" junior Jeff Peterson is a newcomer to the team after transfering from Iowa and scores 8.4 points per game and contributes 2.3 assists. Both point guards are very capable 3-point shooters but neither gets off shots at the rate of Clarke.
The Hogs utlilize a pretty deep bench, usually going about 10- or 11-deep. The first two guards off the bench are 6'3" senior Marcus Britt and 6'2" freshman Mardracus Wade. Britt is a very good 3-point shooter while Wade is more of a slasher. 6'5" senior Jemal Farmer is the team's lone wing player. Each of these reserve backcourt players average between 3.7 and 4.9 points per game, so they can all score when they're in but don't really get enough minutes to hit double-figures.
6'8" junior Michael Sanchez has returned after missing most of this season due to injury and has quickly become the first post player off the bench. He's big and strong and Pelphrey likes his rebounding and hustle. 6'7" sophomore Glenn Bryant is a big-time shot blocker who could become a great player with better consistency. He averages 5.4 points and 2.1 blocks in only 15 minutes per game. 6'9" JuCo transfer Marvell Waithe also contributes frequently and is a strong rebounder, though his minutes have started to decrease with the return of Sanchez.
Arkansas is deep and has plenty of capable players, but right now they don't have one go-to guy that can really spark the offense (though Clarke can certainly play that role on a given night if he's hot). Here's to hoping Bama's defense can handle these guys and give us another big SEC win.
This isn't a game we're expected to win, but it is one we can win and it's one that would be massive for us heading into the tough matchup with Kentucky on Tuesday night. A win would put us in an unthinkable 3-0 spot heading into Tuesday's showdown, but a loss would be far from devastating.
Hope for the best.