The Crimson Tide basketball team will face yet another very quick turnaround this weekend when the Arkansas Razorbacks visit Coleman Coliseum on Saturday night. The Hogs handed Alabama one if its two conference losses back on January 15th, winning 70-65 in Fayetteville. Arkansas led for only 78 seconds during the game, and Bama led as late as the final minute before committing turnovers on three straight possessions in that final minute.
Arkansas has probably been the most up-and-down team in the conference this season. When they play well, they can beat anyone in the league. Their win at Vanderbilt's Memorial Fortress (they are the only team to do so this year) is easily the most impressive win for any team this year in the SEC West. At the same time, they haven't been able to close out several games they probably should have won, and as a result they have only a 5-6 record within conference play this season. Their non-conference record of 11-3 wasn't bad at all, especially considering two of the losses came in overtime to NCAA bubble teams and the other came on the road at Texas, a likely #1 seed. However, a lack of quality non-conference wins and a weak SEC West have contributed to a fairly low RPI of 114 for what is in reality a decent and at times very dangerous Arkansas team.
Because of Arkansas's fairly low RPI numbers, this is yet another in a seemingly long line of games against SEC West teams that we really just can't afford to lose. On top of that, Bama will have to battle a very quick turnaround of arriving home from a road trip in the early morning hours Friday only to have to play again Saturday. Losing to Arkansas wouldn't be instant death in the way that a loss to lowly LSU would have been, but it would be close. A loss would make both an SEC Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth seem unlikely, while a win would send Bama into the last two weeks of the regular season in 1st place in the SEC, not to mention clinch 1st place in the West division for the 2011 season.
Read below the jump for full Arkansas roster breakdown and game analysis...
The big name for Arkansas on the offensive end is junior shooting guard Rotnei Clarke. He leads the SEC in 3-point shooting with 2.8 made treys per game, and he does so while shooting an unreal 43% 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 13.6 points per game. Bama did a good job on him defensively in Fayetteville, but a couple of lapses was all it took for Clarke to drop two treys and quietly accumulate 13 points, the last two of which came on what was ultimately a game-winning runner as the shot clock was about to expire with only 55 seconds remaining in the game.
The Hogs also have two dangerous players in the paint. 6'8" sophomore forward Marshawn Powell was arguably the best freshman in the SEC last season not in a Kentucky uniform, but he missed several games early this season and played at less than 100% in several others as he has fought to shake off the effects of offseason foot surgery. He looks to be back to his old self now, though, as he has been the team's leading scorer in conference play, averaging 13.5 points per game against SEC opponents. Powell is very explosive for a big man, and can be a very difficult player to guard without fouling. Expect to see Hines matched up on him for most of the night.
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 third on the team with 10.0 points per game and leads the team in rebounding (7.6 per game) and blocks (3.4 per game). He is an outstanding shot blocker and is currently neck-and-neck with South Carolina's Sam Muldrow for the SEC shot-blocking lead.
6'0" junior Jeff Peterson, a newcomer to the team after transfering from Iowa, starts for the Razorbacks at point guard and scores 6.6 points and contributes 2.0 assists per game. 6'1" sophomore Julysses Nobles splits time with Peterson, and actually started alongside him for much of the season. Despite now coming off the bench, Nobles averages more minutes, points and assists than Peterson. In fact, Nobles leads the team with 2.6 assists per game and is fourth on the team in scoring with 8.7 points per game.
Another pair of guards also split time in the backcourt. 6'3" senior Marcus Britt has been getting the starts as of late, averaging 4.6 points and 1.1 assists per game on the season, but 6'2" freshman Mardracus Wade actually averages more minutes in SEC play, averaging 4.4 points per game against conference foes. Britt is the better shooter, while Wade is more of a slasher.
6'8" junior Michael Sanchez is 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, though his minutes have been reduced in SEC play.
As a team, the Razorbacks have struggled to find offensive consistency. The rank 138th nationally in offensive efficiency, ahead of only South Carolina, Auburn and LSU within the SEC. The strengths of the offense are avoiding turnovers and drawing fouls. While they rank in the top 100 nationally in both categories, they aren't truly elite in either. Their biggest weakness on that end is offensive rebounding rate, where the Hogs come in at a lowly 294th in the nation. One of the reason Arkansas is so up-and-down is because they don't get a lot of second-chance points. They are very reliant on shots falling, so Bama needs to work hard to prevent easy looks, especially from Clarke.
On the defensive end, the Razorbacks have been solid, ranking 65th nationally in overall defensive efficiency, good for 6th in the SEC. Were it not for their weakness in defensive rebounding, though, they would likely rank as one of the better defensive teams in the country. They rank 14th nationally in effective field goal shooting defense, and they are in the top 80 in both forcing turnovers and in avoiding fouls. However, they rank 224th in the nation in defensive rebounding rate. A big key for Bama to avoid the upset in this one will be in getting second-chance points. The Tide had a 33% offensive rebounding rate in the game in Fayetteville. Bama needs to improve on that this time around.
Given that Arkansas's biggest weakness on both ends of the floor is their rebounding, the Tide needs to be aggressive on the boards to try and capitalize by generating a big rebounding gap, which in turn will give the Tide an edge in scoring opportunities. After all, this Arkansas offense can score and score quickly if given enough chances. Bama's defense wore down late in each half against the Hogs in Fayetteville, and allowed them to make a couple of big runs. The Hogs' inconsistent offense may not have gleaming overall numbers, but when they get chances they can go on runs in a hurry.
It will probably come as no surprise, but Bama can win this game with physical play around the rim and solid defense concentrated on playing Arkansas's two biggest threats, Clarke and Powell, as closely as possible. A two-day turnaround doesn't really create physical fatigue for college basketball players, but it can create mental fatigue, and against a team that is at its best when opposing defenses let up on them, Bama's mental focus has to be the biggest key in this game. If Bama plays 40 minutes with focus in front of a packed house in Coleman, the SEC West title will likely be ours.