It has not been the most wonderful of seasons for Alabama this year, but as the surging Arkansas Razorbacks (21-9, 10-7 SEC) come to town for the final game of the regular season, the Crimson Tide will try to send Alabama basketball great, Trevor Releford, out with one last home victory. The Hogs have been on an absolute tear lately. Winners of 8 of their last 9, the Razorbacks look like they have finally figured it out. This recent push has Arkansas right on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and a win against Alabama on Saturday may just lock up a spot for them, provided that they don't suffer an ugly loss in Atlanta next week.
The last time these two teams met, Arkansas was sitting at 2-6 in SEC play. Since the Hogs' home win in Fayetteville, Arkansas has only lost once: on the road in the waning seconds to a good Missouri team. The key difference is that the Razorbacks have finally learned how to win on the road, as they have won three of their last four road games, including a huge win in Lexington just last week. It also helps that their offense has gone off, including a ridiculous performance Wednesday night when they dropped 110 points on Ole Miss.
From last time:
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.
Madden (12.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.8 SPG) has seen his shooting numbers drop slightly (46.0% FG%, 39.8% 3P%), but has taken on a bigger role as a distributor for this team offensively.
Qualls (12.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG) has continued his good production and even boosted his three point shooting (37.4% 3P%).
Bell (6.9 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.8 APG) continues to see a lot of minutes off of the bench and has continued to knock down his free throws at a great rate (85.7%).
Gulley (4.2 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.7 SPG) and Haydar (3.3 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.6 SPG) have both seen their shooting numbers drop a decent amount, but they are both still good shooters off of the bench for Arkansas.
Wade (4.0 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.9 SPG) continues to provide a nice spark off of the bench on both sides of the court.
Scott (2.9 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 1.2 APG) has seen his playing time reduced over the course of the last month.
Portis (12.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.5 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.6 BPG) has added to his already stellar freshman season by solidifying himself as one of the best post players in the SEC.
Harris (9.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.2 BPG) still underwhelms in the rebounding category, but he makes up for it with his work on defense and his ability to stretch the court a little bit on offense.
Clarke (9.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG) has been a great spark plug for this team. He is one of my favorite players in the SEC, as he just gets it done. He doesn't jump out at you when you watch him play, but he takes care of business in every facet of the game.
Kingsley (4.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 1.5 BPG) is still a phenomenal defensive presence (90.6 defensive rating), especially for a freshman.
Williams (3.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.6 APG) has been a consistent contributor off of the bench.
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.
I stand by all three of my Keys as a sound game plan for Alabama to be successful on Saturday. Luckily, the game is in Tuscaloosa this time, so Key #2 really might come into play. The Razorbacks are now 6th in steals and 22nd in blocks in the country, as they have really gone full throttle on the whole "40 Minutes of Hell" persona recently. Therefore, Key #1 is vital. Alabama can not be careless with the ball and expect to beat Arkansas the way the Razorbacks are playing right now. It's just not going to happen.
I don't think I have to remind anyone who has read this far into it that this will be Releford's last home game. Come out and get loud for this man. He has given it his all over the last four years, and he will go down as one of the best Alabama basketball players of all-time. He is certainly one of my favorites.
Also, don't forget that Senior G Isiah Wilson will also be playing in his final home game. He may not get to play much, or get much publicity, but he puts the work in as much as anyone else on the team. He may not be an all-time great, but he deserves some nice recognition as well.
Wrapping it Up
Well everyone, this wasn't the season we all wanted, but it is what it is. Anyway, seeing as this is the final regular season game, I want to thank everyone for their continued participation and for continuing to indulge me in my write-ups. Y'all have been great, despite the disappointing season we have had. I will, of course, be writing stuff for the SEC Tournament next week, but I felt like this was a proper time to say all of that.
Come out and watch T Relly on Senior Day everyone. The game is set for 3:00 pm CST and will be televised only on ESPN3.com.