As Alabama heads to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks (13-4, 2-2 SEC), both teams are licking their wounds a little bit from the battles of last week. Make no mistake, this game is arguably Alabama's biggest of the season against a team not named Kentucky. A road win at Bud Walton Arena is a rare occurrence with Mike Anderson leading the fast-paced, high-scoring Hogs. There is no question that a win against Arkansas Thursday night would really jolt Alabama up the NCAA Tournament review list, as the Razorbacks are currently a consensus pick to make the big dance.
- PG Jabril Durham (2.4 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 2.3 APG)
- 2G Rashad Madden (10.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- 3G Michael Qualls (16.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG)
- PF Bobby Portis (18.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG)
- C Moses Kingsley (4.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.9 BPG)
The current starting five for the Razorbacks can be a bit misleading, as Durham and Kingsley only log 13.9 and 12.2 MPG, respectively. However, Kingsley's nearly seven-foot frame and Durham's ability to play as a true point guard are why these two have such big roles for the Hogs. Durham isn't much of a scorer (33.3% FG%, 36.4% 3P%), but he runs the point well, doesn't turn the ball over (less than a turnover a game), and knocks down his free throws (75.0%). Kingsley's perks are obvious, he can rebound and defend the rim.
Where Arkansas really starts to separate themselves from opponents is with their version of the "Big Three". In the back court, Madden and Qualls have this Razorback offense running at warp-speed and peak-efficiency. Madden is a great shooter (41.3% FG%, 46.3% 3P%, 90.8% FT%), and he also has the ability to create for his teammates. "Ky", as he's affectionately known, has spent a lot of time at the point whenever Durham takes a seat on the bench. Qualls is an athletic freak, routinely finding himself on highlight reels around the country. He can shoot pretty well (36.1% 3P%, 83.1% FT%), but it is his ability to drive and score around the basket that makes him so dangerous (47.0% FG%, 56.1% 2P%). He's a good rebounder, and uses his 6'6 length to really frustrate opposing players when on defense. In the post, Portis is making a run at SEC Player of the Year this season. The guy is an absolute mismatch for most players, as he uses his 6'11 frame to dominate around the rim. Not only does he score at ease around the basket (58.0% FG%, 58.1% 2P%), he can also step out occasionally and hit the three (56.3% 3P%). If you hope to foul him to prevent points, he can still make you pay from the line (71.6% FT%). Defensively, he is one of the few guys in the conference who is averaging over a block and a steal per game, and he can really cause problems for teams looking to attack the basket.
- G Anthlon Bell (9.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.6 APG)
- F Alandise Harris (7.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.1 SPG)
- F Jacorey Williams (6.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- G Anton Beard (4.3 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.9 SPG)
- G Manuale Watkins (3.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.5 SPG)
The Razorbacks are one of the deepest teams in the country, as they have five guys who all come off of the bench and perform at an above-average to high level. Bell, Harris, and Williams are all upperclassmen who have a lot of experience in system, which is evident by their numbers. They can all rebound, pass, and steal the ball with some level of success. Even though his FG% is lacking a bit (39.0%), Bell is a pretty solid shooter. He can hit the three (36.8% 3P%) and knock down free throws (75.0%). Williams isn't a shooter by any stretch, but his ability to drive and finish around the rim makes him dangerous (46.1% FG%). Harris is an all-around scorer (46.7% FG%, 40.0% 3P%), but he struggles from the line (63.4%). Beard is the guard of the future for Mike Anderson, as the true freshman handles the ball well off of the bench. Watkins is very good scoring inside of the arc (59.0% FG%, 65.7% 2P%), but he isn't a shooter (no made threes, 68.2% FT%). He also leads the team in defensive rating at 94.7.
What to Watch For
- Home/Away Discrepancy. No two teams better encapsulate the difference in performance at home and on the road than Alabama and Arkansas. Unfortunately for the Tide, this game will be played in Fayetteville. However, Ole Miss ran with the Hogs and beat them at Bud Walton Arena on Saturday, so Arkansas isn't unbeatable there. It's just really difficult.
- Streaking. The Razorbacks and the Crimson Tide are both riding two game losing streaks after a rough stretch in conference play last week. While Arkansas is still in fine shape for the NCAA Tournament, they are starting to fall towards the bubble. Alabama, meanwhile, finds themselves on the other side of the cut line looking to move themselves square onto the bubble. One of these teams will come away with a big end to their short losing streak, the other will continue their fall down the seed lines.
Three Keys to Victory
- Slow Down the Tempo. The Razorbacks are famous for their "40 Minutes of Hell" brand of basketball that was made famous by the great Nolan Richardson. Mike Anderson has his own version of the up-tempo style, albeit a bit less successful than the Arkansas legend. Regardless, the Razorbacks want to run. They want to force turnovers, score in transition, speed up and down the court, and leap straight out of the gym. When they get that tempo flowing, they are really hard to beat. With that said, whenever they have failed to get that tempo going on a consistent basis, they have struggled. That is part of the reason why they have had trouble on the road, as they just can't get that same momentum. Alabama needs to make this a halfcourt game, and not let the athleticism of the Arkansas players take over.
- Limit Turnovers. In a bit of a segue from the first key, Alabama can not afford to turn the ball over. It's not ideal to turn the ball over no matter what, but live turnovers in particular need to be avoided. A bad pass, a lost dribble that ends in a steal, a swatted shot that bounces down the court, or any other kind of turnover where the ball stays in play will lead to the Razorbacks sprinting the opposite way for an easy score.
- Draw Contact. There are two ways to really exploit a Mike Anderson-coached basketball team. The first way is to take advantage of their hyper-aggressive defense by making good passes and knocking down open jumpers, which are normally in strong supply against the Razorbacks. However, seeing as Alabama isn't the best jump shooting team in the world, it would behoove the Tide to go for attack plan #2, which is to draw contact. Arkansas fouls in bunches. Their style of play puts a lot of pressure on officials to make calls, and it has been a huge flaw in Anderson's system over the years. Make a move, draw some contact against those big, long bodies, and get to the free throw line.