Once again, Steven with Razorback Expats, an outstanding Arkansas Razorback blog, asked me to do a Q & A with them for the Arkansas game, which I gratefully accepted. The following are his answers to my questions, with my questions in italics.
You can find my answers to Steven's questions by following this link.
John Pelphrey has been on the job for one and one half seasons now, with some big triumphs and some big disappointments. Have your feelings about him changed since he was selected as coach? If so, how?
Our feelings haven't really changed. My fellow expat John and I were enthusiastic about the hire and remain so. Throughout all of the ups and downs of this season, this team has continued to play hard (well, except for the closing minutes of our home loss to Auburn, when the guys did seem to give up). That speaks well of Pelphrey. And even though it severely decreases what small chance we had of beating you guys, I admire the coach for suspending Fortson. He is very demanding of his players, and I like that.
Having said all of that, it's all about recruiting. This year's class is, overall, something of a disappointment, at least so far. Whether Pelphrey can bring in the kind of talent needed to revitalize the program remains to be seen. My gut says he can and will.
Even with Pelphrey's pressure scheme and quick guards, Arkansas is not very proficient at turning over the opponent. Why do you think that is so?
I don't know that I have an answer more sophisticated than the following: They're just not very a very good defensive team. In Nolan's heyday, the team always had at least one or two defensive standouts: Corey Beck, Clint McDaniel, Arlyn Bowers, Keith Wilson. Even in a half-court set-up, those guys could lock their opponents up. Put them in a style of play that pushed the opponent beyond the brink of exhaustion, and they became even more effective.
Those kind of guys just aren't on this year's team. Marcus Britt, a sophomore blue-collar guard, may yet become that kind of player, but he doesn't receive a ton of playing time yet.
On top of the lack of top-level defensive skill, the team doesn't have enough warm bodies to press for very long. In the Hogs' two most recent games, both on the road, they played at a fast pace in the first half and had sizable leads at intermission. In the second half, their legs looked like Jello, and they ended up losing by significant margins.
What is the biggest strength of this year's Razorbacks? Biggest weakness?
Strengths: forward Michael Washington and point guard Courtney Fortson, the latter of whom you won't have to worry about on Saturday. Also, attitude. As I said earlier, they've continued to bust their butts even during this seemingly interminable slide.
Weaknesses: How much time do you have? The Hogs are terrible at guarding the three-pointer, probably in part because we are so small in the backcourt. We don't have any depth in the frontcourt: Michael Washington is our sole consistent source of offense upfront (Jason Henry is listed as a forward and has performed well recently, but he really plays more like a guard).
In fact, we don't any depth overall. With Fortson suspended and Marcus Monk being withheld due to "eligibility issues" (that's all the university has said about the matter), the Hogs will have only eight scholarship players available on Saturday, one of whom - Jason Henry - has a cranky knee that limited his minutes and effectiveness Wednesday against Auburn.
Describe your perception of how Arkansas fans perceive the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team.
I think Kentucky is viewed as a friendly rival. Arkansas fans have very warm memories of those classic early and mid-1990s games and would like nothing more than for the program to get back to the point where we are a consistent threat to you guys.
What has happened to the Razorbacks in league play? They were doing fantastic against OOC competition, knocking off two highly ranked teams, but have crashed in league play. Why do you think that is?
Looking back to the victories over Oklahoma and Texas (which growing more stunning with each passing hour), I think the Hogs just caught lightning in a bottle, in part because they were playing in front of the most raucous home crowds of at least the past 10 years. What those victories made a lot of people forget (including, I have to say, myself) was that the Hogs struggled to beat many of their mid-major non-conference opponents.
The team you see in conference play is, unfortunately, a pretty accurate representation of who the Hogs are. They play very hard, and there's enough there with Washington and Fortson to perhaps notch some unexpected victories down the stretch. But I don't think there's enough there to win consistently in the SEC.
Our thanks to Steven and John for asking us to participate in the Q&A. We hope for a good battle tomorrow in Bud Walton Arena, and may both teams give their all.