John and Stephen of Arkansas Expats have been exchanging Q&A's with A Sea of Blue since way before they joined SB Nation. I am proud to say that we are continuing this tradition, and look forward to doing so for a long time to come.
The Arkansas Razorbacks have had an interesting year in basketball. From early on this season, several players wound up on suspension, and Courtney Fortson has only been back for four games, all games in which the play of the Hawgs has improved significantly.
In addition, Arkansas seems to have a budding new star in Marshawn Powell, who has really exploded as a scorer lately. However, Michael Washington has been suffering from back issues, and that has somewhat limited the impact of Powell's vast improvement.
Still, as the Mississippi St. Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide have discovered, the Razorbacks now have teeth. The Kentucky Wildcats had best learn that now, before they have to learn it the hard way.
My Q&A with Stephen and John follows the jump. You can find my answers to their questions at Arkansas Expats.
My questions are in italics:
- Arkansas has suffered a number of player issues over the last couple of years, and as a result, both team chemistry and performance have suffered. What impact is all this having on John Pelphrey’s position as head coach, and do you think he can find a way through these difficulties and remain head coach at Arkansas? Explain.
Suffice to say, the honeymoon is over. But the hot seat may not be as hot as you would imagine. In part, that’s probably because Razorback fans are so excited about Bobby Petrino and the football team that they’re not as angry about the basketball program as they might otherwise be.
And Athletic Director Jeff Long has issued several statements of support for Pelphrey in recent weeks and seemed to say the other day that fans shouldn’t expect the team to enjoy sustained success until after next season..
All of this is not to say that Razorback fans aren’t frustrated. They are, but my sense is that, at this point, they may be more apathetic about the program than angry. Others may disagree with that interpretation (unlike the pre-conference games, attendance for the SEC contests has been respectable, for example). Still, there’s no torch-wielding mob outside the athletic department offices yet.
As to the second part of your question, I do think Pelphrey can turn it around. Courtney Fortson, Rotnei Clarke and Marshawn Powell are nice building blocks, and it sounds like Pel has a good recruiting class coming in for next year. Furthermore, the Arkansas high school class of 2011 has several big-time recruits, and it seems that Pelphrey has made some nice inroads with those guys (he has an oral commitment from one, for whatever that’s worth). Good recruiting cures many ills, and there’s reason to believe that the talent at Arkansas is about to get better.
With Courtney Fortson back, the Razorbacks’ play has noticeably improved. How much better can this team get, and what will it take to get them out of the SEC cellar?
Marshawn Powell is coming on like gangbusters, so the Hogs’ offensive game may take another step forward or two before the year is over. But I’m still skeptical that the team is going to improve a whole lot before the season is out. They rebound and defend too poorly, and these problems have been around a while, Fortson or no Fortson. I have a hard time believing those issues are going to be resolved. Furthermore, they have a pretty weak bench.
Having said all that, they are clearly better now than they were last season, and they’ve made enough improvement since then to stay out of the SEC West cellar, I think. LSU’s ineptitude alone make keep the Hogs out of the cellar.
But I think the Hogs have enough there, there to win five to seven conference games, maybe even eight if they could beat LSU and Auburn on the road (it’s been two years since they won an SEC road game). But after last night’s loss to Florida, eight wins is probably out of reach.
Looking at the size and skill of the Wildcats versus that of the Hogs, what do you like about your chances in this game? What do you dislike?
I’ll make this quick: there’s virtually nothing that I like about this game. I’m a diehard, so I’m sure by this time tomorrow I will have convinced myself that the Hogs have a chance. I do take some comfort in Kentucky’s recent trend of closer-than-expected wins, but this is a tough one to get excited about.
Marshawn Powell has really come of age in the last six or seven games. How do you think he will fare against the bulky Wildcat post players?
If someone argued that Powell is already the Hogs’ best player, I would not disagree. He’s having an excellent freshman season and has all the makings of a very special player.
That said, I suspect that he’s in for a rough afternoon tomorrow because the Wildcats have at least three guys – Cousins, Patterson and Orton — to throw at him. Michael Washington is the Hogs’ only other frontcourt threat, but he has been inconsistent this season largely because of back woes. Marshawn needs Washington to play well to take some defensive pressure off him.
Rotnei Clarke shoots the ball incredibly well from outside, but he seems like your only three point threat. Is it that you lack players who can shoot, or are other good shooters just having bad years?
It’s that we lack other good shooters. Stef Welsh is very streaky, and he can get on a roll from behind the three-point arc, but the cons of his game vastly outweigh the pros. He’s a ball hog (pun somewhat intended) and is often out of control. Most Razorback fans would be perfectly happy to see him ride the pine as much as possible.
Describe how you think this game will go, and what the ultimate result will be.
Well, as I indicated above, I’m very pessimistic.. Despite their poor record over the past two seasons, the Hogs have rarely gotten pounded from start to finish, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Arkansas hang around for a half or so. But it’s on the road, and I think your frontline is poised to have a very big day. Toss in the Hogs’ lack of depth, and I think Kentucky pulls away in the second half for a fairly easy victory. I’m going to say UK 88, Arkansas 70.
Thanks to Stephen and John of Arkansas Expats for doing the Q&A with us. Here's to a great game tomorrow!