Tonight, the Arkansas Razorbacks call the Hawgs to Rupp Arena to face the Kentucky Wildcats in what will be Kentucky's second home stand against this year's SEC slate. The game is scheduled for 9:00 PM tonight, so those of us with early rise times will be a bit sleep-deprived tomorrow.
Arkansas comes into Lexington for the first time under the command of former Missouri Tigers head coach and Nolan Richardson assistant, Mike Anderson. Anderson has a bit of an interesting history with Kentucky. Anderson's UAB Blazers sent then #2-ranked Kentucky home from the 2004 NCAA Tournament in the second round, one of the more embarrassing and frustrating early-outs for UK in history. Kentucky would avenge that loss two years later in the 2006 tournament, but then ranked only #25.
Calipari himself has had better luck against Anderson, beating him all but a couple of times back during their mutual term in Conference USA. When Anderson moved to Missouri in 2006 through 2011, he compiled a 108-58 (.659) record there and left behind what is now one of the top teams in the land to coach Arkansas, where he and his mentor were so successful back in the 1990's.
Arkansas has started off well this year, but their schedule is full of teams ranked 150+, and so far, Anderson's Hawgs have only two victories inside the top 100, both at home against SEC schools. Their most recent game against the LSU Tigers was a nine-point victory in Fayetteville.
Roster and statistics
|B.J. Young||Major res.
|Rashad Madden||Major res.
|Marvell Waithe||Major res.
|Hunter Mickelson||Major res.
Strengths and weaknesses
- Size and length
- Overall athleticism and skill
- Shooting, particularly inside the arc
- Team defense
- Offensive rebounding
- Shot blocking
- Home court
- Forcing turnovers -- Arkansas is 16th in the land
- Taking care of the basketball
- Offensive rebounding -- The Hawgs are not as good as UK, but still very competent
- Steals % -- Arkansas is 22nd nationally
- Team defense
- Zone offense. UK has struggled to identify disguised zones. This should not be a problem against Arkansas
- Ballhandling against pressure -- UK has been shaky at times.
- Turnovers. The 'Cats are now 80th in turnover %
- Battle and road tested.
- Youth. Arkansas is older than Kentucky, but not by much.
- New coach, new system. This is only nominally a weakness, it may be more of a strength in Arkansas' case.
- Defensive rebounding -- This is a real problem for the Hogs, and it is weakness on strength for UK.
- Arkansas puts opponents on the line quite a bit.
- Lack of tough opponents so far
- Have not won a single game away from home this year
Arkansas is very much a guard-oriented team this year thanks to the injury to star forward Marshawn Powell, who is down for the season with a knee injury. That gap in size has been filled somewhat by freshman Devonta Abron and senior reserve Marvell Waithe, along with the been-there-forever Michael Sanchez, who Kentucky unsuccessfully tried to recruit back during the Billy Gillispie years.
One thing Arkansas can really do is shoot the basketball, and even though they aren't a high-percentage shooting team, they do have several guys who can really light it up, notably sophomore Mandracus Wade and freshman BJ Young. Kentucky will have to really guard the perimeter tonight, as the Hogs are not afraid to fire from three.
But the real challenge for Kentucky will be dealing with Arkansas' full-court pressing and running style. Arkansas plays at a blistering 72.6 possessions per game, only a little slower than the North Carolina Tar Heels. Kentucky controlled the pace against the Heels, but they didn't press, and Arkansas really does, aggressively and continuously. They have
10 9 players who get over 16 minutes per game, so this will be a real test of Kentucky's conditioning. Arkansas' defense is how they get much of their offense.
The Wildcats cannot take this team lightly at all, even at home. The young Hawgs are very skilled, and if you'll remember, the Razorbacks had one of the top recruiting classes in the nation last year. These freshman, much like Kentucky, can really play. They aren't as advanced as the young Wildcats, but these Hogs are beginning to mirror the intensity and passion of their head coach. That's great for the future of Arkansas, but dangerous for Kentucky to be careless around. UK's recent tendency to turn the ball over is something they must not do against Arkansas, because the Razorbacks' press will force some, and they don't need any help from the 'Cats.
This game is likely to be nip and tuck for a good while. Arkansas has really improved from earlier in the year. Kentucky should be too much for them, but they had better give this Razorback team all their respect and attention.