So this is a big one, and a tough one. In case you have forgotten, and you could be forgiven if you have, the Kentucky Wildcats and Arkansas Razorbacks don’t just have a history, they have a history. It’s been a while since this rivalry’s heyday, but with the advent of Mike Anderson and his improved recruiting, it was always just a matter of time.
It’s kind of a shame that this is a game between two teams that aren’t exactly at the level of when the rivalry was truly extraordinary. Kentucky is a bit down this year due to injury and maybe a bit less talent than the last three seasons, and Arkansas is a team on the rise.
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It hasn’t been meteoric, or anything – no doubt to the chagrin of the basketball-loving Razorback fans – but gradual and incremental. But here we are, about to travel to a place that is very hungry for a win, and even though they don’t look like an NCAA team this year, especially after losing to LSU on Wednesday in Baton Rouge, they are good enough to beat Kentucky at home.
Season so far
|Rank and Records||UK||ARK|
|Strength of Schedule||#69||#87|
|RPI Top 50||1-4||3-4|
Kentucky and Arkansas have a remarkably short history, by SEC standards The two teams first met in 1945, met again in 1948 and 1950, and then didn’t see each other again on the basketball floor until 28 years later in 1978, where they met in the Final Four in St. Louis. Kentucky went on to win that game, and the next one as well to claim their fifth NCAA Tournament title.
But it was between 1992 and 1995 when Kentucky and Arkansas were the hottest and best rivalry in the SEC. In their inaugural game as an SEC member, the Razorbacks defeated the Wildcats in Lexington. Both teams were ranked in the top ten, #9 and #8 respectively.
In that 3-year series, Arkansas was 4-3 against the Wildcats, won an NCAA Tournament title in 1994 and were runners-up in 1995. Beginning the very next year, Kentucky would match and subsequently eclipse that 2 year performance by the Razorbacks, winning the tournament in 1996, runners-up in 1997, and winning again in 1998.
Since then, the series gradually became one-sided with Arkansas winning only 4 games since 1996 out of 22 tries. Kentucky’s overall record against the Razorbacks is 25-8.
The guy that makes Arkansas go is B.J. Young, the sophomore shooting guard (15.3 ppg). Young has good size and long arms, and although he hasn’t shot the ball well from outside the arc this year, he is a good defender, gets to the line a lot, and finds ways to get points off the bounce. Young is the leading assist man in this offense (3.8 apg) and should probably be considered a scoring point guard.
Arkansas starts a 3-guard offense, and Young’s backcourt mates, Mardracus Wade and Rickey Scott. Wade is more of a defensive specialist, leading the team in steals (3.9 spg). Scott is a dangerous perimeter shooter making almost 40% from the arc.
Coty Clarke and Marshawn Powell are the front-court guys, and Marshawn Powell is the big dog there (14.9 p, 5.3 rpg). Powell is also a very dangerous perimeter shooter, shooting 40% from the perimeter and with the second-most 3-point shots on the team.
Off the bench, Kikko Haydar is a 3-point specialist, Hunter Mickelson is a big body with good ball skills, Rashad Madden is a solid wing slasher and Michael Qualls adds more depth to the 8-man rotation.
Four Factors and Ken Pomeroy Tables
Stats comparison via Kenpom.com:
|Kentucky with ball||Arkansas with ball|
|Efficiency||107.5 4||95.9 3||94.8 10||101.6 11|
|Tempo||65.6 6||68.6 2|
|Effective FG%:||53.3 2||48.4 8||46.5 10||44.8 2|
|Turnover %:||20.5 9||25.3 1||17.8 3||15.0 14|
|Off. Reb. %:||35.1 3||33.5 12||27.6 12||33.0 11|
|FTA/FGA:||45.0 2||42.1 13||32.0 10||29.5 4|
|3P%:||36.1 3||35.9 13||28.6 13||31.8 5|
|2P%:||52.9 2||45.7 5||48.5 5||43.7 3|
|FT%:||65.3 11||67.6 7||64.8 13||72.1 12|
|Block%:||10.3 7||13.3 2||10.1 6||15.6 1|
|Steal%:||9.3 5||12.3 2||7.6 1||6.6 13|
SEC Games only.
Arkansas is a deep team with a lot of solid parts, and they are extremely dangerous at home. In fact, Arkansas is favored to win this game by a couple of points, although Kentucky is slightly better statistically. Kentucky is a significantly better offensive rebounding and shooting team, but the Razorbacks pressure forces a lot of steals, a statistic in which they lead the SEC.
There are two things working against the Wildcats in this game: Arkansas style of play, which is high pressure, and the fact that Kentucky is not a good ballhandling team this year. While the Wildcats were able to mitigate the pressure at Louisville, they were crushed by it at Florida. Arkansas is quicker and more aggressive in their pressure than the Gators, although their transition defense is much less solid.
This game really is pretty simple – if the Wildcats attack the glass and take care of the basketball, they should win. Arkansas is exclusively a man-to-man club, so that will give players like Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow opportunities both in transition and in the half-court.
Kentucky has a decent size advantage on the Razorbacks, especially in the front court, so this should help with the rebounding. Also, Arkansas really doesn’t have anyone to match up with Alex Poythress, so it will be interesting to see if they can take advantage of that.
This is going to be a very difficult game for Kentucky, and a win here might not impress the NCAA selection committee all that much, but it would sure impress me.