Kentucky Wildcats at Arkansas Razorbacks: Game Preview

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky travels to Fayetteville tonight to face what may be their toughest challenge yet.

Next up for the Wildcats is the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville, and every time we play the Hawgs I hearken back to the halcyon days of Arkansas and Kentucky, and the great rivalry they had shortly after Arkansas became a member of the Southeastern Conference. That was one of the best, and shortest-lived, rivalries in the history of this league.

General

  • Conference: SEC
  • Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas
  • Head Coach: Mike Anderson (since 2011)
  • NCAA Appearances: 29
  • Most recent NCAA appearance: 2008
  • Most recent NCAA win: 2008
  • Founded: 1871
  • Students: 16,477
  • Record last season: 19-13 (10-8)

Source: Basketball State

About Arkansas

Arkansas is a public, land-grant research university, the flagship of the state of Arkansas much like the University of Kentucky is for the Commonwealth. The Razorbacks have been SEC conference members since 1991, and when they came into the league, the Razorbacks were a basketball powerhouse. Since their legendary head coach Nolan Richardson left, the Razorbacks have fallen on hard times, and with the 2011 hire of former Richardson assistant Mike Anderson are trying to fight their way back to the prominence they once enjoyed. It has been a long, hard road, but they are finally beginning to see some results.

Season so far:

Arkansas got off to a good start this season in the non-conference portion, having significant victories over SMU, Minnesota and Clemson. Significant losses prior to conference play were to California Golden Bears and Gonzaga Bulldogs, both solid top 50 teams in the Ken Pomeroy rankings.

Since the advent of conference play, the Hawgs have fallen on hard times, losing their first game to Texas A&M on the road and their most recent to Florida at home in overtime.

History

Kentucky's history with Arkansas is short, but storied, and the official record stands at 25-9 Kentucky. Arkansas dispatched #8 Kentucky in their first conference meeting in Rupp Arena, 105-88. That ignited a hot basketball rivalry between the two schools that would last for most of a decade. Nolan Richardson was controversially dismissed as the head coach in 2002, and current coach and then assistant Mike Anderson coached out the rest of the year, but would move on coach UAB the next season.

From that point, the rivalry lost its luster and Arkansas fell into mediocrity, making the NCAA tournament only 3 times between 2002 and the present day. The Razorbacks are now on their third coach since Richardson was fired, and are trying to work their way back into relevance in both the SEC and nationally.

Arkansas is the only SEC team besides Kentucky and Florida to ever win an NCAA Tournament championship, or even reach the championship game, which they have done twice: in 1994 and 1995, winning in 1994 versus Duke and runner-up in 1995 to UCLA.

Sources: BigBlueHistory.net, Wikipedia

Arkansas roster

No. Name Status Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Exp. Hometown (Prev School)
4 Coty Clarke S** F 6-7 232 Sr. 1L Birmingham, Ala. (Lawson St. CC) (Pinson Valley HS)
10 Bobby Portis S F 6-10 242 Fr. HS Little Rock, Ark. (Hall HS)
0 Rashad Madden S* G 6-5 180 Jr. 2L Lepanto, Ark. (East Poinsett County HS)
12 Fred Gulley III S G 6-2 182 RSr. 1L Fayetteville, Ark. (Oklahoma St.) (Fayetteville HS)
24 Michael Qualls S* G 6-6 210 So. 1L Shreveport, La. (Huntington HS)
1 Mardracus Wade MR*+ G 6-2 178 Sr. 3L Memphis, Tenn. (Hargrave [Va.] Military)
2 Alandise Harris MR F 6-6 237 RJr. TR Little Rock, Ark. (Houston) (Central HS)
5 Anthlon Bell MR* G 6-3 188 So. 1L Memphis, Tenn. (Bartlett HS)
20 Kikko Haydar MR* G 5-10 170 Sr. 3L Fayetteville, Ark. (Fayetteville HS)
3 Rickey Scott Jr. R*+ G 6-3 209 Sr. 3L Irving, Texas (MacArthur HS)
21 Manuale Watkins R G 6-3 208 Fr. HS Fayetteville, Ark. (Fayetteville HS)
22 Jacorey Williams R* F 6-8 218 So. 1L Birmingham, Ala. (Central Park Christian HS)
23 DeQuavious Wagner R* G 5-10 170 So. 1L Alexandria, La. (Peabody Magnet HS)
33 Moses Kingsley R C 6-10 230 Fr. HS Abuja, Nigeria (Huntington Prep (W. Va.))
55 Keaton Miles YR F 6-7 217 Jr. TR Dallas, Texas (West Virginia ) (Dallas Lincoln HS)










Legend






S Starter






MR Major reserve






R Reserve






YR Year in residence






* Returning player






** Returning starter






+ Starter last season







Player notes

  • Freshman forward Bobby Portis is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Hawgs. He was the #15 recruit nationally in the class of 2013, and the #5 power forward. He was not recruited by Kentucky, but he was recruited by Memphis, Baylor, and Florida among others. Portis was a late bloomer, ranked only a 3-star in 2011 but wound up in the top 20 players in the land as a senior. He committed to Arkansas before his junior season. Portis is mainly an inside-the-paint player but can hit the midrange jumper with ease.  He was also, in case you have forgotten, a McDonalds All-American.

  • Rashad Madden is Arkansas' 3-point sniper, making 50% of his 3-point tries on the season. He is also very good from shorter range.

  • Coty Clarke leads the Razorbacks in assists and is himself a sold 3-point shooter, although he doesn't take that many. He is primarily an inside player and a rebounder.

  • Michael Qualls is a wing scorer and a slasher who can also shoot from the outside.

  • Off the bench, Alandise Harris is a big-bodied swingman who can rebound as well as shoot.

Injuries and personnel losses

Arkansas

No known injuries

Kentucky

No known injuries

Likely matchups

Starters

  • Fred Gully III vs. Andrew Harrison — Gully is a complimentary player who can do a little of everything, but mainly he sets the table. He doesn't shoot that much but will put it up from anywhere if left open. Harrison is bigger and stronger, and that will be a defensive issue for Gully. Gully's experience makes this matchup much closer than you might think on paper.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Rashad Madden vs. Aaron Harrison — Madden is a big 2-guard who can really shoot, and that will put a lot of pressure on Aaron to stay at home on him on the perimeter. This will be one of the bigger challenges for Harrison so far this season, as Madden can really score and likes to shoot the ball. Madden is smaller than Harrison even at 6'5" 180 lbs., so Aaron will have an advantage on the glass and when he takes it inside.

Advantage: Draw

  • Michael Qualls vs. James Young — Qualls is just a sophomore, but he is very much in the same mold as Young — an athletic slasher who can shoot it from the outside. This will be one of the most interesting matchups in the game because of the fact the two are such similar players. Young is just a little more skilled offensively, even though he has been streaky this season. Tough call.

Advantage: Draw

  • Coty Clarke vs. Julius Randle — If the Julius Randle of the Louisville game shows up, this will be a mismatch. Randle is bigger in ever dimension, quicker and stronger than Clarke, and even though Clarke is no tiny player, he has not come up against a player of this size combined with such amazing footwork. Clarke is one of the more foul-prone players on the Razorbacks squad, and trying to guard Randle combined with his propensity to pick up fouls could be trouble.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Bobby Portis vs. Willie Cauley-Stein — This is a really tough call. Portis is a very good offensive player with size, quickness and range. He can and will pull WCS away from the basket, which could impact the rebounding of Kentucky, although given Kentucky's overall size, that's not much of a concern. WCS, however, is more experienced and possibly even more athletic, although much less dangerous offensively. Even though WCS is taller than Portis and a better defender, it is really a matchup of strengths — WCS' defensive strength against Portis' offensive acumen.

Advantage: Draw

Bench

Arkansas has a deep and talented bench — deeper, in fact, than Kentucky, but certainly not as talented. Still, their players are older on balance and that means a lot. The Hawgs don't have a lot of size, but they do have a lot of shooting and quickness with most of their bench players under 6' 5".

Advantage: Draw

Team comparison

Rank and Records UK ARK
RPI #15 #83
Strength of Schedule #14 #130
Overall 12-3 11-4
Conference 2-0 0-2
Home 10-0 9-1
Away 1-1 0-1
Top 25 1-2 0-2
RPI Top 50 3-2 2-3

Courtesy of Statsheet.com

Four Factors

This is the first time in a while Kentucky has been behind a team in two of the Four Factors. Arkansas takes better care of the ball, and shoots it slightly better than Kentucky. But the Wildcats have big advantages on the offensive glass and shooting free throws.

Game analysis

This game looks very close on paper in Fayetteville. On a neutral floor, or at Kentucky, this would be a 65+% Kentucky favorable to win, but in Fayetteville, UK should be a very narrow favorite. Kentucky has two big things working against them in this game — the fact that Arkansas needs a quality win, and the fact that the Razorback faithful are dying to get back to rivalry status with Kentucky, very much similar to Indiana two seasons ago. This game will be a sellout, and UK fans will find tickets very tough indeed to this particular game. Arkansas used to be a basketball power, and their lack of success over the last decade or so rankles them awfully.

Arkansas is going to try to punch Kentucky in the mouth right from the first tip. This team will be so incredibly "up" for this game that it is going to take one of Kentucky's better efforts to prevent going down 8-10 points in the early going. Neither these young men nor John Calipari fully appreciate the intensity that is going to be on display in Arkansas tonight. Get ready for "one of those games," and quite honestly, a floor-storming is possible if Arkansas gets the upset. This game will not be for the faint of heart.

Arkansas is not a zone team, so if we see zone, it will be for short stretches. They have enough size and athleticism to challenge the Wildcats without having to resort to zone, and Mike Anderson, as far as I know, has not played a single possession of zone all season. He subscribes to Nolan Richardson's "40 minutes of Hell" basketball philosophy, including throwing lots of bodies, a full court press, and whatever else he can find lying around at the opponent. Recent Arkansas teams have not had the personnel to implement Anderson's philosophy. This one does.

Kentucky must play this game exactly like the Louisville game — with patience and careful ballhandling, working for good shots, and avoiding long or lazy passes. Arkansas will get into the passing lanes, and every pass must be as short and direct as possible. Keep it simple, no fancy stuff.

The Wildcats have a huge advantage on the offensive glass which they must exploit, and they can't just show up to do it. Arkansas is going to make a desperate push to keep Kentucky off the glass, because they know perfectly well that is where they are at a big disadvantage, along with trips to the line. Arkansas knows it's going to send UK to the line, but they are willing to live with that if they can keep them off the offensive glass.

Kentucky must value every possession in this game, and even though Arkansas will try to speed the Wildcats up, John Calipari is not going to let them. With that said, the traps will come and the Wildcats must be ready to help, keeping the passing lanes as short as possible without wrecking floor spacing. Kentucky's guards will need to penetrate and force help, which will free up both wing shooters and inside scorers. Arkansas' pressure makes them vulnerable to getting beat to the rim, and even though they have the size to protect it, Kentucky has even more size and must exploit it to get offensive rebounds and fouls.

This is a tough game for Kentucky, and one they are quite likely to lose. I give them no better than 50/50 to win this one unless they play significantly better than they have lately.

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