Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in a game pregnant with implications for both teams. Kentucky is currently depending on this victory, plus a win at Florida, to elevate their seed somewhere into the top four. Arkansas, on the other hand, really needs a victory here just to give them a solid chance at an NCAA berth. Arkansas does have a couple of good wins over SMU and Kentucky, plus playing Florida to overtime, but their NCAA tournament résumé could definitely use some polishing. I think they get in, win or lose this game, if they don't lose any more before the SEC Tournament semifinals, but they are a classic bubble team that needs some help.
As before, please review our earlier game preview for the roster details and etcetera. We'll be incorporating that preview by hyperlink and updating it here.
Arkansas since the last game
|Sat Jan 18||Georgia||L, 66-61||A||64||84.7||37.1||18.1||33.3||30.3||91.7||32.8||26.4||57.1||67.2|
|Wed Jan 22||Tennessee||L, 81-74||A||71||104.9||48.5||17||36.6||26.1||114.8||47.2||21.3||42.1||70.4|
|Sat Jan 25||Auburn||W, 86-67||H||80||106.8||52.5||14.9||22.9||49.2||83.2||39.7||22.4||23.1||53.5|
|Tue Jan 28||Missouri||L, 75-71||H||69||102.3||49.1||17.3||25.7||32.2||108||51||27.4||48.5||51.9|
|Sat Feb 1||LSU||L, 88-74||A||73||101.1||38.3||13.7||28.9||42.2||120.2||60.2||19.1||39.4||25|
|Wed Feb 5||Alabama||W, 65-58||H||68||95.3||39.5||16.1||32.4||43.9||85.1||39||19.1||30.2||33.9|
|Sat Feb 8||Vanderbilt||W, 77-75||A||63||121.9||64||19||34.6||38||118.7||59.6||23.8||40.7||59.6|
|Thu Feb 13||Missouri||L, 86-85||A||74||114.4||45.9||10.8||30||60.7||115.7||47.3||17.5||35.3||69.1|
|Sat Feb 15||LSU||W, 81-70||H||77||105.5||54.2||14.3||18.9||42.4||91.2||43.7||22.1||35.6||19.7|
|Wed Feb 19||South Carolina||W, 71-64||H||71||100.4||44.8||24||46.1||48.3||90.5||44.1||26.9||36.8||25.4|
|Sat Feb 22||Mississippi St.||W, 73-69||A||72||101.3||50||15.3||25.6||26.6||95.8||50||22.2||35||35.6|
Courtesy of KenPom.com
Since defeating Kentucky back on January 14th in overtime (I remember it as, "Death by slam dunk"), the Razorbacks have had 4 tough, close losses and one convincing defeat. Twice, the Razorbacks lost to Mizzou by less than five. They played LSU tough for about four fifths of the game, then succumbed to a double-digit defeat. The common thread in most of the losses has been an inability to score consistently.
Four Factors from last time UK played Arkansas
Four Factors for both teams now
No injuries reported for either team
The last time Kentucky played Arkansas, they didn't defend well and turned the ball over too much. Arkansas basically won by turning Kentucky over, thus getting more shots on goal 69-56, making more free throws than Kentucky did (29-26) and shooting a very decent percentage from inside the arc 42%.
If Kentucky wants to win this game tonight, they have to reduce turnovers. Last time the two teams played, Kentucky had 11 more turnovers than Arkansas, and if you want a single statistic upon which to hang a last-second overtime win, that would be it. The Wildcats basically played well offensively except for giving the ball away, but defensively, Kentucky was remarkably inefficient.
Kentucky's big job tonight will be handling the Arkansas press, and getting back in transition. While the Razorbacks didn't kill Kentucky in transition last game like some teams have, they are more than capable of doing so. So job 1 for the Wildcats tonight is to take care of the basketball. Job 1a would be to defend better. Arkansas is smaller and less bulky than LSU, so the 'Cats have an advantage underneath if they are able to exploit it.
Ken Pomeroy has Kentucky at 83% to win this game, but don't be fooled — the Razorbacks were loathsome on the road earlier this year, but they've survived a couple of tough road games since we played them last, at Vanderbilt and at Mississippi St. While neither of those teams is Kentucky, they are both very tough in their own gym, and the fact that Arkansas beat them there is a sign Arkansas is beginning to feel less uncomfortable in foreign venues.
Kentucky cannot take this team lightly at all. They are much like LSU in that they have a lot of talent, they are athletic, and can sometimes shoot the ball lights-out from the perimeter. UK needs to seize control of this game early and continue to play with maximum effort until the end. I can tell you it is very unlikely that Kentucky can beat up on this basketball team, so they're going to have to grind it out.