I know all UK fans over 30 remember the 1990’s when the Kentucky Wildcats and Arkansas Razorbacks used to duel it out for SEC supremacy every year. That years-long struggle fueled a rivalry that went dormant around the turn of the century, but this year provides some hope that the Razorbacks might be getting their mojo back.
Scottie Bordelon of the SB Nation Arkansas site Arkansas Fight asked me to do a Q&A about tomorrows game, and here are the results of our labors. You can find my responses to Scottie’s questions over at Arkansas Fight.
ASoB: Arkansas was famous over the last few years for being great in Bud Walton Arena, but paper tigers outside of it. What changed this season that has made Arkansas so much better on the road?
AF: From mine and a lot of Arkansas fans’ perspective, it kind of started last season. Arkansas won three games away from Fayetteville (which isn’t great by any means) and a large part of that nucleus returned and carried that experience into this season. Having a star like Bobby Portis to go to late when you need a bucket is always a nice thing to have, too.
Also, Rashad Madden’s play in SEC road games has been superb. I wrote a column before Arkansas’ trip to Starkville last week and his numbers in league road games are better than home SEC games. His assist/turnover ratio is nearly 3:1 on the road and under 2:1 at home. His play away from home has been a big factor.
ASoB: Arkansas’ defensive efficiency is only 5th best in the SEC. How do you think the Razorbacks are going to score enough on a defense that’s allowing only 0.88 points/possession in SEC play? Where is your best offensive matchup in this game?
AF: If the Razorbacks want to be in this game for longer than the first five minutes they’re going to have to make perimeter shots because of Kentucky’s length inside, obviously. I think Arkansas’ best matchup is with Michael Qualls. His athleticism allows him to do certain things and break down a defense at times. He’s nearly mastered the corner 3-ball this season as well.
ASoB: Which player on Arkansas’ team is finally rounding into form in the latter part of the season, a guy that perhaps was playing below his ability earlier in the year? Why do you think that is?
AF: Freshman guard Anton Beard. Early in the season I think Mike Anderson was reluctant to give him minutes because he thought JUCO guard Jabril Durham would be able to step in and help out right away, but it’s actually been Beard that’s stood out and taken the point guard role.
Beard was named SEC Freshman of the Week last week, albeit the games were against Mississippi State and Missouri, he played well and never seems to be rattled. He’s scored in double figures seven times in league play after just once in the nonconference and Arkansas is 7-1 with him in the starting lineup. He’s also been a calming influence for Ky Madden and allowed him to move more toward the 2-guard.
ASoB: I watched Arkansas run off to a 23-point lead in the first half against Texas A&M, then give back all but six points. I didn’t see the second half, but a quick perusal indicates the Aggies cleaned up on the offensive glass in the second stanza. How do you prevent that offensive rebounding problem from showing up again against Kentucky, the best offensive rebounding team in the SEC? What do you see as the major reason for the Razorbacks’ frustrations rebounding the ball this season?
AF: I think the second half of the A&M game and being bullied on the glass was just being lackadaisical after such a dominant first half. If I was to guess, I would say Anderson plays Moses Kingsley (6-11) and Portis together a bit more than usual to try to somewhat match the size of Kentucky’s bigs.
But as far as this season, rebounding has been an issue at times and it’s certainly puzzling, but Mike Anderson coached teams historically haven’t rebounded well. From my standpoint I think it’s partly because Arkansas guards are ready to get into transition instead of helping out the bigs inside. Arkansas’ guards are going to have to rebound Saturday and I’m sure Anderson has drilled that into them since Tuesday.
ASoB: Who wins the game, and why? Predict the final score.
AF: I’ve got Kentucky 78-70.
I’m not so sure Arkansas is going to be able to matchup with the Cats on the glass, and that will lead to second chance points, and Arkansas can’t afford that to happen. I think it’ll be about a two possession point game for most of the way before Kentucky ultimately knocks down free throws late to win. I’m excited to see Rupp Arena and Lexington . Should be a fun game.
Thanks to Scottie and Arkansas Fight for doing this, and we wish him well on his trip to storied Rupp Arena. Here’s to a great game tomorrow.