Today will be the much-hyped contest between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Arkansas Razorbacks. Although this game has received a lot of attention in the media as a clash between the two best teams in the SEC, the reality is that this game has little meaning to either squad in terms of post season or even SEC regular-season championship play. Unless Kentucky swoons and loses every regular-season game from today forward, Arkansas cannot win the SEC championship outright, and this loss would do nothing to knock Kentucky off the #1 seed line in either the SEC or NCAA Tournament.
So despite the hype, this game has few, if any consequences, win or lose, for Kentucky other than yet another step toward the all-time Kentucky winning streak record. For Arkansas, an upset over an undefeated #1 would be a tremendous feather in their cap and a validation of their deliberate but successful rebuilding of a team that two decades ago was a national power, but not much else beyond that.
|When:||Saturday, Feb. 28th|
|Where:||Rupp Arena, Lexington KY|
|Radio:||UK Sports Network|
|Streaming:||Live Video via CBS|
Season so far for Arkansas:
Arkansas has had a great season so far, and they have one top-20 quality win against SMU early in the season. The rest of their good wins have come in the SEC, and have been in the top 25-50 range.
Another good thing about Arkansas, at least from an NCAA Tournament selection standpoint, is that they have no really head-scratching losses. Their worst loss to date is a narrow defeat in Knoxville at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers, but that could happen to anybody — Tennessee is the kind of team who can beat good squads in their home arena.
Arkansas joined the SEC in 1991, but Kentucky’s history with the Razorbacks while not extensive, is quite storied. The Hogs are 11-25 against Kentucky (.31), but they have notably won four of the last five contests against the Wildcats and three out of those four have been in overtime. In fact, Arkansas and Kentucky have played a total of five overtime games in their 36 previous contests, a remarkably high percentage. Kentucky won the first two overtime games in 1995 and 1998, but has lost the last three in 2011 and twice in 2014.
|10||Bobby Portis||S**||F||Sophomore||6'11"||242 lbs||29.2||17.6||8.5||1.0||1.0||1.6|
|2||Alandise Harris||S*||F||Senior (RS)||6'6"||230 lbs||20.5||7.5||3.1||1.7||1.0||1.0|
|24||Michael Qualls||S**||G||Junior||6'6"||205 lbs||29.6||15.1||5.2||1.7||0.8||0.6|
|0||Rashad Madden||S**||G||Senior||6'5"||182 lbs||26.9||9.9||3.4||4.8||0.9||0.1|
|5||Anthlon Bell||S*||G||Junior||6'3"||185 lbs||18.9||8.1||1.4||1.6||0.5||0.1|
|31||Anton Beard||MR||G||Freshman||6'0"||195 lbs||17.6||6.4||1.9||1.6||0.9||0.0|
|22||Jacorey Williams||MR*||F||Junior||6'8"||215 lbs||16.3||5.4||2.8||1.1||0.7||0.4|
|21||Manuale Watkins||MR*||G||Sophomore||6'3"||205 lbs||15.2||3.1||2.4||1.4||1.3||0.0|
|4||Jabril Durham||R+||G||Junior||6'1"||185 lbs||11.3||2.0||0.9||1.6||0.4||0.0|
|33||Moses Kingsley||R*||F||Sophomore||6'10"||230 lbs||11.3||4.0||2.6||0.4||0.5||1.2|
|14||Nick Babb||R||G||Freshman||6'5"||196 lbs||5.0||0.7||1.0||0.5||0.2||0.1|
|55||Keaton Miles||R+||F||Junior (RS)||6'7"||212 lbs||3.5||0.5||0.5||0.1||0.1||0.0|
|1||Trey Thompson||R||F||Freshman||6'9"||260 lbs||2.9||0.5||0.5||0.1||0.1||0.1|
|3||Dusty Hannahs||R-||G||Junior||6'2"||203 lbs|
|+||Eligible transfer/red shirt|
|&||Injured, not available|
Source: Arkansas Athletics and Statsheet.com
|Rank and Records||ARK||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#78||#42|
|RPI Top 50||5-2||10-0|
Arkansas Team Notes
- Arkansas is a pressing team that forces a lot of turnovers — 24.2% on average, most in the SEC by a fairly wide margin.
- Many of Arkansas defensive numbers are anemic. They allow teams to shoot the ball well from just about everywhere. The key to solving the Hogs’ defense is relatively simple — don’t turn it over and you’ll have a chance to beat them.
- Arkansas is not a great offensive team, but they can be explosive, hitting on big runs that can demoralize opponents.
- For a team that has the reputation of doing a lot of damage from three, the Razorbacks’ stats don’t really support that perception. Arkansas shoots only about 31% of their shots from 3-point range, just a tad more than Kentucky.
- Arkansas is the worst defensive rebounding team in the SEC.
- The Hogs are allowing opponents to shoot 37% from three. Taken as a whole, Arkansas’ half-court defense is unimpressive. Statistically, the only part of their defense that is really good is the press. After that, nothing.
- Arkansas is second only to Kentucky in blocked shots, an impressive feat for a team as small as Arkansas is on the front line.
- Like Kentucky, Arkansas spreads the points around. The have the second-highest assist rate in the SEC, right behind Kentucky.
- Arkansas is a decent size matchup for Kentucky in the back court. Arkansas has big guards, although their front court is small.
Arkansas Player notes
- Bobby Portis is the man for the Razorbacks. The former 5-star stud has really improved his game a lot this year, and can score from anywhere on the court, but he rarely takes threes even though he shoots 48% from outside. Portis does most of his damage inside the arc with post-ups, face-ups, and pick-and-rolls. He has a particularly nice face-up game. Defensively, he’s a very good shot blocker and the team’s best rebounder.
- Michael Qualls is a junior swingman who is the second-most dangerous offensive player on Arkansas’ team. Qualls is a long, lean slasher who can finish spectacularly at the rim and had a Sports Center highlight follow dunk on Kentucky last season to beat the Wildcats in Fayetteville. Qualls is a good defender, a quality ballhandler, and shoots it well from everywhere on the floor. He is extremely active on offense and will often run into the corners for 3-point shots or baseline drives.
- Rashad Madden is a senior shooting guard and one of the most important players for Arkansas, arguably even more important than Qualls. Madden has great size for a college 2-guard at 6‘5", and he shoots it well from everywhere. He leads Arkansas in assists despite not truly being a point guard, and is terrific at getting to the line. He’s a tough cover and produces consistently for Arkansas.
- Anthlon Bell is the junior lead guard who adds a steadiness counterpoint to Madden and Qualls. He takes good care of the basketball and takes mostly good shots, and he makes a solid percentage from three.
- Andalise Harris is an undersized power forward and the team’s best defender. He isn’t a great offensive player, but he can make shots and shoots 33% from the arc.
- Anton Beard, the 6‘0" freshman backup point guard, has been really playing well of late and is very similar to Tyler Ulis. He’s a pest defensively and is a knock-down 3-point shooter, making 40% of his shots from beyond the arc.
- Junior forward Alex Poythress is out for the season with a torn ACL.
- No injuries to report.
This game will be a challenge for Kentucky in a way that the last two or three have not. Arkansas is a genuinely competitive SEC team and is capable of pulling an upset over Kentucky without even playing their best game. Arkansas has a nasty full-court press that can turn opponents over at a very high rate and provide extra offensive possessions for a team that is already very good offensively.
The problem for Arkansas is that Kentucky is better at virtually everything than they are except causing turnovers. While the Wildcats can’t go to sleep and beat the Hogs like they did Mississippi State, they don’t require an extraordinary effort to win this basketball game. Kentucky basically has to do what they have done all season against quality opponents — take good shots and defend, and the rest will take care of itself.
The one other component Kentucky must bring to the floor today is to take care of the ball. Without the extra possessions from turnovers, this Arkansas team is extremely vulnerable. They don’t rebound well at all, they are mediocre at best in their half-court defense, and in general, are pretty easy to score on. Kentucky, on the other hand, does not surrender open looks a lot and they defend the rim better than almost anyone in the country.
Even though Arkansas is the biggest challenge Kentucky has faced in the SEC for quite a while, they are not particularly fearsome. They are a much bigger threat to pull the upset than Auburn or South Carolina were, but Arkansas has not been a great road team all season despite their record — leaving aside the beat-down of Auburn, three of the four SEC road wins for Arkansas have been by a total of six points. Not only will they be without the Razorback faithful today in Rupp Arena, they will be facing 24,500 or so Kentucky fans who desperately want to see an undefeated basketball team. Despite all the hype, this game is a very, very heavy lift for Arkansas.