This week is turning into "settling old scores" week for John Calipari. After demolishing the Texas A&M Aggies on Tuesday night, Calipari’s Wildcats turn their attention to another SEC rival that has been a thorn in the Wildcats side in the past few years.
Calipari is 5-4 against Arkansas since he arrived in Kentucky and that includes a three-game losing streak to Mike Anderson, which included an overtime loss at Rupp Arena. Kentucky has won three games in a row in the series, however, including a SEC Tourney championship win in 2015.
The Razorbacks are 11-2 this season, but their schedule has mostly been of the cupcake variety. Their two losses were to Minnesota (85-71) and Florida (81-72). According to Jerry Palm, the Razorbacks have an RPI of #29 which would make them a solid NCAA Tournament bid. Mike Anderson has rebuilt his 16-16 team from last year with some of the top JUCO players and the Razorbacks come into Rupp Arena needing a marquee win. Let’s meet the Razorbacks.
#4 G - DARYL MACON (JR, 6'3, 185) 13.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.8 APG
#3 G - DUSTY HANNAHS (SR, 6'3, 210) 14.6 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.3 APG
#21 G - MANUALE WATKINS (SR, 6'3, 222) 5.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.2 APG
#13 F - DUSTIN THOMAS (JR, 6'8, 225) 6.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.6 APG
#33 F - MOSES KINGSLEY (SR 6'10, 230) 11.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.0 BPG
Daryl Macon was the #5 JUCO player in the country last year and adjusted well to the Razorback’s offense. He hits 38.7% of his three-pointers and 47.5% overall. He has been hot lately, averaging 18 points over his last five games and hitting 41.7% of his treys. Macon also averages 1.5 steals a game. Dusty Hannahs leads the team in scoring, but he is struggling with his outside shot a little. He hits 37.5% of his three-pointers, but that is down from 43.3% last year. He is a streaky shooter that can hurt you when he gets hot.
Manuale Watkins hits 53.7% of his shots and has a 3.6 A/TO ratio. He rarely turns the ball over and averages 1.4 steals a game. Dustin Thomas is a Colorado transfer in his first season at Arkansas. He hits 45.7% of his shots and is a decent passer for a big man. He has become a more effective rebounder as the season has progressed although he does tend to get into foul trouble.
Senior Moses Kingsley seems to have regressed a bit after a breakthrough season last year. His scoring has dipped from 15.9 points to 11.1 a game and he has struggled with his shot, going from 54.8% to a career low 45% this year. He is hitting just 32% in his two SEC games. He is still a defensive presence though and averages 3.0 blocks a game.
#0 G - JAYLEN BARFORD (JR 6'3, 202) 9,6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.2 APG
#31 G - ANTON BEARD (JR 6'0, 198) 9.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG 2.3 APG
#23 G - CJ JONES (FR, 6'5, 175) 4.8 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 0.7 APG
#5 F - ARLANDO COOK (JR, 6'8, 215) 3.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.5 APG
#1 F - TREY THOMPSON (JR, 6'9, 265) 2.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.0 APG
The #1 JUCO player last year, Jaylen Barford, plays a lot of minutes off the bench. He is a streaky player though and is an inconsistent scorer. He hits 42.7% of his shots and just 29.4% from long-range. In his last five games, he has scored 14, 2, 11, 4, and 11 points. Arlando Cook, the #6 JUCO player, provides depth in the front court. He hits 42.9% of his shots.
Anton Beard provides scoring off the bench and has averaged 14 points over his last three games. Beard has an A/TO ratio of over 2.0 and hits 45.4% of his shots and 36.8% of his three-pointers, both of which are career highs. Freshman CJ Jones has not played in the SEC games yet, but knowing how Anderson likes to use his bench, he may be employed, and he is hitting 55.6% of his three-pointers. Trey Thompson plays just 11.2 minutes a game but is a solid rebounder and averages right at a block a game for the short amount of time he is in.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN
Get ready. This game could be a track meet and a high scoring game. Both teams are prone to run and create points in transition off the turnover. Combined, these teams force right at 30 turnovers a game. Kentucky forces 17.6 with the Razorback forcing 12.3. Kentucky, however, takes much better care of the ball, with an A/TO ratio of 1.7 to 1.3.
While Arkansas may try to run and force their "40 minutes of hell" defense, Kentucky has the better athletes and have been tested similarly thus far. UCLA and North Carolina run better than Arkansas, and Kentucky has faced a better defense against Louisville.
Overall, Kentucky shoots the ball a little bit better overall (48.8% to 46.4%), but Arkansas shoots threes a little bitter (37.3% to 35.4%). Both teams also allow opposing teams to hit right at 40% of their shots and both teams allow opposing teams to score right at 71 points a game. The difference is on the offensive side where Kentucky has run even a faster game than Arkansas and average 94 points to Arkansas' 82.6.
Kentucky's guards will be the key to this game, and they have a big advantage over the Razorbacks guards. Look for Kentucky to force plenty of turnovers, and that should be one of the keys. This will be an emotional game for Malik Monk as he goes against his home state team, and he catches a break in that he will not have to face a vicious road environment.
I also think Bam Adebayo should have a big game and matches up well against the Arkansas frontcourt. There is always some apprehension going against a Mike Anderson team because the system is bigger than the individual players and the Razorbacks are playing well. That said, Kentucky is playing at a whole different level as a team right now, and I do not see them losing another game at Rupp this year.
Let's call it 88-74 for Kentucky as the Wildcats pull away in the last ten minutes.