Clash of the inexperienced

The Alabama Crimson Tide (8-4, 0-1 SEC) will host Arkansas (8-5, 0-2) in a match-up of no conference wins in three tries and plenty of youth on the floor.

Arkansas starts three sophomores and one freshman, while Alabama starts two sophomores and a freshman. One team will come out with its first SEC win.

"They're playing young players," Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried said. "It's a difficult thing to do. There's going to be a payday for them. These guys are going to mature and they're going to add some key pieces."

Despite the youth, Gottfried sees plenty of talent in Arkansas. Sophomore guard Jonathon Modica ranks near the top in the SEC in scoring at 18.2 points per game and 6-foot-7 freshman guard Ronnie Brewer is second on the team at 13 points per game. Point guard Eric Ferguson, like Modica, started last year as a freshman and is averaging 9.5 points per game this season.

"Ferguson and Modica are a year older," Gottfried said. "Once you've been through the league your experience level is so much better. I like Ronnie Brewer. I liked him in high school. Once he keeps improving, he'll be one of the best players in this league."

The Razorbacks' other starters are sophomore Rashard Sullivan, who isn't a scoring threat at 1.8 points per game, but at 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, takes up space. The only senior is SMU transfer Billy Pharis, a 6-foot-8 center who actually leads the team in three-point shooting.

Antoine Pettway battles for the ball. The defensive skills of Bama's guards will be tested tonight. (AP photo)

"You've got a guy in my opinion is real unique in Pharis," Gottfried said. "He's a tough match-up for our inside players because he can make a three-pointer."

Arkansas has lost two games in conference to Mississippi State and LSU. Mississippi State was undefeated before losing on a last-second shot to Kentucky on Tuesday night, and LSU has lost only once as well. So while Arkansas is winless in SEC play, the Razorbacks have played arguably the top two teams in the SEC West.

"We've got to get ourselves ready to play," Gottfried said. "We've got to pick ourselves up off the mat and get ready to go and play, in my opinion, a very much improved Arkansas team from a year ago. We have to remember, too, that although they are 0-2 (MSU and LSU) in two conference games the combined record of Mississippi State and LSU is [24-2], so they've been beaten by two pretty good basketball teams.

"This is a good (Arkansas) team. They are quick. They are long. They are very athletic. And, again, our guys need to get themselves back and ready to play after a tough loss down at LSU."

The Crimson Tide starting lineup will remain the same as it has all season. Antoine Pettway (8.2 ppg, 3.9 apg) and Earnest Shelton (16.3 ppg) will start at guard while Kennedy Winston (15.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Chuck Davis (11.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg) will start at forward. Freshman Jemareo Davidson (6.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) will start at center.

The first 1,000 fans through the doors will receive a set of Alabama basketball trading cards.


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