After an heartbreaking loss and an absolute thrashing - both on the road - Arkansas’ basketball team is looking forward to playing three straight SEC games at home.
The Razorbacks (6-7, 0-1) will host Vanderbilt (8-5, 0-1) for Tuesday night’s 8 p.m. league home opener and have Mississippi State (7-5) due in Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Both games will be televised by the SEC Network.
“We are coming off a tough loss at A&M (92-69) where they just beat us in all phases of the game,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said on Monday’s SEC Teleconference. “So we certainly want to right the ship and have the opportunity to do it in front of our fans.”
The Razorbacks were hammered at Texas A&M on Saturday, but that was really the first time despite the subpar record that the team had not been in position to win late in a game this season.
“We need to finish a game off,” Anderson said. “Sometimes it’s not how you start but how you finish.”
Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings has a veteran club that is coming in off a 90-82 home loss to LSU and has lost three of its last five games.
“We have ben scuffling a little bit lately, but our team continues to play hard,” Stallings said. “We feel like we are close to getting back to where we nee to be. We didn’t pay well defensively in the second half agains LSU.
The Commodores must visit Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena and travel to South Carolina (13-0, 0-0) on Saturday.
“Two tough road games this week,” Stallings said. “Two tough places to play. Every road game is tough in this league. We hope to play better than we did Saturday night.”
Vanderbilt is led by 7-0, 245-pound junior center Damian Jones (12.5, 6.2), 6-2 sophomore guard Riley LaChance, 6-3 sophomore guard Wade Baldwin IV (14.8, 3.9 and 4.2 assists per game) and Matthew Fisher-Davis (8.6, 3.8).
“Their guys were freshmen and sophomores last year and now with a guy like Damian Jones in the middle that’s going to be a big challenge for us to really kind of hold him in check,” Anderson said. “LaChance can really shoot the basketball as well as guy like Baldwin who runs the show.”
The normal fifth starter - 7-1 Luke Kornet (9.5, 6.5) - has been out with Jeff Roberson (8.8, 5.1) sliding in for him.
Stallings says not having Kornet is a big loss.
“Our best rebounder, our best defensive player, our best shot-blocker, our best communicator,” Stallings said of Kornet. “All things that honestly that I never envisioned or imagined that Luke would become, but he has become that for us. He had become that at the time of his injury.
“…As much as anything else when he and Damian are in there together we have very good defensive length and we're a much more difficult team to score against, especially around the goal, because of that length.
“We go from 7-foot-1 to 6-foot-6 in the transition without him, and that obviously changes your look in terms of some things. … I know Luke’s reputation is a big guy that can shoot but the things that he actually brought to our team that were more prominent were the things that I mentioned.”
Stallings expects Arkansas to provide a stiff challenge at home despite the Razorbacks losing four starters - including current Chicago Bull Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls - off of last season’s squad.
“I think they can be very dangerous again because they can score and they can create problems for you defensively so I think they can be very dangerous,” Stallings said.
““I think when you have a lot of turnover and turnover of prominent guys - you lose a Portis, you lose a Qualls and guys like that - it takes time for your team to sort of re-identify itself and everybody get used to the new roles and way of life and who has to come through and all that.
“You never want it as a coach but it can be a predictably tough start if guys are learning their way. But I expect Arkansas to be very dangerous for the rest of the season.”
He does see promise at Arkansas from 6-10 junior center Moses Kingsley (16.5, 10.1), 6-3 senior guard Anthlon Bell (16.1) and 6-3 junior guard Dusty Hannahs (15.8) and the return of last year’ lone returning starter and 6-0 sophomore guard Anton Beard (9.0) from his first-semester suspension.
“Just impressed how they have reinvented their team,” Stallings said. “Guys that were role players last year are putting up really good numbers this year. Kingsley and Bell and the transfer (Hannahs), they have a like a typical Arkansas team they have developed guys that have firepower and their press works for them.
“A lot of the same things that you see typically from Mike’s teams. I am impressed. I know they had a tough day on Saturday like we did but I am impressed with the progress a lot of those guys have made.
“That’s the key to sustaining your program is developing guys to go from being role players to your main guys and they seemingly have done a very good job of that.”
The two teams have played a pair of common opponents with Vanderbilt beating Wake Forest in Maui and losing to visiting Dayton while Arkansas lost to both in road games.
“I am sure we are going to get Vandy’s best shot,” Anderson said. “Kevin does a great, great job of getting them ready to play and making adjustments. So I am sure we will see a more charged up team prepared to play against us no matter whether it be Bud Walton Arena or anywhere, they will be ready to play.”