Two of the SEC’s brightest current stars will be on the same floor Saturday night on a court named after one of the league’s best ever and with the winner's team keeount at least a share of second place.
Arkansas (9-7, 3-1) and center Moses Kingsley will take a three-game winning streak in to visit LSU (10-6, 3-1) and freshman phenom Ben Simmons Saturday night at 7:30 inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.
The 6-10, 230-pound Kingsley (17.3, 9.5) is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Razorbacks while the 6-11, 245-pound Austrailian-born Simmons (20.3, 12.6, 5 assists per game) - seen by several draft experts as the first pick in the 2016 NBA draft - has been everything as advertised.
“For a guy that size at 6-10 he has got great vision,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “ He is very versatile and he makes this team better. He does whatever his team needs.
“He’ll go post up and he’ll pull up and hit the mid-range shot. He gets to the free throw line an awful lot. So he is always putting pressure I think on other teams’ defenses. It’s hard to match up with a guy lies that.
Simmons has a team-high 84 assists and leads the team on the break, something Kingsley has done a few times this year.
“…He makes that fast break so much more effective,” Anderson said. “And has got tremendous vision. It’s hard to teach that. Hs instincts are phenomenal. And so that’s why that’s a tough matchup for anybody. Not many people have slowed him down. So that’s what we are going to try to do, try to slow him down."
Arkansas is not about to try and guard Simmons one-on-one per Anderson, who watched the Tigers take down visiting Kentucky 85-67 earlier this month.
“We all are going to have to guard him, I think,” Anderson said. “We are going to need more than five guys out on the floor, I guess. I don’t think one guy can cover him. It’s got to be a task of a team. We have got to play team defense.”
Kingsley has had a phenomenal jump from someone who averaged just 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds last season to numbers that resemble what former Razorback Bobby Portis averaged last season now that Kingsley is playing 28.9 minutes per contest.
Kingsley, who had 24 points on 8-of-8 shooting in Arkansas’ 94-61 win at Missouri on Tuesday, does have 45 blocked shots this season to Simmons’ 19.
“He's doing the things that he does well to help our team,” Anderson said. “ And I think his strength is probably on the defensive side blocking shots, rebounding the ball, fixing things on defense. Being that back line on the defense.
“And he's worked extremely hard to put himself in position to score. He's scoring better around the basket. I can recall when Bobby was a freshman he was real weak around the basket. You know people pushed him around.
“And you think about Moses you could see in the first couple years there was like things he was doing were kind of mechanical. And so now I think they're becoming more instinctive because of the repetitions that he's had, going against a guy like Bobby and (current Razorback) Trey (Thompson) in practice everyday.
“But more importantly getting the opportunity to play. I think when you get a chance to do the reps, do it in practice and then take it to the game and have success then your confidence just soars. So he's playing with a lot of confidence.
…I think he's a different kind of player than Bobby was but needless to say but he is very very important to what we're doing.”
Both teams - who sit behind first-place Texas A&M (14-2, 4-0) in the current SEC race - have certainly got significant contributions from others besides Simmons and Kingsley.
Shooting guard Keith Hornsby (14.9) - who hit a game-winning shot at Arkansas last season - is back after missing the first eight games this season due to injury.
Craig Victor (13.3) - a 6-9 forward - became eligible at mid-term while Tim Quarterman (11.6) and prized freshman Antonio Blakeney (9.7) formed a solid starting five.
Victor had 18 points while Simmons and Blakeney had 15 each in Thursday night’s 90-81 win over Ole Miss.
“They had some bumps at the beginning of the year but they have found their stride,” Anderson said. “They beat a good Kentucky team. They went on the road and won their first game (at Vanderbilt) and it’s a great opportunity, a great challenge for our basketball team. We are going to have to play really, really good basketball because they are very athletic.
“You have got a guy (Simmons) that’s capable of getting a triple double. He is leading the nation in rebounding and almost in scoring. He has went off for a 30 or 40-point game so we know what he is capable of doing.
“And they have added the Victor kid who is really big and they have really kind of gotten better. He is a big piece to their puzzle so it’s a team that has depth. They are playing at home and it’s going to take a tremendous effort by our guys. Very much like the Missouri game we have got to be on the same page and our bench has got to play well. So we are looking forward to the opportunity.”
Arkansas has a pair of high-scoring shooting guards in 6-3 senior Anthlon Bell (17.0) and 6-3 Dusty Hannahs (16.5) while 6-1 senior point guard Jabril Durham (6.6, 7.0 assists) is third nationally in assists.
The bench got a big boost in the win over Missouri as 6-1 sophomore guard Anton Beard and 6-4 freshman guard Jimmy Whitt (7.6) both had 15 points each.
“Our guys are playing with a lot of confidence, there's no question about it,” Anderson said. “When you win, that's what takes place. Now we've got to take it to another level, especially when you're going down to Baton Rouge. They're very, very good at home, like everybody else is.”