An Arkansas team that has won three straight games will travel Wednesday night to face an Alabama team that is certainly playing better than one picked to finish 13th in a 14-team league.
The Razorbacks (15-14, 8-8) will meet the Crimson Tide (17-11, 8-8) for the first time this season in an 8 p.m. game that will be televised by the SEC Network.
The two teams are among five teams tied for sixth place in the league race.
“It’s the final week of conference play and the stretch drive and we like all other teams want to gather some momentum going into the last week and on into the conference tournament,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said on Monday's SEC Teleconference.
The Razorbacks are coming off a 75-65 road win at Tennessee on Saturday night while Alabama downed rival Auburn 65-57 and has won five of its last eight games under first-year head coach Avery Johnson.
Retin Obasohan had 16 points to lead the Crimson Tide in that win and the 6-2 senior guard is averaging 17.4 points per game.
“We are playing against an Alabama team that is playing well,” Anderson said. “Avery has done a tremendous job in his first year of getting these guys to play unselfish and having some guys really step up, Obasohan and (Donta) Hill and Riley Norris.
“They are team that has won some big games and beaten some very good teams. I know its senior day and it’s going to be a big day for those guys and we are going to have to play awfully well to have a chance to win.”
The Razorbacks’ win over the Vols was just their second true road win of the season.
“Winning breeds confidence and makes it easy to teach and lets your kids know as long as they stay together and play with poise and believe and trust in one another that good things take place,” Anderson said.
“We are a team that has had some bumps along the way throughout the year. Close games on the road so it’s good to get over that hump after a long break of not winning on the road.
“We have to carry that feeling, but this is a different game and a different team that’s playing well and has played well at home. So hopefully it benefits us going forward.”
Alabama is pushing for an NCAA Tournament bid with games against visiting Arkansas on Wednesday before traveling to Georgia on Saturday.
“First up is Arkansas, which will be our last regular season home game and Senior Night for two of our seniors, Retin Obasohan and Arthur Edwards.
“We are going to honor them on Wednesday night along with their families and we are going to honor a trainer and managers. I am excited for those kids and their families.”
He knows Arkansas presents a challenge with the outside duo of Dusty Hannahs (16.2) and Anthlon Bell (16.1) and the inside work of Moses Kingsley (15.9, 9.3).
Hannahs and Bell were 7-of-10 from 3-point range against the Vols.
“Arkansas is obviously coming off a solid performance against Tennessee in which they shot the ball well, especially from the 3-point line,” Johnson said. “They have quite a few threats from behind the 3-point line in Bell and Hannahs and inside with Kingsley.
“So we are going to have to really play well and play the type of defense that we are capable of playing and play consistently on the offensive end with good ball movement and player movement.
“And then we will wrap it up on the road at Georgia, another team that is right there in terms of their record in the Southeastern Conference. We are all kind of bunched up.
“Mark Fox has done a nice job with his team and we don’t have much margin for error so we have got to really play well in the SEC regular season and heading on in to the SEC Tournament next week in Nashville.
“It is a whirlwind of a season for us, a team that was projected to come in 13th in the SEC and I think we have been very competitive.”
Johnson noted that he has enjoyed his first year at Alabama after previously coaching in the NBA and being a broadcaster.
“It has been a lot of fun working with our student-athletes and trying to help them be in successful, not only on the court but in the classroom,” Johnson said, “trying to help them develop in manhood and responsibilities and not making excuses, helping just coach them through the game of life. It’s been very gratifying.
“I think we have been able to overachieve so far this year and have had success winning against teams with high RPI and our strength of schedule I think is 29th at this point in the season. I think we lead the SEC in strength of schedule.
“There are a lot of positives with our team. We have beaten four top 25 teams so I think we have got a pretty good resume and I am just awfully proud of how some of our guys have mentally gotten better and others like Ret Obasohan have just taken off and become one of the top players in the SEC.”
Anderson reached out to Johnson when he was hired at Alabama.
“Mike has done a great job and I have enjoyed getting to know him at all of our SEC head coaches meetings,” Johnson said. “He is one of the guys that after I got the job, he reached out and when we have been at the meetings, he has given me a couple of tips on some situations as it relates to the conference and basketball in the conference and building relationships.
“I think he has done a really nice job with his team and his team is a really hot team coming in to this game.”
Arkansas’ bench has been a key in its recent success.
“Arkansas has one of the best benches in the SEC and it showed in their last game against Tennessee where they scored 27 points and Tennessee had 9,” Johnson said, “and in the game before that, their bench outscored LSU 32 to 0. It is a deep team and Mike has done a really nice job with his team.”