The bad news for Arkansas is that Vanderbilt's best player is out of his slump and today's game against the Commodores is not just a one-half affair.
If that was the case the Razorbacks (9-7, 1-4) might be given more of a chance by the Las Vegas oddsmakers to upset visiting and No. 22 Commodores (13-2, 2-2) in 2:05 p.m. game that will be televised regionally by Jefferson-Pilot.
But since fragile and youthful Arkansas is fresh off blowing a 19-point first-half lead in a 70-63 loss at Auburn on Wednesday and experienced Vandy's last outing was an exhilarating 86-72 home blowout of Florida, it's a uphill battle for the home team.
"We have to put the tough defeat at Auburn behind us," Razorback head coach Stan Heath said. "We are doing some really positive things as a team right now. We just need to get some confidence and a little swagger back."
That might be tough to do against a Commodores team that went 11-0 in non-conference play, sports SEC preseason player of the year Matt Freije and is coming off a second half in which they poured in 55 points against Florida.
They are also a team that has had over 20 assists per game in 8 of their 15 games this season.
It certainly is not the same team that Arkansas beat 60-50 last season at Vandy for the Razorbacks' lone road win of the year.
"Vanderbilt has grown tremendously from last season," Heath said. "They have some great players. The most impressive thing is their passing ability. They share the ball so well and get a lot of easy baskets."
Freijie, a 6-10, 249-pound inside and outside force, is averaging 17.9 points per game - tied for second in the league - and is coming off a 23-point effort against Florida.
That was his best performance in five games - stretch where he had not scored over 15 point in any one contest and had just eight in a loss to Tennessee.
That earned him a day with Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings.
We were probably in each other's company for six or seven hours, including practice," Stallings told the The Tennesseen newspaper. "We had a couple of different sessions. One was between his classes. It was mostly not basketball-related. It had nothing to do with how or what he was doing on the floor. It was kind of what he was thinking about and why. I had to figure out what was going on in his head."
To realize that Vandy is off to its best start in 15 game since the 1973-74 team started 14-1 without Freije's best work is scary.
Mario Moore (10.7), a 5-11 sophomore added 21 against Florida and is the only other player in double figures for a team that leads the league in scoring (80.0) and is first or second in all the SEC shooting categories.
Corey Smith had 14 points, 7 rebounds and six assists in the win over Florida.
"If those guys play well and Matt does what he normally does than we're a pretty good team," Stalling said.
Now they will try to win in Fayetteville, a place they have won just once in six times and never in Bud Walton Arena.
Plus Vanderbilt has lost its last 11 SEC road games.
"I think we will need to do a good job of executing our zone offense," Stallings said. "Anytime you are on the road transistion defense is very important and the ability to control the defensive backboard is really important.
Heath knows that Arkansas is doing something right to get the lead at the half, but is coming up woefully short in the second half of two of the last three games.
The Razorbacks led by 13 at halftime at Auburn after shooting 58 percent from the field in the first half, but shot just 24 percent after intermission.
"We played very good for about 18 minutes (at Auburn)," Heath said. "We played good defense and were active and we really let it get away with about a minute to go in the first half. We couldn't hold our composure and keep our poise with the execution and decisions."
Heath said his team has got to learn from its mistakes instead of continuing to repeat them.
"We've got to learn from what we're not doing right and what's going to help in situations where we are ahead were we can continue to either maintain it or press forward," Heath said. "More than anything else we have got to keep these guys' spirits up and not let them think the world is coming to an end and don't have any confidence."
While 6-1 guard Eric Ferguson (10.0) had 19 points to lead the Razorbacks against Auburn, the Arkansas' squad's other three leading scorers combined for just nine points.
Sophomore 6-4 guard Jonathon "Pookie" Modica (17.4) had just four points and 6-7 freshman guard Ronnie Brewer (12.5) had just five while senior Billy Pharis (8.3) was scoreless.
"We've got to correct some things and find a leader out there on the court, one or two guys who will calm us down when things get so erratic," Heath said.
Brewer, who is second in scoring and leads the team in rebounds (6.4), assists (3.6) and steals (1.9), is likely to start playing more of the point than Ferguson and could be that leader.
"I think Brewer has all the intangibles to be that guy," Heath said. "He makes good decisions. He has a feel for the game and has the ball in his hands in the halfcourt quite a bit and I think he understands what needs to take place. So with him it becomes is he going to be assertive enough with his personality and youth to do that right now?"
Heath was quick to point out that while the players could play better, he thinks he can coach better.
"I'm not trying to deflect any attention from me because it starts with me and I realize that," Heath said.
Arkansas, despite having just nine total wins last season, was able to take out No. 22 Mississippi State last season on its home court and is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again.
"That's the beauty of college basketball," Heath said, "it is a competitive environment and those are the challenges you face every day. It prepares you for life. That's the way we have to look at it - day-by-day with a positive mindset."
o o o
Heath will also likely take time to address the possible addition of 6-5 Minnesota transfer guard Mo Hargrow.
Hargrow left the Gophers' program on Friday and is reportedly on his way to Arkansas.
Hargrow was the team's leading returning scorer, averaging 13.2 points per game as junior.
He was averaging 31.1 minutes, 11.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game this season at the time of his departure.
Arkansas bidding to upset No. 22 Vanderbilt
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