If Arkansas is overlooking Tennessee State, they did a good job of hiding it in Tuesday's workout. The intensity was very solid throughout. Defensive intensity was so strong that it did affect some of the offensive crispness. That isn't great for the offense, but I know where the credit goes and that is with the defense.
Eric Ferguson was a scorpion on defense, as was Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Monk and Olu Famutimi. That being said, there was one player who excelled from start to finish on offense and that was Jonathon Modica. The 6-4 junior was great on the baseline, with offensive rebounding and also nailed four of four thres during the scrimmage portion of the practice.
"He was terrific all day," Stan Heath said of Modica. "He looked like he was having fun."
Modica has seemed to find some energy in the last few days after the Hogs took two days off following the Missouri victory.
"I've felt very good the last three days, particularly," Modica said. "I was struggling before that. That got me down. I decided that this is a game and it should be fun. I've tried to just go to the court and have some fun. I'm working hard, but more than that, I'm just playing the game and having fun. I think you saw the difference that makes in the way I played today. To get my game looking good, I had to make it fun first."
Eric Feguson said, "You saw what he did today. He was really playing and moving up and down the court. We need that from Pookie. Everyone is excited to see him playing that. It's going to really give us a boost to have him playing that way again."
Ferguson's play was impressive, too. He gave fellow point guard Dontell Jefferson some real problems with ultra tight man-to-man, forcing a string of turnovers and frustrating Jefferson.
That may have been what Heath was talking about when he said he was unsure of his starting lineup "because we've got a couple of guys that aren't playing the way I want right now. I want to wait and see for another practice. But I will say that you guys make too much out of who starts. We will bring people off the bench to setup combinations to give us spurts. So don't read too much into a starting group. I'll just say that I'm not sure about the starting lineup right now."
The practice ended with a fullcourt scrimmage that pitted the white team, possibly the starters for Thursday night, against the second group, the red squad. The red squad took an 11-4 lead, but the white team, with Brewer and Modica leading the way, stormed back to win going away in the 10-minute session. Brewer sprinted to Modica to high five his teammate during one hot stretch he had for the white team.
"Ronnie is really stepping up and leading in a strong, vocal way," Heath said. "He's come a long way from last year. He can score, but he doesn't even have to score to help this team in so many ways."
Heath was impressed with the play of Marcus Monk in the workout, noting that he's picking up the system in quick fashion.
"We've had some extra work with him with some players who have come out so we can go through the offense and some sets," Heath said. "He's learning it very quickly."
Monk thinks he's clicking with the system "pretty well. I think I'm getting better every time out. I'm still not in great shape. Coach was kidding with me today when I had to sit out a couple of times. He told me that you don't get 30 seconds between plays like in football."
Monk said the extra running hasn't taken any of his new pounds.
"I got up to 225 this summer and I've stayed there," he said. "I don't suspect I'll lose any this winter playing basketball because I was playing basketball this summer when I got up to 225. I played last winter at 205 and I think this weight is going to stay with me. I do hope that I can add some strength, but I don't really want to put any more weight on."
Heath said Monk uses his long arms and quick frame in great fashion and has displayed the defensive ability to guard any position.
"I think he can guard a one to a four," Heath said. "When he's playing a quick guard, he doesn't get too close. He gives himself a little cushion and he extends his arms to really bother a man without having to get too close. He's able to deflect passes and bother a shooter without being right against him. I think he can probably guard a five, too, by fronting, because he's very smart. But we aren't going to put him in that situation. He did guard the point some today."
Heath said the Hogs worked hard on their double teams and their switching on screens in Tuesday's workout, trying to clean some things up that popped up earlier in the week.
"Marcus is learning what we expect on the high-post screen," Heath said. "He adjusted to what we've asked today. He played it very well today."
Heath said he hoped to get some playing time for Monk in their next game, but he also wants to get some minutes for reserve Michael Jones.
"Mike has been snake bit some so far," Heath said. "Everytime he's gotten in, something has happened. His man has gotten loose for a bucket, or his man has gotten a rebound. We've got to find more opportunities for him. He's such an offensive weapon. We need him to get some minutes in these next few games and see if we can get him on track."
The Hogs meet Tennessee State on Thursday night to end a nine-day break for final exams. TSU is 4-4 in coach Cy Alxander's second season. The Tigers are coming off a 96-94 road loss to Middle Tennessee State.
TSU has several players who once played for Division I teams and then went the junior college route. Center Rod Flowers scored 20 points to lead TSU against MTSU and 16.5 points and 9.9 rebounds.
"He can play on the block, but he can go on the perimeter, too," Heath said of Flowers. "(Bruce) Price is a guy who can hit the 3-pointers for them. They'll go inside, but they will take a lot of threes."
However, Heath said he's more worried about the Hogs than the opposition.
"We want to play the game, do the things we've stressed in practice," Heath said. "We don't want to play the jerseys or the other team. We want to defend, run the court, rebound and execute our offense. If we do those four things, we'll be fine. We still are more of a defensive team than an offensive team. Our defense is something that ought to be there every night. That's what I want to see in these next string of games."
The Hogs had some slip ups in this portion of the schedule last year.
"I remember the (Western) Carolina game last year," Ferguson said. "We lost our focus. But I think we've grown up a lot since then. I don't think this is the same team."
Brewer said, "We think we've matured quite a bit. I don't think we had the right attitude at this point last year. But we are working hard and intense right now. I think we will play hard in this next game. We know what happened last year with some of these type games. These are teams that can beat you if you don't bring your top game. That's what we will be trying to do Thursday night."
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