Two teams off to sub-par starts will hook it up tonight in Norman, Okla.
Both the University of Arkansas (2-4) and the University of Oklahoma (3-3) have suffered through three-game losing streaks already this season.
The Razorbacks are still riding their streak - one that saw them lose to three mid-majors at home last week - while the Sooners ended their's on Sunday with an 81-60 win over Nicholls State in the Great Alaskan Shootout's fifth-place game.
"This doesn't fix all of our problems," noted OU head coach Jeff Capel, whose team was the only ranked team in the event. "We're not as good as everyone thought we were. Maybe not as good as our guys thought we were."
The Sooners, who lost to San Diego and Houston in the tournament after falling at VCU earlier, got their win without star sophomore guard Willie Warren- who was a big key along with Blake Griffin in last season's run to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight and who did not play Sunday due to what Capel said was a coach's decision.
Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey, whose short-handed team lost to Morgan State, East Tennessee State and South Alabama in Bud Walton Arena last week, really does have time to feel sorry for anybody else as his team approaches its first true road game.
"We have spoken (as a team) and talked about what happened and how as an athlete you have to have a short memory," Pelphrey said. "You don't want to be dismissive because you want to learn from it and use it as fertilizer for future growth. But by the same token you want to coach those guys and come back and have two really good days of practice with phenomenal attitudes."
Arkansas is hoping for a repeat of last year's outcome where the Razorbacks upset then No. 4 Oklahoma 96-88 before 19,604 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
"...If we can go get a win on the road against the Sooners I think that will do a lot for everything because they are a really good basketball team and that will be a tough environment for them (the Razorbacks). It will be a true road basketball game. I think it would do a lot for all of those guys."
It certainly won't be easy for the Razorbacks, who started the season without four suspended scholarship players and one injured one.
Although 6-3 junior guard Marcus Britt returns tonight leaving Courtney Fortson as the only scholarship guy left suspended, Arkansas could very likely be without All-SEC senior center Michael Washington (6-9, 239) - who averaged 14 points and 5.6 rebounds in his first five games.
Washington has a sprained back that caused him to miss Sunday's 74-61 loss and is listed as day-to-day meaning that freshman Marshawn Powell, junior Delvon Johnson and redshirt sophomore Michael Sanchez - just back from injury - will have to shoulder more responsibiltiy.
"It does put them in a little different roles, but for some of those guys already they have been put in different roles because of Michael Sanchez' injury," Pelphrey said. "It has kind of forced some of those guys to play more than would be at this time in the season. Now having to deal with getting one of them back – who is obviously on limited time – then have Big Mike go out, it does change their roles a little bit.
"It is a lot for those guys and certainly something we didn't anticipate having to deal with, but it is what it is and we have got to do well, figure it out and it is an opportunity," Pelphrey said. "Certainly it is disappointing that anybody gets injured or whatever, but it certainly provides an opportunity for somebody else."
Washington had 24 points and 11 rebounds in last season's win while Rotnei Clarke (15), Michael Sanchez (12), Marcus Monk (12) and Fortson (10 points, 12 assists) all had big games.
Britt's return froma six-game suspension certainly doesn't hurt the team as it gets one of its better defenders back and someone who quietly had a solid offensive season as a sophomore.
"I think there is a young man who has been through it for a couple of years and Britt is a very consistent basketball player," Pelphrey said. "He doesn't really hurt you because he is one of our better defenders. He is going to be able to get our defensive scheme into play every possession down the floor. Then offensively he has been doing some really good things in practice and I have been kinda teasing him. Hopefully he will be able to bring some of those things to the game as well.
"I think he had a good year last year from an offensive side – it just wasn't a tremendous amount," Pelphrey said. "I think he ended up shooting 40 percent maybe from the three-point line, very good assist-turnover ratio. When Marcus is out there he is very, very solid for you."
Sophomore guard Clarke, who will be returning to his home state and the place he is the all-time career leading scorer, expressed that same sentiment.
"Mmarcus has been great in practice," Clarke said."He's a great teammate. He's a really good defensive player. He's been making a lot of things happen in practice and he's had a good attitude. So I'm pretty excited about Britt being back."
The game will feature a pair of former high-scoring AAU teammates in the 6-3 Warren (20.3) and the 6-0 Rotnei Clarke (28.3).
Pelphrey certainly has a lot of respect for Warren.
"I have tremendous respect for his talent," Pelphrey said. "It has carried over to college and he had a tremendous freshman year. It looks like he is well on his way to having a outstanding sophomore season. He will certainly be one of the better guards in that lead and across the country."
As does Clarke,who teamed up with Warren on the Team Texas AAU club for a couple of years.
"I haven't talked to him a lot," Clarke said."But I definitely have a lot of respect for him. A lot of respect. ... He is an unbelievable player, I think, especially when he gets it going. He can really do anything that he wants. He's tough to guard, especially when he gets that mindset that he's going to try to take over a game. I've played with him so long, he was also fun to play with just because he made plays. I think he's a really, really good player."
As is Clarke, who is hitting an amazing 57.4 percent (35-of-61) from beyond 3-point range this season and 57.3 overall as he has also knocked down 12-of-21 2 point attempts. He is hitting 81.6 percent (31-of-38) from the free throw line.
"That is a remarkable number considering the amount of attention he gets and with us being limited," Pelphrey said. "That is big, big-time shooting. I said before the year that things are different between him this year and a year ago. He is get on balance a lot quicker and better - not that it was bad - but I think it helps him be more accurate and ready to shoot when it hits his hands. He doesn't have a lot of time to make decisions on whether it is going to go up or not."
Clarke is expected to join the 6-7, 220-pound Powell (16.4, 7.0), junior small forward Jemal Farmer (13.2, 6.6), freshman point guard Julysess Nobles (9.6, 6.6 assists) and the 6-9, 220-pound Johnson (3.5, 1.5) or possibly Sanchez (18.104.22.168) or freshman Glenn Bryant (3.0, 3.0) in the starting line-up.
"I'm excited about it. Not even being just in Oklahoma, but it being a road game and us having a chance to possibly make a statement away from home. Get a win there. Maybe that will turn things around for us and get us going in a positive direction."
Farmer agreed that the Razorbacks are excited to go into Oklahoma.
"I think this is oging to be a big game for us," Farmer said."And we definitely need to bounce back. So I'm excited."
The Razorbacks will be facing an Oklahoma team that has added highly-touted freshmen Tiny Gallon (12.3, 10.5) and Steven Pledger (13.7) to returing starters Warren, Tony Crocker (10.2) and Cade Davis (7.3).
Gallon is a massive 6-9, 296-pound center while Pledger is a 6-4 guard.
"There will be a lot of new faces first time through for both ballclubs," Pelphrey said. "I like OU's basketball team. You talk about Crocker and Willie and then they have the kid Cade Davis, who can really shoot that basketball and then they have those new guys.
"They have an inside-outside thing there," Pelphrey added. "The guard (Pledger) is tremendous. He has come in and is running the basketball team . Certainly Tiny Gallon is as talented as anybody coming into college basketball. He has unbelievable size, great feet, tremendous hands, great, great skill level, too. Certainly he is going to make his living someday in and around scoring and rebounding that ball, but he also has the ability to step around from the basket and do some things."
Pelphrey is anxious to see how his team fares away from home.
"I guess a little bit of it is kind of wait and see," Pelphrey said. "You never know. We will certainly get all fired up and tried to get prepared and talk about certain things and how it is different on the road. You have got to be 10 points better than your opponent just because of the influence it has on players on the home court. But until you get under the gun sometimes you don't know what to expect.
"We are going to need to go in there and take care of the basketball – which we have done with the exception of the other night," Pelphrey added."We have got to find a way to continue some of the things that have happened. We have got to be able to score the basketball, get to the free throw line and got to find a way to do things that we haven't done – which is defend and rebound consistently."
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