SEC Hoops Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

Dudley Dawson of Hogs Illustrated previews the 2007-2008 Razorbacks under first-year head coach John Pelphrey.

Fayetteville, Ark.--Only time will tell if the University of Arkansas truly hit a home run with its hiring of new head basketball coach John Pelphrey, the former Kentucky star with ties to ultra-successful coaches Rick Pitino, Eddie Sutton and Billy Donovan.

But one thing is certain, Pelphrey definitely hit one over the fence during his introductory press conference in which he clearly won over the fans.

"I have been a great, great admirer of the University of Arkansas for a long time, both as a player and as a coach," Pelphrey said. "It is an honor and a privilege for me to be a part of the University of Arkansas, and I am going to take great, great pride in being the Razorback coach.

"You have to understand, my whole life my blood has bled blue and I still love my alma mater," Pelphrey said. "But today, my blood bleeds Arkansas Razorback red. This is a dream job for me."

He took the podium at the press conference, put on his new Razorback hat with pride, called the Hogs, dropped some knowledge of Razorback lore and then spoke some words that many had been waiting to hear.

"Your style of play is back."

In other words, the up-tempo, pressing style that Nolan Richardson used to win a national title during his 17-year tenure before being replaced by the slower tempo of Stan Heath, who was let go last season despite his team making the NCAA Tournament.

"I want our teams to constantly attack offensively and defensively," Pelphrey said. "We want to be as disruptive as we possibly can. We don't want to let our opponents do what they do every day in practice."

As far as defense, it's not necessarily "40 minutes of Hell" but "40 minutes of Pel," a notion he brought home with a witty comment.

"It's a 'mother-in-law' defense," Pelphrey said. "Constant pressure and harassment. But I do love my mother-in-law."

Arkansas should not only be a favorite to win the SEC West title, but the overall league title as well with all five starters coming back from a 21-14 squad that got to the final of the SEC Tournament and into the NCAA Tournament.

There is a loaded and experienced front court returning with 7-0 senior center Steven Hill, 6-8 senior power forward Charles Thomas, 6-10 senior forward Darian Townes and 6-10 sophomore forward Michael Washington to go along with 6-8 freshman Michael Sanchez.

Hill, Thomas and Townes (pictured above) give the Razorbacks an edge inside.

The Razorbacks also have two potential All-SEC selections in 6-1 sophomore shooting guard Patrick Beverley and 6-6 senior small forward Sonny Weems, while 6-0 senior Gary Ervin and 6-2 sophomore Stefan Welsh are likely to share point guard duties.

"My concerns at the point guard spot are real," Pelphrey said. "There's not a lot of depth at the guard spot. Sonny Weems and Patrick Beverley are very good on the wings, but the depth is not great. We do have strength and numbers up front."

Pelphrey got a head start working with his team because the Razorbacks were afforded 10 days of practice before their trip to Cancun for two exhibition games in early September.

Arkansas downed Quintano Roo 60-57 in game one and then blasted Belize Select 108-37 in their trip finale.

"The trip was a blessing," Pelphrey said. "Looking back, I think we were able to accomplish what we wanted. I think they got a feel for the way we want to play and how to go hard."

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