Note: Scout.com went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to put together preseason scouting reports for all the league teams while also polling our writers to determine their picks to win the division and overall league titles.
By Dudley E. Dawson
The story of the 2008-2009 University of Arkansas basketball season was quite simple – a dream beginning and a nightmarish finish.
A brilliant 12-1 start – that included wins over top 10 teams Oklahoma and Texas - followed up by depth and off-court problems that fueled a 2-15 skid to the finish line.
While fans and media have dwelt plenty on that during the off-season, third-year Razorback head coach John Pelphrey said that is not what the coaches and players have done.
“Certainly none of us were pleased with how the season ended, but there is really not anything you can do about last year now except learn and move onward,” Pelphrey said. “You have to look to the future, block out the negativity and not spend time worrying about where you failed last season. SEC Predicted Order of Finish SEC East 1. Kentucky 2. Tennessee 3. Florida 4. South Carolina 5. Vanderbilt 6. Georgia SEC West 1. Mississippi State 2. Ole Miss 3. LSU 4. Alabama 5. Arkansas 6. Auburn Overall League Champion: Kentucky
“What you can do is go to work – which is what our coaches did in breaking down the season to see what we could do better by looking over what our team did well and where we needed to make adjustments.
“Our players also did that right away – in getting better in the weight room, in getting better individually by spending the time on your own on the court and getting better in our group settings that the NCAA allows you to have in the offseason.”
Arkansas returns five starters and six players overall from last season’s 14-16 squad and mixes in six newcomers.
The biggest returnee - literally and figuratively – is 6-9, 240-pound senior center Michael Washington, who put his name in the 2009 NBA draft before taking it out.
Washington, who averaged 15.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game last season, was clearly Pelphrey’s biggest “signee.”
“You get an all-league performer back, one that there would be no way you could have adequately replaced,” Pelphrey said. “In all honesty, it is like getting a five-star recruit who is the best player in the country for your program because he already knows the system and has performed at a high level against elite competition.”
This season the Razorbacks have added 6-9, 220-pound junior college transfer Delvon Johnson to back up Washington and also added true freshman power forward Marshawn Powell (6-8, 220) to redshirt sophomore Michael Sanchez (6-8, 236) at that spot.
Sanchez should have a better season after playing through plantar fasciitis, a painful foot injury, last season.
“Last year there were times that he wore down from having to do so much for us and our depth never really coming along at that position like I hoped and expected it would,” Pelphrey said. “Now with Delvon and Marshawn and Michael Sanchez that should really become a strength for us.”
Adding in freshman Julysess Noble (6-1, 170) to the backcourt gives the Razorbacks another option to go along with returnees Courtney Fortson (5-11, 180), Rotnei Clarke (6-0, 184), Stefan Welsh (6-3, 185) and Marcus Britt (6-3, 198).
Fortson averaged 14.8 points and 5.9 assists while fellow rookie Clark averaged 12.2 points with the pair combining to play 64 minutes per game.
“With Courtney, Rotnei, Marcus, Stef and Julysses, that gives us a lot of weapons back there and some guys that can really come in and keep the level of play up without it falling off, which happened too much last season,” Pelphrey said. “I think the addition of Julysses there means that Courtney and Rotnei won’t be forced to play more minutes than they need to and can stay fresh.”
Arkansas also added a pair of small forwards in Cloud County Community College transfer Jemal Farmer (6-5, 213) and Glenn Bryant (6-7, 190), who blocked more than 200 shots last season at Oak Hill Academy.
Both are freakishly athletic with 40-inch vertical jumps.
“One of the best things is having some guys that can play there and do a variety of things,” Pelphrey said. “We can get into some pick and rolls and other things because of their athleticism and skill level.”
Arkansas should be able to be more up-tempo this season.
“I think we really have the opportunity with more dependable depth to play the way we want to – which is more aggressive, to get after it full court defensively and get up and down the court with the ball,” Pelphrey said.
“So often we were a victim of fatigue last season and we want that to be the problem of the other team this season, not one of ours.”
“Certainly none of us were pleased with how the season ended, but there is really not anything you can do about last year now except learn and move onward,” Pelphrey said. “You have to look to the future, block out the negativity and not spend time worrying about where you failed last season.
SEC Predicted Order of Finish
4. South Carolina
1. Mississippi State
2. Ole Miss
Overall League Champion: Kentucky