Big Hog poses big test

Minus their top three big men of 2007-08 – Darian Townes, Steven Hill and Charles Thomas – the Arkansas Razorbacks were supposed to have no inside game this season.

As things have turned out, however, John Pelphrey's Hogs had a guy on the bench last year who is better than any of the three seniors. Michael Washington is the SEC's breakout player to date, averaging 17.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

The 6-9, 239-pound junior hasn't fattened his stats against pushovers, either. Two of his best games came against perhaps the two best teams Arkansas has played. He hit 10 of 12 shots en route to a 24-point, 11-rebound effort in a 96-88 upset of Oklahoma, then came back one week later to make 8 of 13 shots on his way to a 22-point, 9-rebound, 2-block performance in a 67-61 upset of Texas.

None of this surprised Bruce Pearl, whose Tennessee Vols visit Arkansas tonight for an 8 o'clock (Eastern) tipoff at Bud Walton Arena.

"Michael Washington is really good," Pearl said earlier this week. "I mean, he put it on Oklahoma and Texas. Some people talk about him being one of the most improved players in the SEC. I think he was this good last year but he was in practice with Thomas, Hill and Townes."

Facing Thomas, Hill and Townes on a daily basis helped Washington develop into one of the SEC's best inside scorers. Like Tennessee's Wayne Chism, though, Washington also can step outside and drain the 3-pointer on occasion.

"He can do it inside and out," Pearl noted, "so Wayne Chism and Brian Williams are going to have a real challenge there."

Josh Tabb and Bobby Maze are going to have a real challenge tonight, as well. Their task is to contain Courtney Fortson, Arkansas's fabulous freshman point guard. He's averaging 14.3 points and 6.5 assists per game, numbers that earned him a spot on CollegeHoops.net's Midseason All-Freshman Team nationally.

Pearl knows all about Fortson, since he tried in vain to sign him 15 months ago.

"Courtney Fortson is a great, talented freshman," the Vol coach said. "He's a guy we were involved with (during the recruiting process) but we weren't able to get him. Fortson will be a challenge for Bobby Maze and Josh Tabb. He can really turn the corner, he can really get in the lane."

Tennessee is 1-1 since Tabb replaced Maze in the starting lineup. Tabb provides excellent defensive play and Maze seems to play better coming off the bench.

"I think the fact we've gotten better point-guard play is important," Pearl said. "Bobby Maze hasn't had a turnover in 40-something minutes and Josh Tabb has played well defensively. I feel little better about the way those two guys are combining to play."

Maze and Tabb must play well tonight to contain Fortson. Likewise, Chism and Williams must play well to contain Washington. Otherwise, the Hogs will have an inside/outside attack capable of hanging 96 points on Tennessee, as they did against Oklahoma earlier this season.

"Against Oklahoma and Texas Fortson and Washington were unstoppable," Pearl noted. "They could not keep Fortson out of the lane and Washington was the best player on the floor in both games."


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