Scouting Report: Arkansas
The Commodores finally got over their road woes with their seven point win in Starkville Thursday night. The trick now is to not get complacent Saturday in Memorial Gym, knowing its next four games are at No. 23 Florida; a revenge matchup with South Carolina; and a pair of home games against SEC West leader Alabama followed by a showdown with Big Blue on February 12.
The Arkansas game can be easily overlooked.
Coach Kevin Stallings and staff cannot let that happen and must only look at the only game that is on Vanderbilt's schedule, Arkansas.
Coach John Pelphrey's team currently sits at 13-6 overall and 3-3 in the SEC. The Hogs have already helped their cause in the SEC West by defeating front running Alabama 70-65 on January 15. This would appear to be a hopeful sign to the Hog faithful until one realizes Arkansas not only has two losses against the SEC East (South Carolina and Florida, both on the road), but also has a loss to lowly LSU.
The road has been a lonely place for the Razorbacks, who have lost four road games this season. Vanderbilt fans can sympathize of course, but the Dores were able to get over that hump by defeating Mississippi State on Thursday night.
Forward – Delvon Johnson – Senior, 6-9, 220; 2010-11: 10.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg
Johnson, a junior college transfer out of Richton, Illinois, is playing his second season with Arkansas. He stands out as one of the most improved players for the Razorbacks. He is also their best offensive player as of late, scoring in double figures for six straight games after being held to two points at Texas on January 4. For an inside player, his 33 turnovers are too high, but that can partly be explained by having to frequently catch the ball in transition, not always an easy skill for a 6-9 player. It will be interesting to see how Festus Ezeli and his improving health match up with the faster Johnson.
Forward - Marshawn Powell – Sophomore, 6-7, 220; 2010-11: 10.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg
While many, myself included, thought Powell would be one of the most improved players in the SEC this season, he has instead hit the proverbial sophomore slump. No longer a freshman, he is developing into the prototypical swingman, having demonstrated this year an ability to score in transition, post up, and occasionally hit a jump shot.
Guard – Marcus Britt – Senior, 6-3, 200; 2010-11: 4.4 ppg, .381 3-PT %
Britt has simply never developed into a scorer in the SEC. Britt is primarily a defensive player who scores by getting out ahead on fast break opportunities. Expect Britt to matchup with Jenkins since his athleticism and size might be a good foil for the SEC's leading scorer.
Guard – Rotnei Clarke – Junior, 6-0, 185; 2010-11: 12.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, .386 3-PT %
Clarke continues to be Arkansas' most dangerous long-distance threat. However, after starting the year scoring double-figures in 10 of the Hogs' first 11 games, his scoring has tailed off significantly. While he scored 16 points against Auburn on Tuesday night, he struggled greatly in Arkansas's last three losses: He was held to five points in both the loss at LSU and the setback at South Carolina, all while being shut out by Florida. John Jenkins should draw the assignment to guard Clarke in a matchup that is very favorable for the Dores.
Guard – Julysses Nobles – Sophomore, 6-1, 170; 2010-11: 9.0 ppg, 3.4 apg, .364 3-PT %
Pelphrey's team would have returned its entire starting five from a season ago if not for Courtney Fortson's inexplicable decision to enter last year's NBA draft. Since he departed, his point guard duties have fallen to the 6-1 sophomore from Jackson, Mississippi. Nobles was a key contributor off the bench as a freshman, playing nearly 19 minutes a game. Much like Fortson, Nobles has the ability to get his teammates scoring opportunities, but he turns the ball over way too much to ease Pelphrey's pulse. Nobles has had as many as seven turnovers in a game this season, not to mention six in a 33-point loss at Texas (compared with only two assists) and five in the Razorbacks' last game against lowly Auburn. Expect coach Stallings to be comfortable with allowing Nobles to push the ball, which is the Razorbacks' preferred style. This is the case because as often as Nobles makes a play, he is just as liable to give the ball away.
Pelphrey, playing an up-tempo style learned under Rick Pitino, likes to push the ball. This necessitates using him using his bench, which simply does not have the depth it did a season ago. Jeff Peterson, a junior transfer from Iowa, does most of the backcourt scoring off the bench, averaging 6.9 points per game while making 35 percent of his 3-pointers. Peterson has failed to reach his scoring average, however, in SEC play since he scored nine against Tennessee on January 8. Glenn Bryant is the primary frontcourt reserve, scoring 4.6 points per game in almost 14 minutes an outing.
Four other reserves score between 3.3 and 4.3 points per game while playing up to 16 minutes per contest.
Keys to the Game:
1. Don't get caught in a footrace. – Arkansas likes to push the tempo, and doing so covers some of its weaknesses. Naturally, Vanderbilt wants to expose those weaknesses (frontcourt size and backcourt patience) by making it defend the post and the Jenkins-Taylor combo coming off screens. To do that, the Commodores need to make sure they doesn't get caught up in trying to run with the Razorbacks. Vandy is the better team. It needs to make sure to make Arkansas plays to its pace, not vice versa.
2. Attack the inexperience of the Arkansas front line. – Any reader from last season will recognize this as a familiar game key against Woo Pig Sooey. The Hogs' frontline still does not have the beef to battle with Ezeli, Goulbourne, and Company down low, so Kevin Stallings's team should make it a priority to go inside, take advantage of UA's lack of size, and see if it can get Johnson into foul trouble the way it did Renardo Sidney on Thursday in Starkville.
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