Scouting Report: Arkansas
Let's be honest: For any team, but especially a young and relatively unproven one, it is hard to bounce back from a game that brought about such a substantial investment in emotional and psychological energy. The Kentucky home game and the Tennessee home game are the two biggest events of every Vanderbilt regular season. Beating Big Blue was a foremost goal for coach Kevin Stallings and his players, who circled Jan. 10 on the calendar when the 2012-2013 schedule came into view. Thursday night's game took a lot out of the Commodores. Win or lose, coming back on Saturday for a quick turnaround was always going to be a challenge.
Now, though, it's going to be especially difficult for the VU crew to rebound.
Losing by two to Kentucky is not even the hardest part of Thursday night's setback. The wrenching aspect of that 60-58 defeat is that an awful error – not an innocent mistake, but a structural failure – contributed to the final outcome.
Nerlens Noel's shot clearly did not beat the shot clock in the final half-minute of regulation, but that's not the main issue here. The true outrage was and is (and will be) that such a play is not reviewable according to game administration policies. Magnifying the sorry state of affairs to an even greater degree is the fact that the shot clocks at Memorial Gym are not placed in easily visible locations, and that the shot clocks do not have tenths of a second (which is more an SEC problem than a Memorial Gym problem). If the SEC, which is drowning in money from football television deals, cannot pony up to furnish its arenas with modernized shot clock technologies – which can enable on-court officials to make rulings based on VISUAL (not audial) identifications – the conference deserves no shortage of ridicule. (Other conferences across the country, the Pac-12 being one of them in the wake of the Colorado-Arizona controversy, would deserve nothing less.)
At any rate, it is so emotionally easy to sulk and lose heart after absorbing the kind of loss Vanderbilt endured on Thursday… not a close loss, not a loss to Kentucky, but a loss to Kentucky because of a faulty replay-review system relating to shots released (or not released) before the expiration of the shot clock. Arkansas will have something to say about the outcome of this game, but the primary point of emphasis is that Vanderbilt cannot be mentally defeated when it takes the court in Fayetteville, a town where the formidable 2012 VU team got smacked around by the Razorbacks on Jan. 31 of last year.
Before this past Wednesday, Arkansas's overall profile wasn't special, but it wasn't littered with bad losses, either. Arizona State is a 14-2 team right now, so even that loss really didn't drag down the quality of the Razorbacks' resume. Before Wednesday, Arkansas's main sin was simply that it couldn't beat quality teams. Arizona State, Wisconsin, Syracuse, and Michigan – four teams with NCAA tournament resumes at this point in time – all defeated head coach Mike Anderson's team, making Arkansas a prime NIT candidate.
Now, the outlook is a little bit different for the U of A.
On Wednesday night, the Hogs got spanked by 18 points at Texas A&M, a team that is not NCAA-worthy at the moment. The Aggies used to be an NCAA tournament team under former coach Mark Turgeon, but under current coach Billy Kennedy, they appear to be headed for the bottom half of the new 14-team SEC. This same bunch of Aggies, limited though it is, easily outclassed Arkansas, creating the kind of result that frequently greeted the Razorbacks last season, Anderson's first as the head coach in Fayetteville.
Anderson is a protégé of former UA coach Nolan Richardson, the man who brought the Hogs a national title in 1994 and consecutive national title game appearances. Anderson left a successful gig at Missouri so that he could restore Arkansas to its mid-1990s perch in the college basketball world. It's clear that Arkansas is the place where Anderson hopes to coach for a long time, the school Anderson wants to lift to national prominence. However, in one and a half seasons on the job, he has learned that it's going to take a long time to make the Razorbacks as strong as they were under Richardson. Arkansas hasn't made an NCAA appearance since 2008 and owns only one Big Dance win since 1999.
Here's the bigger and more immediate issue for the Hogs: As mentioned above, the 18-point loss at A&M recalled the team's 2011-2012 campaign. In that season, Arkansas's quality of performance and outcome both depended on location. The Hogs were solid at home for the balance of their journey, but an unmitigated disaster away from home. Vanderbilt has to be conscious of Arkansas' schizoid tendencies when playing this game in Bud Walton Arena. In the same breath, though, the Hogs can't be very optimistic about their prospects after their face-plant in College Station, Tex.
ARKANSAS STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
Two-point field goal shooting percentage: 51.8. National rank: 41 (out of 345).
Three-point field goal shooting percentage: 32.5. National rank: 217.
Possessions per 40 minutes: 74.3. National rank: 18.
Turnovers per game: 11.2. National rank: 30.
Rebounding percentage: 49.9. National rank: 233.
Blocked shots per game: 5.4. National rank: 20.
Forward – Hunter Mickelson – Sophomore, 6-10, 245 2012-13: 7.5 points per game, 4.6 rebounds per game, 1.4 blocked shots per game
Mickelson is long, but not overly tall or powerful. As a result, he can be bullied in the low post by an opponent who possesses strength and agility. Mickelson is not particularly quick or light on his feet. He is a player who needs to be attacked whenever Vanderbilt has the ball. He's a capable shot blocker, but he blocks shots when ballhandlers or shooters release the ball mechanically. Intelligent forays to the basket will be able to get the ball past Mickelson and, likely, into the hoop.
Forward – Marshawn Powell – Junior, 6-7, 240; 2012-13: 14.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.6 assists per game
Powell's scoring is based on two-point shooting. The stats tell you he's a 43-percent three-point shooter (42.9, technically), but that figure is based on only 28 attempts from long distance. Powell has a compact body, one that is blessed with the quickness Mickelson lacks. He can create his own shot in multiple ways, a key source of his scoring prowess. His shooting percentage is 52.7, the best of any Razorback starter. This tells you that he works the ball close to the rim, thanks to his physique and the skill which unlocks its potential.
Guard – B.J. Young – Sophomore, 6-3, 180; 2012-13: 17.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.1 apg
Where would Arkansas be without Young? At the .500 mark. Young has been carrying the Hogs this season, carrying the scoring load yet becoming the team's best distributor and playmaker to a similarly substantial extent. He's a presence on the boards who contributes in so many different areas. He is clearly not a player whose effort at one end of the floor negatively affects his output at the other end. Vanderbilt has to make Young the focal point of its defensive game plan.
Guard – Mardracus Wade – Junior, 6-2, 176; 2012-13: 7.7 ppg, 1.6 steals per game
Wade is part of an Arkansas backcourt that is very frail when Young (who averages 27.8 minutes per game) is not on the floor. The Hogs have only two double-figure scorers because Wade is just not blessed with much of a shooting touch. He's an active defender and an accomplished pickpocket, as his stat line indicates, but he just hasn't given Anderson much value at the offensive end. Wade hits just 31.6 percent of his threes, and when you recall the glory days of Arkansas basketball under Nolan Richardson in the mid-1990s, part of the winning formula for the Hogs – the part Mike Anderson wants to recapture in Fayetteville – was three-point shooting. Sure, Corliss Williamson provided the hammer in the paint, but Corey Beck, Al Dillard and Scotty Thurman could make it rain from 22 and 23 feet. Until Arkansas gets someone to help Young on the perimeter, this team will be too limited, too constrained at the offensive end of the floor.
Guard – Rickey Scott – Senior, 6-0, 198; 2012-13: 5.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg
So much of what applies to Wade also applies to Scott. Because of this reality, Anderson – who has always believed in mass substitutions and using the kind of depth Richardson cultivated at Arkansas – has not been able to find good combinations on the floor in the first place. The nuanced point that needs to be emphasized with the 2012-2013 Razorbacks is this: Whereas Richardson made mass substitutions from a position of strength, Anderson is doing the same thing from a position of weakness. Richardson manipulated matchups and gave good players timely breaks. Anderson is madly scrambling, working like a mad scientist in search of the right group of five, the group that can mesh well together and hit shots from the perimeter.
Anderson's use of substitutions is borne out by the fact that 11 Razorbacks average double-figure minutes per game, with two other players averaging at least eight minutes per game. Here are the Razorbacks' "eight-minutes-or-more" reserves: Coty Clarke, Rashad Madden, Anthlon Bell, Jacorey Williams, Michael Qualls, Kikko Haydar, Fred Gulley, and DeQuavious Wagner. Clarke leads the pack in scoring, averaging 7.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The other players on that list average 1.3 to 5.1 points per game and 0.5 to 2.5 rebounds per game. No one on that list averages more than 1.8 assists per game or 1.2 steals per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Don't let Kentucky (and stupid replay review policies regarding shot clock violations) beat you twice. With all due respect to Arkansas, this game boils down to Vanderbilt's attitude. The Commodores will rise or fall based on their (in)ability to shrug off the stomach punch they absorbed on Thursday. Physically, Vanderbilt has to handle the quick Thursday-Saturday turnaround.
2) Rod Odom has to deliver the goods. Odom played quite poorly against Kentucky. Everyone within the program's inner circle and every Dore fan watching from a distance knows that Odom has to be a much better player if this team is to improve… and win on the road in Fayetteville.
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