Scouting Report II: Arkansas
There's a reason why the old line, "If we had just made X number of plays, we'd be in really good shape" is a limited and narrow claim. The value of such a statement lies primarily in its ability to frame the 2013-2014 season. Vanderbilt can take the court next autumn knowing that it doesn't have to reinvent the wheel in order to finish in the top tier of the SEC. However, next season hasn't arrived yet. This season is still the focus, and when speaking about such a topic, "almost" doesn't count for much of anything at all. The Commodores need to prove to themselves that they can dig a close win out of the fire, if only to prevent more misery from enveloping their every step in this, a harsh winter of discontent.
There's not much to say about Arkansas that you didn't know about in the first scouting report of this team. Yes, the Razorbacks' win over Florida was impressive regardless of location, but everyone in the SEC is going to be keenly interested in Saturday afternoon's get-together inside Memorial Gym for one reason: Arkansas has to win on the road if it wants to turn that victory over Florida into a possible NCAA tournament poker chip. The Razorbacks, thanks to that win over Florida, are now a bubble team. They're not on the good side of the bubble, but they're very much in the mix in an SEC that is becoming more fluid. Should Missouri and Ole Miss continue to struggle, one of those teams could join Arkansas on the bubble, and with the Razorbacks hosting Missouri on Feb. 16, it's not a stretch to say that by the end of the SEC regular season, Arkansas could enjoy a more favorable NCAA tournament outlook than Mizzou.
However, Arkansas won't be able to get to that point unless it can win on the road. Everyone knows this, but what else is there to say? Arkansas has lost only one home game this season (to Syracuse), proving that the Hogs know how to host a barbecue. On the road, though, they always get smoked. They've lost all four of their SEC road games plus a non-conference clash at Michigan. Arkansas, the same team that ran Florida out of Bud Walton Arena this past Tuesday, lost to South Carolina – a bad team – by 21 points in Columbia. This is the Arkansas experience under head coach Mike Anderson, who coaxed an essentially flawless performance from his team in the blowout of Florida but has been rendered impotent in every U of A road game for yet another season.
Here's the NCAA tournament outlook for Anderson's athletes: Arkansas has five roadies left, with two of them being at Missouri and Florida. Winning this game at Vanderbilt is a must for the Hogs if they want to go to the Big Dance. The same is true for road games at Auburn and LSU. Looking at the remainder of the SEC season, Arkansas has to do three things to make the NCAAs: 1) win its remaining roadies against the teams it leads in the SEC standings; 2) win each of its four remaining home games (Missouri and Kentucky are on the list of opponents); 3) accumulate enough road/neutral wins, which can be done by winning at Florida and avoiding a loss in the first round of the SEC Tournament; winning at Missouri and making the SEC Tournament semifinals; or making the SEC Tournament final.
If Arkansas can meet each of those three criteria (with the third one offering different paths to the same goal), it will be very much on the cut line when Selection Sunday arrives, a possible contender for a "First Four" game. If Arkansas can exceed any of those benchmarks, it should be in the field of 68. If it falls short of those guidelines, it will be "NIT-picking" in the middle of March. Vanderbilt, as you can see, will be able to play spoiler this Saturday. That might be just the role that will enable this team to have a little fun… and thrive as a result.
ARKANSAS STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
NOTE: For repeat scouting reports, the national statistical ranking will be discarded. In its place will be the change in the given statistic since the last time Vanderbilt played this particular opponent.
Two-point field goal shooting percentage: 51.6. Change: -0.2 percent. (Arkansas had been shooting 51.8 percent on twos when it last played Vanderbilt on Jan. 12.)
Three-point field goal shooting percentage: 30.4. Change: -2.1 percent (32.5 percent on Jan. 12).
Possessions per 40 minutes: 72.4. Change: -1.9 possessions (74.3 on Jan. 12).
Turnovers per game: 11.3. Change: +0.1 turnovers (11.2 on Jan. 12).
Rebounding percentage: 48.9. Change: -1 percent (49.9 on Jan. 12).
Blocked shots per game: 5.3. Change: -0.1 blocks (5.4 on Jan. 12).
Forward – Coty Clarke – Junior, 6-7, 225 2012-13: 6.9 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, 1 steal per game
Clarke is a replacement for former starter Hunter Mickelson, although Mickelson still averages slightly more minutes per game. Do keep in mind that with a Mike Anderson team, the starting five's identity is not all that important – certainly to an extent, yes, but not with the centrality or primacy that one would assign to, say, Ohio State or Florida. Anderson gives more than 20 minutes per game to only three players and more than 26 to just one (B.J. Young). Depth and waves of fresh legs – fresh, full-court-pressing legs – are part of the Anderson modus operandi, taken from his mentor and the godfather of modern-day Arkansas basketball, Nolan Richardson. The 40 Minutes of Hell blueprint involves 10 to 12 guys rotating in and out, spilling the tank when they're on the court precisely because they don't have to worry about extended minutes.
Forward – Marshawn Powell – Junior, 6-7, 240; 2012-13: 15.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.5 assists per game
Powell's scoring is up one full point compared to Jan. 12, the last time VU met Arkansas. His rebounding is up 0.2 rebounds per game (from 5.4), and his assists are down by 0.1 per game (1.6 on Jan. 12). Powell was one of three Arkansas players who led the charge in Tuesday's upset of Florida. His 11 points were valuable, but his 6 rebounds and high-energy low-post defense were far more significant. This is something that can be said of every Arkansas player, but it's still worth expressing: If Powell can play with Bud Walton Arena energy on the road, transferring his athletic lightning from one gym to another, the Razorbacks can go places (places better than the NIT).
Guard – B.J. Young – Sophomore, 6-3, 180; 2012-13: 16.5 ppg, 4 rpg, 4 apg
We'll ignore technical realities and formal facts to make a common-sense distinction here: Rickey Scott, who was listed as a projected starter the last time Vanderbilt played Arkansas, was listed as a starter for the U of A's win over Florida on Tuesday. However, Scott played only five minutes in that contest. Young came off the bench and played 28 minutes. He averages more minutes than any other Razorback; only Powell comes appreciably close at 25.8 minutes per game. What was by far the most outstanding aspect of Young's performance against Florida (you can tell that we're going to highlight that game, since it showcases the best aspects of this team and therefore gives Vanderbilt an idea of what it might have to contend with…) is that in 28 high-energy minutes, he handed out 5 assists without a single turnover. Arkansas obviously likes to play helter-skelter basketball; if it makes a few sloppy plays here and there (which it did against Florida), everything's okay as long as it speeds up the other team and causes the tempo of a game to spiral out of an opponent's control. The Hogs did this to perfection against Florida, and Young's ability to play turnover-free ball is one of the central reasons Arkansas remained in command from start to finish.
Young's statistical differentials since Jan. 12: -0.8 points per game; -0.5 rebounds per game; -0.1 assists per game.
Guard – Mardracus Wade – Junior, 6-2, 176; 2012-13: 6.4 ppg, 1.6 steals per game
Wade's steals are unchanged from Jan. 12, but his scoring average is down 1.3 points per game. However, his defense and floor leadership were exceptional against Florida. On a night when Arkansas committed only 8 turnovers against an elite defensive team, Wade coughed up the pill only once while dishing out 4 assists. Arkansas' guards handled the ball extremely well against Florida's vaunted lockdown defense, a major reason the Razorbacks scored 80 points versus the Gators. Handling the ball well in road games has been – and will obviously continu9e to be – a foremost point of emphasis for Anderson and his coaching staff. Unsettling the Hogs' offense is what Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings must try to do before (and beyond) anything else.
Guard – Michael Qualls – Freshman, 6-5, 205; 2012-13: 4 ppg, 3 rpg
A new member of Arkansas' starting five, Qualls – who currently averages just 12.6 minutes a game – was entrusted with 25 minutes against Florida. In many ways, he was the X-factor for the Hogs, playing the game of his young career on Tuesday. Just a freshman, Qualls played turnover-free ball while scoring an efficient 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting. This might be the player who carries the Razorbacks to Bracketville… if Arkansas is good enough to pull off the feat. Notice, too, that Qualls averages four points a game, a clear indication that he had done nothing particularly noteworthy before Tuesday's game against Florida. He was solid against Tennessee on Feb. 2, going 3 for 6 from the field in 32 turnover-free minutes, but Tennessee is no Florida – not this year, at any rate. Mr. Qualls picked quite a time to make an entrance and announce his presence to the rest of the SEC and the nation.
What was true on Jan. 12, the last time these two teams met, is still true: 11 Razorbacks average double-figure minutes per game. Here are the Razorbacks' remaining reserves, not including the aforementioned Hunter Mickelson and Rickey Scott: Rashad Madden, Jacorey Williams, Kikko Haydar, and Fred Gulley. Mickelson leads the pack in scoring, averaging 7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. The other players on that list average 1.8 to 5 points per game and 1.3 to 3 rebounds per game. No one on that list averages more than 1.8 assists per game or 0.8 steals per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Make Arkansas' guards uncomfortable. Arkansas' guards get to frolic at home in Fayetteville, running the floor and trapping to their hearts' content. When they receive pressure on the road, they don't respond well. If Vanderbilt can get in the grills of Arkansas' guards, it will roast the Pigs and feast at the basketball banquet table on Saturday. As an extra point of emphasis, if Vanderbilt can allow the 56 points it conceded to Arkansas on Jan. 12, it should like its chances in this game.
2) Get to the foul line, especially late. Vanderbilt earned 19 foul shots Wednesday at LSU. That's not too bad, but the Dores attempted only two of those free throws in the final four minutes of regulation. They need more end-of-game free throw processions in order to get over the hump in these 57-55 photo finishes.
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