The Arkansas Razorbacks come into this game with an overall record of 17-8 and 5-7 in conference play. In non-conference play the Razorbacks had their best wins at Missouri (62-52), over 21-5 Winthrop on a neutral court in Puerto Rico (72-49), and at home over Tulsa 85-73. In conference play they have won once on the road (at Mississippi 66-65) and in home games with Mississippi (69-46), Auburn (95-59), Georgia (62-47), and LSU (65-62). Their only home conference loss was to Alabama (64-61), and they dropped road games at Florida (82-74), Mississippi State (80-55), LSU (66-63), South Carolina (64-52), and Alabama (72-63). They appear to be on the move back toward the upper reaches of the conference, but they don't have the experience to get there until next year.
Head Coach Stan Heath (right) is in his third year at the Arkansas helm, with a composite record to date of 68-48. He succeeded the venerated Nolan Richardson, who coached the Razorbacks to an NCAA title in 1994, but finally self-destructed after a period of declining accomplishments. Heath had a record of 30-6 in his first year as head coach, at Kent State, in 2001-02, which followed a five-year stint as assistant coach at Michigan State under Tom Izzo. He was also an assistant for two years at Bowling Green, after having worked in three smaller programs. He completed his education at Eastern Michigan 1n 1988, where he lettered in basketball for three years.
It is clear that Heath has the Arkansas program moving in the right direction. In his first two years, his teams suffered from a severe lack of height and rebounding. This year he brought in 6-10 freshman Darian Townes (left), a 250-pounder who usually starts at center, averaging 10.0 ppg. He is playing about 23 minutes per game and pulling off 4.5 rebounds per outing. Sharing the center assignment is 7-0 freshman Steven Hill, who may be the best shotblocker in the conference, but isn't yet much of a scoring threat (2.7 ppg). Hill is playing 17.4 minutes per game and averages 2.6 rebounds. When the duo of Townes and Hill get more experience, Arkansas is going to be very tough inside.
The star of the Razorback team is 6-7 sophomore Ronnie Brewer (right) (16.2 ppg). He plays a team-high 31 minutes per game, is making 40.9% of his threes, leads the team in rebounding (4.6 per game) and steals (2.7), and is second in assists (3.3). According to Heath he is an unselfous player who makes his teammates better. He was an all-freshman SEC player last season and a likely first or second team all-conference selectee this year.
The man who was expected to be the leading scorer for Arkansas, 6-4 junior Jonathon Modica (left), had a rough beginning and lost his starting job. But in recent games he has been making a strong comeback and was selected as last week's SEC Player of the Week after after a series of double-digit scoring efforts. Modica's beat game of the season was a recent 25-point outing against LSU (at Arkansas). His scoring average has climbed to 10.4 ppg, second best on the team, and he is making 45.5% of his threes.
The other two starters are 6-5 sophomore Olu Famutimi (right) and either 6-7 freshman Charles Thomas (left) or 6-1 junior Eric Ferguson. They will all see a lot of action in the Vanderbilt game. Thomas is a burly 245-pounder who is averaging 5.8 ppg. Famutimi was badly slowed last season by a knee problem, but has improved to a 9.5 ppg scoring average and 4.1 rebounds per outing. He can hit the three (39.8%). Ferguson is usually the starting point guard (4.1 assists per game), and is scoring 9.2 ppg (38% success on threes). Famutimi is probably the best slasher on the team, but Modica and Brewer are no slouches in that department.
Arkansas has plenty of depth. In addition to the seven players mentioned above, there are three others who play significant minutes. 6-8 junior Rashard Sullivan isn't much of a scorer (2.2 ppg) but he picks up 3.2 rebounds and has 240 pounds of heft to throw around inside. 6-4 Dontell Jefferson is a junior transfer point guard who sometimes starts and is averaging 2.3 assists per game, 4.5 ppg, and is a good outside shooter. 6-9 senior Michael Jones (4.4 ppg) tends to go off on a scoring explosion when least expected.
A look at the team stats shows that Arkansas is first in the conference in blocked shots and three-point defense, a combination that spells trouble for Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks are second in steals and scoring defense, first in blocked shots, fifth in assist/turnover margin, and fourth in three-pointers made per game. They are sixth in rebounding margin, eighth in free-throw percentage, and ninth in number of three pointers made per game.
Arkansas is the sort of fast, quick team that is particularly likely to give the Commodores trouble. However, five of their top ten players are freshmen and sophomores, and two of the others have limited experience in Division I play. If this game was being played in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the Razorbacks would be selected to win. The home court advantage, and greater experience, should give Vanderbilt the win by two to six points.