Vanderbilt's 86-73 win over the Kentucky Wildcats on Wednesday represents the high water mark of the present season, coming only a week after the lowest. What a pleasure to beat Kentucky again after nine years of frustration! And to do it so decisively.
The 86-point total, by a twist of fate, exactly equalled the total of the two losing 43-point home games to South Carolina and Mississippi State. Unless the Commodores host an NIT game, it was the last home game of the year and it is good to finish there with an efficient point production. Now comes the last game of the SEC regular season.
The Arkansas Razorbacks are in turmoil. Last Monday, Coach Nolan Richardson attacked the media for criticizing him and said quite plainly that he was the victim of racial prejudice. Considering how indiscriminate his remarks were, and how strange they were coming from a man who has been so successful and still makes over a million dollars per year, it is likely that he has dug himself a hole from which he can't escape (and may not want to). Actually, it is clear that he would be quite content to have the last three years of his contract bought out and then retire to his front porch and rocking chair. His coaching success has diminished drastically in recent years and the talent level on his team is simply not what it once was.
The Razorbacks come into the Vanderbilt game with an overall record of 13-14, and 5-10 in conference play. Despite a big win at home over Alabama on February 20, they have lost five of their last six games. Vanderbilt will catch them on their senior night and five of their players are seniors. Add in the emotions generated by the Richardson tirade and you have a complex situation that could go in almost any direction.
Arkansas is led in scoring by 6'2" senior shooting guard Jannero Pargo (17.1 ppg). Pargo exploded for 35 points in his last game, with Mississippi State, has made more three-point shots than Brendan Plavich, and hits almost as good a percentage of them as Brendan. Pargo also leads the team in assists (3.2 per game).
Pargo's most frequent partner at the other guard, 6'1" Brandon Dean, is another senior. He scores 12.3 ppg and is a fairly good outside shooter. Other guards are 6'1" senior T.J. Cleveland (4.0 ppg), 6'4" senior Teddy Gipson (7.0 ppg), and 5'10" junior Charles Tatum (3.8 ppg).
The Razorbacks suffer from not having any commanding inside presence. 6'8" senior Dionisio Gomez (5.5 ppg, 5.3 rebounds) is the leading rebounder, but definitely not in the same class as Erwin Dudley of Alabama or Mario Austin of Mississippi State. 6'5" freshman J.J. Sullinger (9.8 ppg) is the second leading rebounder (3.2 per game). 6'7" junior Alonzo Lane (3.2 ppg) is a 250-pounder who tries to take care of some of the heavy work under the basket. 6'9" junior Larry Satchell (3.0 ppg, 3 rebounds) is occasionally effective.
Whatever the Razorback problems may be, they do have plenty of manpower. 6'8" junior Carl Baker (3.1 ppg), 6'9" freshman Michael Jones (4.9 ppg), 6'7" junior Blake Eddins (1.0 ppg), and 6'7" freshman Berry Jordan (2.0 ppg) can all be thrown into the fray. And recently 6'6" freshman Matt Jones (3.9 ppg), a quarterback on the football team, has been seeing action and looks like he could become a good basketball player.
For many years Arkansas has been known as a swarming, pressing team that tried to cause havoc with the opposition, getting a lot of points off of turnovers and fastbreaks. They can still do that at times. Pargo is the only consistent outside scorer, which is a problem considering that their inside players are mostly small and not big threats to score.
A Vanderbilt victory over Arkansas is certainly quite possible, even likely if the Commodores play as well as they have done in their last two games. The confidence level is up and the team should be relaxed. However, memories of the South Carolina and Mississippi State games at home are still fresh and a lapse back into that style of play would produce a bad defeat. Perhaps most likely is an in-between Vanderbilt performance, producing a close game that could go either way.
UPDATE: Nolan Richardson met with athletic director Frank Boyles on Thursday, then canceled a regularly scheduled news conference at which his agent said he would apologize for criticizing reporters and fans.