Scouting Report: Arkansas

Coming off of a surprising blowout of SEC East leader South Carolina last weekend, Vanderbilt continued to turn heads in the conference on Wednesday as they traveled to Baton Rouge and dealt LSU just its second league loss. The suddenly surging Commodores have a chance to finish conference play at 8-8 after a 1-5 start. They'll reach .500 if they can hold off Arkansas in a Sunday matinee.

Vandy's Last Game

For the second straight game, Vanderbilt's most experienced players grabbed the reins and guided the ‘Dores to an impressive victory.  A.J. Ogilvy played perhaps his best game as a Commodore, scoring a career-high 33 points and grabbing ten rebounds.  The sophomore center had his way with an LSU frontcourt that couldn't match his physicality.  Jermaine Beal continued his strong play, tossing in three trifectas en route to 17 points.

The Commodores held LSU to 36.2 percent shooting and kept Marcus Thornton, the SEC's second-leading scorer, to 18 points on 7-of-19 shooting.  An 11-point Vanderbilt lead shrank to just two points as the Tigers attacked the basket more often in the second half, but Brad Tinsley's clutch triple with 37 seconds left sealed the win and gave the ‘Dores a chance to get to .500 in league play.

Arkansas At-A-Glance

Predictably, the Razorbacks (14-14, 2-13) have regressed after losing six seniors and All-SEC talent Patrick Beverley off of last year's NCAA tournament team.  Arkansas's inexperience has become evident in conference play after the Hogs surprised the college basketball world by escaping their non-conference schedule with a single loss and upsetting both Texas and Oklahoma.  The freshman-laden squad has won just two league games, both at home.

Though they haven't exactly scorched the nets, Arkansas's offense hasn't been as consistent and glaring a problem as its defense.  The Razorbacks rank last in the SEC in both scoring and shooting percentage defense.  League opponents are shooting 47.1 percent and averaging 78.5 points – more than SEC scoring leader Florida averages – against the Hogs.  Perimeter defense in particular has hurt Pelphrey's team; Arkansas is allowing opponents to shoot 40.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Starting Lineup

Courtney Fortson – Freshman, 5-11, 180 lbs. – Arkansas's human blur of a point guard has had to grow up in a hurry, as he's held keys to the Hogs' attack since his first game in Fayetteville.  He leads the Razorbacks with 6.1 assists and ranks second on the team with 14.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.  Despite turning in some gaudy scoring and assist totals, Fortson has battled freshman inconsistency throughout SEC play.  His assist-to-turnover ratio has dropped to 1.1 during league play, and he dragged his three-point percentage above 25.0 percent for the first time in conference play just two games ago.  If he forgoes the long-range shots in favor of attacking the basket, Fortson could pose a major problem for the Vanderbilt defense, as he is nearly impossible to stop one-on-one and can finish with contact.

Michael Washington – Junior, 6-9, 239 lbs. – After averaging just 13.4 minutes a year ago, Washington has gained from the loss of the Razorbacks' top three frontcourt players from last season.  He has proven that, given starter's minutes, he belongs among the top forwards in the conference.  Washington leads the Hogs with 15.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, and he's shooting a scorching 55.6 percent from the floor.  Similar to Ogilvy, Washington can score in bunches in the paint and take opposing bigs off the dribble.  He also hurts opponents on the offensive glass, where he ranks third in the SEC with 3.4 boards per game.

Rotnei Clarke – Freshman, 6-0, 184 lbs. – A prolific scorer in high school, Clarke has already established himself as one of the most dangerous long-range threats in the SEC.  Averaging 12.4 points per game on the season, the freshman off-guard has drained 42 three-pointers in conference play, good for fourth in the league.  He has attempted at least ten trifectas in five games, including his past two contests in which he scored a combined 38 points on 9-of-23 shooting from beyond the arc.  Clarke hasn't yet displayed much of an offensive repertoire from inside the three-point line; 67.4 percent of his points come from three-pointers.

Michael Sanchez – Freshman, 6-8, 236 lbs. – After redshirting last season, Sanchez has stepped into a starting role for Arkansas in his first season on the court.  His offensive production has been spotty (6.0 ppg), but he snatches 4.9 rebounds per game and provides the Hogs with a big body who has the strength to bang with most frontcourt players in the league.  Though he won't go off for 20 points, Sanchez has some scoring ability around the basket and should see his shooting percentage climb above its current 45.3 percent as he matures.

Marcus Britt – Sophomore, 6-2, 191 lbs. – Pelphrey inserted Britt into the lineup in each of Arkansas's last two games in place of Stefan Welsh.  Averaging just 3.8 points per game this season, Britt doesn't pose the same offensive threat that Welsh does, but his status as a starter hasn't depleted Welsh's minutes thus far.  The sophomore can knock down the occasional three-pointer and has the quickness to get to the basket off the dribble, but he'll remain a third-option type for the Razorback offense.

Bench

The aforementioned Stefan Welsh has swapped places with Britt a few times this season, but whether in the starting lineup or coming off the bench, the 6-3 junior guard has been a major contributor for Arkansas.  A true chucker, Welsh averages 11.9 points per game on 36.2 percent shooting and averages just 1.1 points per shot.  His 49 three-pointers on the season are good for second on the squad.

Jason Henry, a 6-6 freshman swingman, offers another scoring option on the wing.  He averages 8.2 points in 18.2 minutes per game and recently put up 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting in a four-point loss to South Carolina.

Freshman forwards Andre Clark and Brandon Moore round out Arkansas's rotation.  Both stand 6-9, and both could stand to bulk up a bit to be more effective in a physical SEC.  The similarities continue: both Clark and Moore have well-rounded skill sets for freshman forwards and offer more than typical post offense.

Keys to the Game

Perimeter Shooting – The play of A.J. Ogilvy has been crucial to the Commodores' recent resurgence, and while he'll get his opportunities, Jermaine Beal, Brad Tinsley, and Lance Goulbourne need to be effective from the perimeter for the Vanderbilt offense to wear down the Razorbacks.  In one of their two conference wins, the Hogs were able to withstand a 24-point effort from Alabama forward JaMychal Green because ‘Bama shot just 4-of-18 percent from beyond the arc.  If the ‘Dores suffer one of their cold shooting spells, they'll be letting the worst three-point defense in the league off the hook.

Team Defense – Fortson fits the mold of point guards who have given recent Vanderbilt teams fits.  He's lightning-quick off the dribble, can finish in traffic, and has the vision to find open shooters if the defense collapses on him.  With Rotnei Clark and Stefan Welsh on the wings, Fortson could give the Hogs plenty of open looks if he can consistently beat his defender and force the Vanderbilt wings to help.  The Commodores' best bet may be to allow Fortson to get too deep into the lane if he gets by his man rather than helping off of Clark; the ‘Dores have enough size to bother Fortson's shots and enough depth to send him to the line often, where he shoots just 59.7 percent.

Prediction:  Vanderbilt will try to exorcise a pair of demons on Sunday.  The Commodores haven't won a regular-season finale under Kevin Stallings, and they are 0-5 against Arkansas in the past three seasons, including two meetings in the SEC Tournament.  This Razorback squad doesn't have the experience or dominating front line of their other recent teams, though, and the Vanderbilt offense should have little trouble maintaining its effectiveness against a porous Arkansas defense.  Watch for Ogilvy to shine again as the ‘Dores build momentum heading to Tampa.  Final Score: Vanderbilt 80, Arkansas 70.

VandyMania.com Top Stories