Preview: Vanderbilt at Arkansas

There's nothing like feeling the liberation of a good, clean escape. Now, the Vanderbilt Commodores – freed from pressure after their fortuitous get-out-of-jail victory over Georgia – can recharge their batteries and go get the Arkansas Razorbacks.

While it's true that the turnaround for this tilt at Bud Walton Arena will be relatively short, one also has to realize that Vanderbilt didn't display maximum effort against the Dawgs on Thursday night. The extent to which VU got beaten on the glass, particularly at the end of both regulation and overtime, was absolutely unacceptable. One could praise the Dores for finding a way to win in the hours immediately following that white-knuckle survival act, but now that the focus is on Arkansas, it's time to get a little angry about the deficiencies and Kentucky-fed, hangover-induced lapses which plagued Kevin Stallings's club against Georgia.

This team – like its fan base – knows the stakes that are involved here. Just to put a finer point on the situation, a Vandy win – even with a loss on Tuesday in Gainesville – would achieve something important. It would ensure that VU would be no worse than tied for second place in the East after the Florida game. Why is this significant? Florida must go to Kentucky for its regular-season SEC finale. That's likely going to be a Gator loss, so as long as the VU crew can bag this fistfight in Fayetteville, the Dores have an excellent chance of sealing up that second seed and the vital first-round bye which accompanies it.

It's time to go to work against the Hogs. It's definitely NOT a time to – in a phrase rarely heard these days – "pull a porker" against Woo Pig Sooey.

ARKANSAS AT-A-GLANCE

Coach John Pelphrey may be one of Rick Pitino's "Unforgettables" from their days together at Kentucky, but in many ways Pelphrey's time in Fayetteville has been completely forgettable after advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in his first season. Last season the Hogs went 2-14 in the SEC, finishing last in the West.

This year has not been much different. The program has had to deal with off the court issues that have resulted in the suspension of players. These suspensions have included three players (Marcus Britt, Glenn Bryant, and Nick Mason) after rape allegations by an Arkansas student, as well as suspensions of two other players for inappropriate comments (Courtney Fortson and Stefan Welsh). The suspensions had a disastrous impact on Arkansas' non-conference record as it dropped four or five games in which it would have been favored.

The court has not offered much of a reprieve for this team. The Hogs come into the Vandy game with consecutive losses to Auburn and LSU. The win was LSU's first in the SEC this year. Ouch! Then, to add injury to insult, Arkansas has had to deal with the injured ankle of post player Michael Washington. He did not even make the trip to Louisiana and Arkansas is 0-3 in games he has missed. The players behind him are very inexperienced, and it is unknown if Washington will return on Saturday.

Needless to say, Arkansas fans probably wish they could get those last two games back since the regular season concludes with Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Ole Miss – not the schedule you want if you are a struggling SEC team.

Despite these problems, Arkansas finds itself one game out of first place in the SEC West, which means it is in line for a first round SEC Tournament bye. While it is easy to forget about the Razorbacks since they sit at .500 overall and are only 7-6 in the conference, they have a great opportunity to set themselves up for a run in the SEC Tournament, a run they would need to make to have any hope of making the NCAAs.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Delvon Johnson – Junior 6'9", 220; 2009-10: 2.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg

Johnson, a junior college transfer out of Richton, Ill., earned his way into the Razorback starting lineup due to Washington's injury and his own positive play in a win over South Carolina plus the game at Auburn as well. Against the Gamecocks, Johnson played his most meaningful minutes in SEC competition, with five points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes of action. He followed that outing with 10 points in only 13 minutes against Auburn, when he was hampered by foul trouble. Pelphrey seems sold on Johnson being his guy in the low block, given the absence of Washington. Pelphrey allotted Johnson 27 minutes in the loss to LSU.

Forward - Marshawn Powell – Freshman 6'7", 220; 2009-10: 15.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg

Despite his high scoring average and excellent shooting at 52 %, the Razorbacks often forget Powell. Despite back-to-back games of 26 and 23 points respectively, Powell inexplicably shot the ball only three times against LSU. Only a freshman, he is developing into the prototypical swingman, having demonstrated this year a pronounced ability to score in transition, post up, and occasionally hit the mid-range jump shot. Should his shooting range continue to improve, he will be one of the top players in the SEC next season. Powell either needs to improve his range or stop shooting 3-pointers, though; he is only 1 of 12 during conference play. What is the best way of taking away Powell's 15 points per game? Go zone. He'll never touch the ball.

Guard – Marcus Britt –Junior, 6'3", 198; 2009-10: 4.0 ppg, .310 3PT %

Britt was suspended for the first six games of the season after being accused of rape by a female Arkansas student. The charges were dropped but Pelphrey still suspended him for violating team rules. Whether the time off has played a part, who knows, but Britt has not established himself this season. He played well in the Hogs' win over South Carolina with 12 points, but has since totaled only four in two games, going scoreless at LSU. Britt will primarily score – if he dents the stat sheet at all – in transition.

Guard – Rotnei ClarkeSophomore, 6'8", 180; 2009-10:  15.9 ppg, .448 3PT %

 If you look up the word "shooter" in the dictionary, there is a good chance you might see a photo of Clarke. Twice this season he has hit double digits – in 3-pointers made. Clarke went 13 of 17 on triples against Alcorn State in the season opener, scoring 51 points. He also had a 10-of-17 display in a loss to East Tennessee State, scoring 32 points. When the ball comes to him, he is shooting, as evidenced by his 33 total assists all season. Nearly all of his shots come from beyond the arc. This helped lead to the Razorbacks' downfall at LSU, as Trent Johnson's club sat in a zone and it took Clarke 14 shots to accumulate 14 points. Guarding Clarke is simple in theory – pressure everywhere, hand up on the shot, and force him to dribble. But it's easier said than done.

Guard – Courtney Fortson – Sophomore 5'11", 180; 2009-10:  19.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.4 rpg, .318 3PT %

How valuable is Fortson to the fortunes of Pelphrey's team? Earlier in the season he was indefinitely suspended for comments made on his Twitter account regarding the rape allegations of three of his teammates. During that suspension, which ended up being 14 games, the Razorbacks lost to such basketball powers as Morgan State, East Tennessee State, and South Alabama. Since returning he has become the do-everything point guard for Arkansas. He has scored in double digits in each game he has played. He is an above-average shooter and does a good job of pushing the tempo Arkansas' style calls for. The problem for Fortson is that he will throw a terrible pass for just about every assist he makes. Fortson's turnover totals in Arkansas' last four games, during which the team went 1-3, are five, eight, six, and seven respectively. That is the epitome of treading water as a point guard, doing a lot of work but not taking the team anywhere. While Mr. Fortson can be erratic, Jermaine Beal or whichever Commodore ends up guarding him needs to be aware of the outstanding skill he possesses.

Bench:

Pelphrey's primary weapons off the bench are forward Jemal Farmer and guard Stefan Welsh. Each averages six points a game and plays a little over 25 minutes. As would be expected of a coach who learned the game under Rick Pitino, Pelphrey plays ten players for meaningful amounts of minutes. His style, like that of his mentor, is to push the tempo and play at a fast pace. To do so successfully it is necessary to play a lot of guys and Arkansas certainly does that.

Keys to the Game

1. Knock Arkansas off balance. No. We're not advocating physical violence here. This is simply a reference to scoring balance. After the first four Razorbacks (if Washington is available) who average between 12.4 and 19.3 points per game, the Hogs' scoring drops off to the two reserves (Farmer and Welsh) at six points a game. If Washington is out, Vanderbilt can consider following the LSU method, which employed a zone and held Powell to three shots, thus making Arkansas a two-man offensive unit. If Kevin Stallings decides he doesn't want to play zone, a passive man-to-man might accomplish the same goal.

2. Attack the inexperience of the Arkansas front line. If Washington is out of the game, which means the Razorback front line will be manned by a freshman (Powell) and a JUCO transfer (Johnson). That makes them a prime target for the smart and fundamentally sound offensive moves of Ogilvy and the budding star that is Jeffery Taylor.


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