Vanderbilt (16-5, 5-1) @ Arkansas (15-6, 3-3)
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, last Saturday against Alabama was their best road performance, by far. The reason it’s unfortunate: they still lost by six. They hung around the entire game, but couldn’t make enough stops to make any significant comeback. The lack of an inside presence has and will hurt this team the entire season. Even in games when they have a size advantage, which is very rare, none of their big men have post moves that could get around a fifth-grader. Mike Sanchez is incompetent on offense, but is one of the team’s best defenders. Devonta Abron and Hunter Mickelson are just young freshmen that haven’t developed into real D-1 post players. They can’t dominate everyone like they did in high school anymore, and while they are making strides, they haven’t quite become great offensive players. They eventually will.
Luckily for the Hogs, they are back in Bud Walton, with the opportunity to stay undefeated at home and keep in the hunt for an NCAA at-large bid. Vanderbilt has won 10 of their last 11 games, and should have won all of their last eleven, minus a second half collapse against Mississippi State. The ‘Dores were ranked #7 preseason, but after disappointing losses early in the year, people started to forget about them. This is probably the best thing that could have happened to them, because now that they have Festus Ezeli back, they are at full strength and look like a prime team to make a run in the NCAA tournament. With the scoring ability of John Jenkins (20 PPG) and Jeffery Taylor (17.4 PPG) and matchup problem Festus Ezeli causes, Vanderbilt is the team to beat in this one.
Unlike the majority of the SEC, Vandy is pretty good on the road. They are 4-1 this year with quality wins at Marquette and at Alabama. Their loss was in Louisville, before the Cardinals fell apart like a soup-sandwich. They can thank their massive amount of experience for that. Four of their five starters are Seniors... the fifth? Junior Guard John Jenkins (leads the SEC in scoring). The main problem they’ve had all year is turnovers, which plays right into the hands of the Hogs’ frantic style of play. Coach Mike Anderson has this team playing scrappy defense, ranking 10th in the nation with 9.19 steals per game, and 11th in blocks with 5.81 per game. Vanderbilt averages 14 turnovers per game, but in their 5 losses, that number climbs to 16.4. If the Hogs are able to force turnovers AND turn those into points, they’ll give themselves a great chance to win this game. If they just force turnovers and don’t turn them into points, well, it’s obvious.
The Razorbacks have lacked any sort of penetration on offense and haven’t been able to stop it on defense. The only players I can recall taking the ball all the way to the basket are Rickey Scott and BJ Young, and they don’t do it on a consistent basis. Players like Ky Madden and Julysses Nobles have to be able to disrupt a defense by driving it into the lane, and do it under control. On the flipside, the Hogs have struggled mightily against slasher-type players. Alabama got to the hoop at will against Arkansas on Saturday, and I suppose Vanderbilt will take note of that and try to exploit it tomorrow.
The most significant factor in this matchup is Vanderbilt’s size advantage. They are bigger than the Hogs on the perimeter and in the post, and this could mean trouble for Arkansas, mostly on offense. The Razorbacks will likely be without Marvell Waithe, who would help even out the size disparity. The Razorbacks have looked pathetic when they face zone defenses this year. This will likely continue unless they get hot from 3 and force Vanderbilt to get out of the zone. That size will also help the ‘Dores win the battle of the boards, which neither team is particularly good at. Mike Anderson’s players simply don’t seem to find someone to box out when a shot goes up, and they give up an appalling number of offensive rebounds. They only get 63.1 percent of the shots other teams miss, which is the worst percentage in the SEC. It’s going to take all five guys crashing the boards in order to combat Vanderbilt’s obvious size advantage
Hogs’ 5 Keys:
Turnovers into points - not just one or the other
Force Vanderbilt out of zone defense
Find somebody to consistently attack the basket
Home cookin’ – use it to your advantage (crowd, refs, familiarity, Dickson Street after, whatever)
REBOUND THE FREAKING BASKETBALL
Commodores’ 5 Keys:
Protect the ball - Hogs will press, swipe, swat, rip, do everything they can to take it
Smart shots – they can beat the Hogs’ defense with penetration and inside/outside game, patience
Use size advantage inside - aka: FEED EZELI
Major experience advantage
Keep it close – the Hogs will come out hot, but if they can stave off a few runs they’ll be okay