Time for Mike Anderson to take the Delaware State turtlenecks out of his gameday clothing rotation. The SEC season is upon us, so it’s only power ties from here on out. With conference games comes the spotlight, so it’s time to shine.
Since the non-conference season is over and SEC play for the Razorback basketball team begins Wednesday night when the Razorbacks take on Texas A&M in College Station, it feels appropriate to take a look back at what happened and what we learned during the first two months of the season. The obvious goal for this team is to make the NCAA tournament, and the Razorbacks still have a great shot to make that happen. The Hogs haven’t screwed up like some SEC teams, but haven’t yet done much to get on anyone’s radar.
There isn’t a magic number of games the Hogs would have to win to make the tournament, but we do know Arkansas will have to win some games on the road. Arkansas at least won in North Little Rock this season, something they’ve had a lot of trouble doing in recent years, but it’s still not a true road victory. Arkansas blew its chance of scoring some early out-of-state victories by dropping both games in Las Vegas to Arizona State and Wisconsin.
That’s what makes the opening game against the Aggies so important. It’s a chance for Arkansas to quickly snag a road victory that eluded and haunted the team last season. A&M is 10-3 and currently has a decent RPI rating, but they haven’t played particularly well lately. In their last five games, they lost to Oklahoma (which was Arkansas’ best non-conference victory), but lost a home game to Southern and won tight games against Army and Houston Baptist, two teams that are a combined 8-16. It would be a quality win for Arkansas and set the Hogs up nicely to begin SEC play 3-0 with Vanderbilt and Auburn coming to Bud Walton in the next week.
Unfortunately for Arkansas, teams like Vanderbilt and Auburn didn’t help the Razorbacks nor the rest of the SEC in non-conference play. It’s like they went full Griswold during the holiday season. Vanderbilt lost to something called Marist on a neutral court. Auburn lost home games to Winthrop, DePaul, and Rhode Island. Mississippi State lost to Alabama A&M (the same Alabama A&M Arkansas beat by 27) and Troy at The Hump. Georgia lost at home to Youngstown State and Iona. Alabama lost at home to Mercer and Tulane. The SEC safely remains a football conference.
As a result of all those big fails, Arkansas must have a successful conference run to get in the tournament. The Hogs did luck out by getting a favorable SEC schedule that allows them both opportunities to make big impressions and chances to pad their win total. Arkansas gets both Florida and Missouri twice and a home game against Kentucky. Those will be the games to potentially boost Arkansas’ strength of schedule and elevate their RPI rankings, not to mention three big chances to get a signature win or two at Bud Walton. The Hogs also get Vanderbilt and Auburn twice, both of which should be prime chances to pick up some road victories.
The best thing we learned in November and December is that Marshawn Powell is back and better than ever thanks to the addition of a reliable three-point shot to his quiver of skills. He’s knocking them down at a 42.9% clip after never making more than 25% in his first two seasons. Only Kikko Haydar (64.7%) has a higher percentage from behind the arc on the team.
Powell will need help from Hunter Mickelson and Coty Clarke in the paint. Last season, when jump shots weren’t falling, Arkansas struggled to score because the Razorbacks didn’t have any big men in the post to get easy baskets. Mickelson has shown improvement from his freshman year and Clarke has had some great games so far this season. For instance, Arkansas probably doesn’t beat Robert Morris if Mickelson doesn’t contribute 16 points. Freshman forward Jacorey Williams has also been coming along nicely, averaging six points in the last five games
If all Arkansas is going to do is win, Mardracus Wade’s numbers need to be up and stay there instead of being so up and down. For a player listed among the nation’s best shooters after a stellar sophomore season, Wade has been maddeningly inconsistent this year. Over the last 11 games, Wade’s point totals (11, 4, 13, 3, 10, 5, 3, 14, 2, 17, 6) are as random as a Dr. Seuss rhyme. His 7.8 points per game are exactly one three pointer less than the 10.8 points per game he scored last season.
BJ Young has lived up to expectations thus far. His points per game are up two points, but more importantly, he’s averaging 4.3 assists per game this season compared to 2.3 last season. He’s stepping up to the challenge of being a more complete player than simply a scorer. He’s also getting his jump shot back, hitting at least one three-pointer in each of the last six games after only connecting from downtown in two of the first six games.
In the end, I stand by my prediction from a couple of weeks ago that Arkansas will make the tournament, and hopefully they’ll have a bid in the bag before the SEC Tournament. They played well against Syracuse and Michigan, and that should give the team the confidence they need to play with anyone in the SEC. The tools are in place to make a run and the schedule allows them the opportunities to win the kinds of games you need to win. I can’t wait to watch.