First a little background on the the Razorbacks. They're led by the inside/outside tandem of junior C/F Michael Washington and freshman point guard Courtney Fortson. Washington is a strong athletic man-child who has excelled finishing inside this year as evidenced by his 61% field goal percentage. He was 10-12 from the field vs. Oklahoma's talented frontcourt, and outplayed surefire lottery pick Blake Griffin.
Washington's size can give the Horns trouble on both ends of the floor.
More troubling for the Horns is the emergence of Fortson as a floor leader to compliment Washington's interior talents. Fortson is averaging a ridiculous 15 points and 7 dimes on the year. He has a tendency to play a bit out of control and is prone to turn the ball over, but Texas will really have to keep Fortson out of the lane in order to keep the integrity of their helpside defense. If Fortson can consistently collapse the Horns by getting to the rim, making the Texas' frontcourt move their feet, Arkansas' talented frontcourt will get point blank buckets off dimes and rebounds all night. The Razorback interior owned the sooners on the glass to the tune of 42 to 29, and their 12 offensive boards were aided by ball penetration. Expect big minutes from Balbay to neutralize the dimunitive Razorback point guard with on ball defense, because Fortson makes the thing go.
In the Arkansas 3 guard attack Fortson is flanked by a pair of slashing scorers in 6-3 Stefan Welsh and 6-0 Rotnei Clark. Texas must be careful and close out to the pair's jumpers under control because both players will put the ball on the deck and get to the goal. Neither player shoots a ridiculous percentage from beyond the arc, but they are solid threats from deep. Welsh is the best pure scorer on the team. Dude just goes out and gets buckets. He must be contested but not to the point where you're giving up blow-by's.
The Starting five is rounded out by all-everything garbage man Michael "Dirty" Sanchez. The big freshman is averaging 8 boards in 25 minutes of action on the year. Sanchez is prone to foul trouble and that's bad news for Coach Pelphrey considering the Hogs have just one true frontcourt player off the bench in 6-9 rail-thin forward Brandon Moore. Marcus Monk, yes, the receiver Marcus Monk, is the only other frontcourt player that sees significant minutes in significant games. Backup guard Marcus Britt brings 52% from deep off the bench and is the only backup guard to see sizeable minutes for the Hogs.
Keys to the game
Wear your track shoes. The Hogs will try to get up and down and take advantage of their quickness on the floor. Their up tempo style allows their athletic big man to run teams off the boards. This Arkansas team is very similar in style to the Williamson, Thurman, and Mayberry teams. Texas is comfortable playing up tempo, obviously, but they'll have to do a better job of recognizing shooters in transition and finding Razorback players quickly on the defensive end. That all starts with making Arkansas work on the defensive glass, and Mason rotating back quickly to stop the ball. Everything else is just a matter of getting back and finding people.
Don't Settle. I'm not asking Texas players for 3 passes and a cloud of dust style of halfcourt basketball. I just want them to go into each possession knowing that the Razorbacks will make good looks on every possession readily available with just the least bit of patience on the offensive end. I'm not saying that Pittman or Johnson have to touch the ball on each possession, but it wouldn't hurt. Hell it gets me to key number 3 which goes hand in hand with key 2.
Attack the goal. Texas needs to try to exploit Arkansas' lack of depth by attacking the goal off the bounce and attacking with low block post play. Arkansas has active guards that will try to shut down passing lanes so our perimeter folks must look to exploit the pressure with blow-by's. Once the intial pressure is broken, kick outs to wings don't necessarily have to lead to jumpshots. Actually, these scenarios often provide the best angles and situations for post entry. We want Washington or Sanchez in foul trouble and jumpshots don't draw fouls.
On ball defense. I actually like Balbay to play atleast 20 minutes this game because if he can take Fortson's penetration out of the equation, Texas can handle the talented but thin Razorback frontcourt that has to play back to the basket basketball. With Balbay out of the game, don't be surprised to see a little zone from the Longhorns, because Arkansas doesn't shoot the eye out like a lot of teams Texas has played. But look for Balbay's on ball defense to be a huge key to this game. And along those lines, wing guys like Mason, Abrams, and James must make Clark and Welsh take contested jumpshots, and not give up slashes to the goal. Helpside integrity is the key to neutralizing what Washington and, to a lesser extent, Sanchez want to do inside. Which is catching the ball going to the basket and garbage buckets off of dribble penetration rebounds.
Overall, I think this game will go a long way in indicating where Texas is AS A TEAM. Arkansas plays a style of ball on both ends of the floor that allows squads that play true team basketball lots of advantages. If you're patient offensively and take care of the basketball, Arkansas will give up good looks at the goal. If you settle for midrange jumpers and forced 3's, Arkansas' quickness translates to easy runouts and transition buckets on the other end.
Defensively, if you play disciplined sound team helping defense that keeps Arkansas guards out of the lane shooting contested jumpers over the top, their front line becomes less of factor and the mediocre Razorback shooting can be exploited. Let their 3 guards penetrate and dish or kick, and you have athletic forwards making plays at the rim, and slashing wings blowing by recovering defenders. And, like Oklahoma, you'll find yourself down by 20.
But unlike Oklahoma, I think this Texas squad is more of a team a not just a collection of individual stars. I hope they prove me right tonight.
Let's drive Pelphrey crazy like a Christian Laetner foot stomp.