When these two teams first met, both were undefeated and headed towards a show down at the Maui Invitational. With highly touted McDonald's All-Americans in the mix with seasoned veterans, both teams had their eyes on a brighter future.
And yet, we meet again in the NIT. Arkansas (22-11, 10-8 conference) took 5th place in a loaded SEC behind Florida (#1), Kentucky (#8), Georgia, and Tennessee (#11).
Their signature wins were a pair of overtime upsets over the Kentucky mercenaries. They also dropped a pair of bad games to Texas A&M and to South Carolina.
Arkansas is a deep, athletic squad who plays at one of the fastest tempos in the country. Their identity is built around a pressing, trapping defense that forces turnovers and turns those into transition points.
On offense, they're a very good three-point shooting team that loves to get out and run. Expect them to drive, kick, and pull up early in the shot clock.
Their achilles' heel is on the glass. They're a poor rebounding team overall. Because they sacrifice positioning in favor of going for steals and blocks, they surrender a high percentage of offensive rebounds.
Cal beat the Razorbacks last time behind a balanced scoring output from our starters. David Kravish and Richard Solomon lead the way with plenty of help from Cobbs, Kreklow, and Bird.
After a season's worth of games under our respective belts, both teams have aged in different ways. Arkansas' diaper dandy, Bobby Portis, has emerged as their leading scorer. He's more than doubled his scoring average from when the teams first met. Coach Mike Anderson still hasn't settled up a favorite starting lineup, however, as he apparently changes starters on the wing on most games. He looks to go with the "hot-hand" theory and distributes the minutes accordingly.
Cal has a fairly consistent rotation, but is still trying to get Jabari Bird and Ricky Kreklow back into the mix after their mid-season injuries. Bird is finally starting to regain his confidence and scoring touch. Kreklow still looks like his broken hand might be affecting his shot. On the plus side, Jordan Mathews has developed into a consistent deep threat off the bench. Jeff Powers has also had a nice break-out season as a super senior. He might not match-up well against the ultra-athletic Razorbacks, however. The biggest x-factor for the re-match is that Richard Solomon has been ruled out due to a concussion.
With both Solo and Kravish available, we would want to pound them inside and not let them run us out of the gym. Now, we'll need to go small and count on our young wings being able to out-play their counterparts.
Surely there will throngs of fired up Cal fans packing Haas to give our guys that extra boost?
F Bobby Portis(Fr), 6'10, 242 lbs, 12.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg
F Coty Clarke(Sr), 6'7, 232 lbs, 9.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg
G Rashad Madden(Jr), 6'5, 180 lbs, 7.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg
G Anthlon Bell(So), 6'3, 188 lbs, 7.3 ppg,
G Fred Gulley III(Sr), 6'2, 182 lbs 3.9 ppg, 2 apg
G Michael Qualis(So), 6'6, 210 lbs, 11.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg
F Alandise Harris(Jr), 6'6, 237 lbs, 8.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg
F Jacorey Williams(So), 6'8, 218 lbs, 3.2 ppg
Bobby Portis was the Gatorade Arkansas Player of the Year. He was selected to participate in both the USA Basketball National Junior Select Team as well as the McDonald's All-American game. He's not going to blow you away with his athleticism, but he has a solid frame and a diverse offensive skill set that mixes post-up moves with a mid-range jumper. If that's not enough, he's also got a good feel for the game and has displayed excellent passing skills out of the post.
Coty Clarke is one of their steadiest players. He's a formidable inside scorer, and lead the team in offensive rebounding last season. On the defensive end, he was 2nd on the team in steals and also showed shot-blocking ability. He also has the ability to step outside the arc and knock down three's as a stretch four.
Rashad Madden is their top deep threat. After beginning the year as a reserve, he's played his way into the starting lineup because of his shooting ability. He's not just a jump-shooter, however, as he also leads his team in free throw attempts which he hits at a very high rate. (82%)
Michael Qualis is their version of Tyrone Wallace. He's long-armed, athletic, and loves to fly at the rim. He was one their team leaders in steals. It remains to be seen if he's improved his jumpshot.
Anthlon Bell is their top outside threat and lead the team in three point shooting last year as a freshman. He's a bit streaky, but is capable of putting up big numbers in a short period of time. You can't lose track of him because he's definitely a member of the Gary Franklin No-Conscience Society.
Fred Gulley III is a former transfer from Oklahoma State. He's more of a distributor than a scorer. But, he's also a pest defensively.
Alandise Harris is a part-time starter who has settled in as their 6th man. He's not much of a deep threat, but loves to force the action by attacking the rim.
Mardracus Wade is another athletic slasher/swingman who plays spot duty.
Kikko Haydar like saying his last name while carrying a small child on his back.
Moses Kingsley and Jacorey Williams will play spot minutes to give Portis and Clark breathers.
1) Start strong
This is the obligatory "come out with energy or get run out of the gym" comment. At this point, it's not just tradition, it might be good luck.
2) Poise vs. the press
Just like they did in Maui, Arkansas is going to press, trap, and attack with their defense all game long. They forced us into 18 turnovers during the first game, including four each from Cobbs and Wallace. Most recently, we saw how Arizona blew the game open against us with a turnover-fueled run. Arkansas' entire identity is about turning defense into offense. If we can take care of the ball, they're much less potent in the half court.
3) Dominate the paint.
Cal won the first game behind strong performances from both David Kravish and Richard Solomon. Because the Razorbacks are constantly pressing, trapping and gambling for steals and blocks, they're often out of position to box out. They're one of the worst teams in the country about giving up offensive rebounds. With Solo out, we'll need Christian Behrens and our wings to step up.
4) Chase them off the three point line and rotate to protect the paint
The Razorbacks want to bomb threes or take it all the way to the rim. If you can force them to take contested jumpers or pull-ups, they're actually a relatively poor shooting team.
5) Foul trouble and free throws
The Razorbacks' depth lets their guys play very aggressively. Although they force a lot of turnovers, they also put other teams on the line early and often. On the flip side, we're vulnerable if Cobbs or Kravish get into foul trouble. Last game, the free throw duel was roughly even and equally inept. (20-30 AK, 21-33 Cal) For a pick 'em game, this could be a tipping point.
Tip-Off: Monday, March 24th, 8pm
Radio: KGO 810am