Believe it or not, the Razorback basketball season is here (well, almost here: the regular season begins tomorrow night when the Hogs take on Grambling State in Fayetteville). In light of the program's 28-34 record the last two seasons and the football team's rise under Bobby Petrino, it's understandable that the basketball Hogs are flying somewhat under the radar these days. But with returning players Marshawn Powell and Rotnei Clarke and an intriguing group of new guards, we think these Razorbacks could show meaningful improvement.
But enough about what we think: To get the perspective of someone truly in the know, we harassed Chris Bahn, who covers the Razorbacks for ArkansasSports360. Many thanks to Chris for his time and insight.
Expats: The team is coming off back-to-back losing seasons but John Pelphrey and his staff have generated some much-needed positive headlines by putting together an impressive 2011 recruiting class. If our sundials and water clocks are correct, though, the Hogs have another season to play before that heralded group arrives. What's the mood of this team as it begins a new year?
Bahn: "Hopeful" is the best word I can think of to describe the team's mood entering 2010-11. I think that applies to the fans and players even though, in terms of raw talent, the Razorbacks lost three guys with pro ability (as long as we all agree pro doesn't necessarily = NBA). Still, there's a sense the pieces will fit better together and play nice with each other, which wasn't always the case last year. Chemistry has been the buzzword from players and coaches. Hopefully that leads to better results. Just knowing no players have jokingly referenced sexual assault via Twitter seems like a nice start.
Expats: What do you think the strengths and weaknesses of this team will prove to be?
Bahn: Perimeter depth is undoubtedly better than we've seen in years. That should allow the team to throw a number of bodies at opponents and might give fans a taste of the "40 Minutes of Pel" they were promised in 2007 when John Pelphrey took over. Arkansas has some bigger bodies on the perimeter, which should help what's been a woeful three-point defense at times.
Inside, it's a totally different story. Delvon Johnson is the only true post player the team has, and he and Marvell Waithe are the "tallest" members of the team at 6-foot-9. Arkansas almost has no choice but to get up and down the floor and hope against things grinding into a halfcourt game where post play matters.
Expats: Should we be at all concerned about Marshawn Powell's left foot?
Bahn: If there's a concern relating to Powell's summer foot injury I think it centers on his conditioning. Powell might need some time to regain his all-SEC form. Powell might play limited minutes early this year as he works himself back into game shape. I wouldn't sweat it unless he suffers some sort of serious setback with the foot.
Expats: Which returning players do you think are poised to improve significantly from last year?
Bahn: Glenn Bryant was drawing rave reviews for his summer work in the weight room and open gym. He's got unnatural athletic ability and when he figures out how to use it in the context of Pelphrey's system, I think he can be really impactful.
Delvon Johnson has earned praise from teammates and John Pelphrey for making strides in the weight room. We'll have to see how that carries over to the floor.
Expats: Which newcomer is set to make the biggest impact?
Bahn: If we're being fairly liberal with the use of "newcomer" then I'll got with a guy who was here last year, but didn't play. Point guard Jeff Peterson (Iowa transfer) will have to get the ball to Arkansas' scorers and push the tempo at the right times for the offense to be a success. Peterson has been described as more of a "true point guard" and leader than last year's starter, Courtney Fortson. Teammates seem to view Peterson as a welcome change at the position.
Expats: Crystal ball time. What do you think the Hogs' regular-season record will be (approximately), and do you foresee them snagging a bid to a postseason tournament?
Bahn: Making the NIT isn't out of the question. Sexy? No. But proof of modest improvement, I suppose. With the West likely being down Arkansas has an opportunity to pick up some wins and the ‘name' nonconference teams aren't as difficult as we might think on first glance. Overall record? I'll say the wins total more than 14, less than 20. Whatever the team lands on in between those numbers, I'll claim. Deal?