Against Southeastern Louisiana, It seemed the dominant story was Kikko Haydar's first career start or Arkansas' giant 57 point lead in the game, but, for me, the story to remember was the All-Arkansas starting lineup.
In the first two games after the Maui Invitational, Mike Anderson floored a starting lineup consisting of five homegrown players against SELA and Clemson. Fayetteville natives Kikko Haydar and Fred Gulley, Little Rock natives Bobby Portis and Alandise Harris, and East Poinsett County's own (shoutout to all of the small high schools in Arkansas) Ky Madden all earned starts.
It was unique to say the least and, in my opinion, warranted more attention than it got. In most postgame writeups it was a neat little game note to include, but it just seemed like something more to me. And when Anderson started the same lineup against Clemson (which I was iffy about), it told me he was serious about this lineup and either truly liked it, or there was a message behind it – I'll get to that later.
How did the All-Arkansas lineup work out?
The Razorbacks won both games they used this unique lineup, blowing SELA out of the water with a tremendous offensive effort, pouring in 111 points. Arkansas shot 50 percent from deep for the game (9-18), five coming from the starting five. Haydar got off to a hot start, knocking down his first 3 three-balls and energized the crowd. The team shot 62 percent for the game, and every starter made at least half of their shots. So far, so good.
And in game two, with the same lineup, Arkansas hung on against Clemson thanks to key defensive efforts like Alandise Harris' backboard warping block with under three minutes to go, and Portis and Madden's play on offense. Two of the three top scorers in the game were Arkansas-grown (Madden - 14 points, Portis - 13 points, Qualls - 17 points). Arkansas made 10 three-balls in the game (7 from the starters), and eight in the first half. Don't get me wrong, Michael Qualls had a lot to do with why Arkansas won. I would have liked to see him start in place of Haydar just from a defensive standpoint to matchup with KJ McDaniels, who notched only his second career double-double with a career-high 27 points and 11 rebounds.
But the lineup got off to a slow start offensively, and I'm sure some began to wonder why Anderson went with this lineup again (one might even say Clemson is, shockingly, a step up from SELA). Arkansas got the win vs Clemson, but the bench played a big role, also. The lineup was effective to an extent, but not effective enough for Anderson to continue with the lineup against Savannah State.
Why did Anderson choose this 5?
Mike Anderson has said many times in press conferences that he will give players who play well in practice or are playing well of late the opportunity to play in games. He's just one of those coaches. He needs depth to run his system and will reward the hot player(s). Let's break down the lineup, and see if we can figure out why he went with this lineup.
Haydar – Plain and simple, Haydar is the team's catalyst. He brings energy to floor when it's needed. You'll either get the streaky shooter Kikko, or likely see the defensive-liability Kikko when he isn't making shots, and there isn't a lot of in-between with him. He didn't particularly have a good showing in Maui (like the rest of the lineup), and I'm led to believe he was inserted in the lineup because of the energy he brings. I didn't agree with starting Haydar. Personally, I like Haydar better off the bench.
Gulley – I like Gulley in the lineup. Would I mind if he wasn't? No, but he's earned starts with his play. Entering play in Maui, Gulley had a respectable 2:1 AST/TO ratio. When he left the island, he bumped it up to 3:1 thanks to an eight assist, one turnover tournament. He's a reliable ball handler, and also found his shot against Minnesota. I agree with Anderson's decision to start him.
Madden – He'll get the stamp of approval from Arkansas fans someday, but he did a lot to earn it in Maui. Madden had two double-figure games on the island, and left with a 2:1 AST/TO ratio in Maui play. He has such tremendous court vision, and with his 6'5' frame and long arms, he's a defensive nightmare for opposing point guards. He belongs in the lineup, and I agree with CMA's decision.
Harris and Portis – I have no issues with either of the two being in the starting lineup. Portis' toughness was questioned by Anderson after a one-rebound game vs California, but responded with two huge games to finish play in Maui (and also showed ability to knock down mid-range jumpers). Harris' toughness is much needed, and Anderson knows this. Each player brings toughness and versatility, creating matchup problems. Again, I'm with Anderson.
Was there a hidden message behind the lineup?
Maybe I'm overthinking this. I'm notorious for overthinking things. But it just felt like there was more to this lineup than just playing the hot player or whoever was giving good effort in practice. Call me crazy, but I think it was a veiled message to the in-state recruits.
Hope all of the in-state recruits took notice of the all-Arkansas starting five tonight. Pretty neat to see.— Scottie Bordelon (@gsbordelon) December 4, 2013
The in-state talent in basketball is insane. Anton Beard (2014), Kevaughn Allen (2015), Adrian Moore (2016), and Malik Monk (2016) are all talents that could change a program. Beard is already signed with the Hogs, but the message could still be meant for him. I interpreted the lineup as a message that says, "Hey, we value our homegrown talent. And no matter who you are, you could play significant minutes for us if you put in the work."
So after all of that, that is what I've come up with: a veiled message to in-state basketball recruits. Call me crazy if you want. I'd like to hear what you think. Let it be known in the comments or in the poll.