Here is the second and final part of our recent Q&A with ArkansasSports360.com Editor Jim Harris on this year's basketball team. (Here's part 1. Links to our previous interviews with Jim are here and here). Many thanks, Jim.
What concerns you most about the Hogs as they enter conference play?
Can they win on the road? I don’t expect many more home games like Saturday’s against Mississippi State, but losing that game in Bud Walton means that for practical purposes they’re already two games behind and have to steal an extra game on the road that they didn’t circle as a win. Question is, did they circle any?
And will they run the rest of the table at home, or will they choke away a game such as Kentucky or Tennessee, who are better than Mississippi State? Can they summon up the same intensity they had for the Big 12 teams enough times in the SEC?
One of Lou Holtz’s quotes I always refer to is, "Things aren’t as bad as they seem and they’re not as good as they seem." Arkansas wasn’t suddenly a Final Four team after sweeping OU and Texas, nor are the Hogs going to bring up the rear in the SEC even if they looked like it Saturday against Mississippi State. When Fortson and Washington are on their games, Arkansas can compete with anyone in the league. But that means that while they can win, they can just as easily lose. Which is why we all saw 8-8 or 9-7 as a league record going in, and that probably is where they’ll finish.
Pelphrey needs more depth. Marcus Monk has been a godsend to this team, considering he hasn’t played any organized basketball in four years. He’s been the first or second guy off the bench, which I would have thought would have been impossible when they first said he was coming out. I think that speaks volumes of just what a talent Marcus is, but it may also say a lot about the bench talent.
Arkansas must get increasingly good play from freshmen big men Brandon Moore and Andre Clarke, as well as continued growth from Marcus Britt to give the other guards a breather. Pelphrey very well could wear out Stefan Welsh, Fortson and Michael Washington before March if he’s not careful.
The Hogs also need freshman swingman Jason Henry to get his shot and his game back. Maybe he rushed back from the knee repair, but he hasn’t scored in the two games since returning. He could give them a big lift if he could back to where he was before the injury. Jason Henry and the possibility of his giving them 12-15 points and 4-6 rebounds and subbing at guard should give Hog fans hope that February and March might be fun.
It’s hard to press like Pelphrey would like to do with such a short bench, however.
What's your prediction for the Razorbacks' conference record and where do you think they will finish in the SEC West?
I’m not going to vary off the 9-7 prediction for conference, though I might have gone crazy with everyone else last week and said something like 12-4. I think they’ll steal a couple of road games, maybe three, and win at least six of the home league games. It’s hard to see them winning at South Carolina or Florida, or Mississippi State or Auburn. Games at Vandy, LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss seem closer to winnable, depending on what Fortson can do on the road.
I would worry about home games with Tennessee and Kentucky , just because of their talent, but the rest of the home schedule should be winnable if they show up and have their legs. Then again, this is an awfully young team, and young teams are always susceptible to what we saw against Mississippi State.
Nolan’s 1992-93 team, when Scotty and Corliss were freshmen, lost big at home to Auburn, for instance. Also lost in strange fashion to Louisiana-Monroe (then NE Louisiana) at Barton Coliseum. But in March, they were fighting with the best of them and taking eventual national champ North Carolina to the wire.
In early December, I didn’t see Mississippi State contending, but after what they did against Western Kentucky, that sent up a flag and told me that ol’ Rick Stansbury had done it again – he’d just played with the early games to figure out his team and build some chemistry for SEC play.
I’d see Mississippi State or LSU battling with Arkansas for first place in the West, with Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss fighting for the bottom three spots. The way the game went Saturday, I’d say that gives MSU the leg up on Arkansas already, so I’ll predict Arkansas for third in the West, assuming everyone stays healthy from this point. An injury to either Fortson or Michael Washington is something this team could not endure.