We here at Arkansas Expats are an inquisitive bunch, and when it comes to this year's basketball Hogs, we have lots of questions. Therefore, we're happy to present our second hoops Q&A of the week (click here for our Tuesday chat with John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus).
The latest soul brave enough to face our no-holds-barred, prosecutorial-style questioning is Chris Bahn, who covers the Hogs (and covers them very well) for ArkansasSports360. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we are running part of the Q&A on our site and part on AS360. So once you've finished up here, be sure to head over there to get Chris' take on Marshawn Powell and the depth of Jeff Long's support of John Pelphrey.
And in closing, you have not heard the last of the Stephen Cox matter. You'll understand what we're talking about after reading the Q&A.
Expats: You're around the team on a regular basis. What's your take on their mindset after a pre-conference season that was fairly brutal at times. Is the team chemistry good? Are they fired up about conference play?
Bahn: I think the mindset and chemistry are good, probably better than any of us could have imagined considering the circumstances. Arkansas finally has the majority of its team healthy and off suspension, and it comes right as the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule gets cranked up.
After the difficult off-season and 7-8 record in non-conference, I think the team is ready for a new start. We all hear the clichés about conference season being a "new season", "all the records are 0-0", etc. Arkansas needs to really buy into that.
I do think it hurts the team more than anybody realizes that Michael Sanchez is out with foot problems. He adds some grit and willingness to get dirty that Arkansas could use. That said, this team is in much better shape now than a month ago.
Expats: Courtney Fortson finally returned from exile against Texas, and the Hogs promptly played their best game of the season. How much of a difference can Fortson make for this squad? Is this a vastly improved team with him, or just a mildly better one?
Bahn: This has been a great source of debate for editor Jim Harris and me. There is no question Fortson brings additional toughness, quickness and driving ability to this team. He's obviously an upgrade at point guard and should help draw attention and dish out to Rotnei Clarke on the wing. Seems like that should translate to victories, but I'm not 100-percent sold.
Here's where Jim (and apparently every other person I've talked to) thinks I'm nuts: Fortson adds a lot, but he doesn't seem to drastically improve the team where it's the weakest. Fortson can't improve the interior rebounding. Arkansas actually gets smaller on the perimeter with him on the floor, so the three-point defense probably isn't any better. And his shot selection is often head-scratchingly bad, something his teammates also struggle with. Fortson is worth additional victories, but I'm not sure how many.
(My e-mail is easy to find, so people can feel free to write and remind me what an idiot I am. And before anybody asks, yes I did see what the team did against Texas with Fortson on the floor.)
Expats: In our pre-season Q&A with you, you predicted a 5-11 conference record for the Hogs. Is that still your forecast?
Bahn: There is more talent on this team than we got to see in the first 15 games. Now that the roster is intact, surely Arkansas is capable of winning five games. Plus, I know there have been some big wins within the league (like short-handed Tennessee knocking off No. 1 Kansas), but I'm not sold on anybody in the league being great beyond Kentucky. Arkansas should be able to win some games. Right?
Expats: We'd like to ask you about a very serious, disturbing matter: It has recently come to our attention that walk-on Stephen Cox did not receive a letter for the 2007-08 season, despite playing in 10 games and even scoring two points in the NCAA Tournament against eventual national champion North Carolina. Do you know why this was the case? We don't think we're overstating things to say there might a Pulitzer Prize awaiting the writer who investigates this outrage.
Bahn: I do not know the answer to this one. However, I will not rest until I find out. Look out world!
(Hold on - this Q&A ain't over yet! Head on over to AS360 to read Chris' answers to our questions about Marshawn Powell and Jeff Long's support of John Pelphrey. Many thanks to Mr. Bahn for his time and insight.)