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Hoops Opener: Already Panic Time?

Before making excuses for Arkansas's 5-point margin over Sam Houston State, go ahead and shriek in fear and dismay.

Mardacus Wade helped save the Razorbacks' bacon at the free throw line Friday night, making 8-10.
Mardacus Wade helped save the Razorbacks' bacon at the free throw line Friday night, making 8-10.

The facts: The B.J. Young-less Arkansas Razorbacks of the SEC opened their 2012-13 men's basketball season Friday night by panting past the Sam Houston State Bearkats of the Southland, 73-68. Junior college transfer Coty Clarke, a "forward" who might be 6-foot-5 wearing lifts, led the Hogs with 20 points in 26 minutes off the bench.

Other than Clarke's instant productivity, just about everything an attentive basketball fan could fear about the Hogs came true in game one.

  • Sam Houston found the inside undefended, shooting 54% inside the arc.
  • A +10 in turnover margin was undone by the Bearkats rebounding 13 of their 29 missed shots, 45%, amid feeble defensive board work by Arkansas.
  • The Hogs retrieved only seven of their own 30 misses.
  • In shooting 3-13 from 3-point range, Arkansas got baskets only from big men Marshawn Powell and Hunter Mickelson.
  • Mardracus Wade, best outside shooter on the team, appeared to fancy himself a point guard. He had four assists and one (!) attempted shot in 23 minutes.
  • Sam Houston's 5-11 senior point guard Darius Gatson, not known as a scorer, had the game of his life with 20 points and five assists, making seven of his 10 shots.
  • The opponent, composed largely of former juco players, with one big man and a bunch of guards, kept the pace of play restrained and challenged the Hogs to the end.
  • Junior guard Rickey Scott missed all four shots he tried in 23 minutes, and he clearly was passing up open shots much of the game.
Wade and junior forward Coty Clarke ended up making a major difference in the game at the free throw line. The Bearkats fouled both of them often, especially in the second half. Wade made 8-10 at the line, Clarke 10-12.

Home opener officiating helped greatly, as Arkansas outscored the visitors at the line 26-4. Good thing, for Sam Houston outscored the Razorbacks 64-47 on field goals alone. Arkansas had only 14 fouls to the visitors' 25.

A couple of things are worrisome here, even recognizing that Young was on the bench serving a disciplinary suspension.

Young wasn't by any means the team's best outside shooter or defender. Perimeter scoring and most measures of defense were poor in this game. Adding Young to the mix might actually make the defense even worse.

Perhaps the Razorback players were suffering from the same lack of enthusiasm that held down the home opener attendance below 7,500.

This opponent was 13-18 last season and was one of the very worst scoring teams in Division I. Coach Jason Hooten (yes, Hooten coaches Sam Houston) signed six juco transfers and three freshmen to rebuild the team.

Three fresh-outta-jucos were in the Bearkats' top seven on Friday night, just as a recent juco saved the Hogs' bacon right out of the gate. Arkansas entered with a passel of highly rated talent, even without Young, but was as offensively and defensively impotent as the typical Razorback team of the past four seasons. SHS was probably one more big man away from beating Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Before long, Sam Houston State will face opponents such as No. 1 Indiana (Nov. 15), Southern Mississippi and Texas. We'll know soon if the Bearkats are for real. Arkansas won't face a real opponent until the Friday after Thanksgiving. The next turdknocker lined up, Longwood, opened with a 34-point loss to Marshall.

I finish this report with the same thoughts I had throughout year one of Mike Anderson's return to Arkansas. Will the players assembled by John Pelphrey ever have a blend of skills similar to the teams Anderson assembled when he succeeded at UAB and Missouri? Pelphrey did not exactly recruit for defensive ability, and the outside shooting he recruited relocated to Butler.