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Ky Madden's Play a Key Factor in Arkansas' Road Turnaround

Madden may receive the most flack on the team for his play, but in conference road games he's been terrific.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

You'd be hard pressed to find a member of the Arkansas basketball team who receives more criticism than Ky Madden when either he or the team doesn't play well.

You may be able to make a case for Anthlon Bell, who gets some heat from fans when he has a lapse in 3-point accuracy, but let's be honest, it doesn't come close to the hate Ky gets on a regular basis.

Madden's numbers this year are solid, averaging nearly 10 points and five assists per night. Expectations for the senior were high coming into the season after a spectacular run in conference play a year ago. If you remember right, he was the leading returning scorer for Arkansas, and one of three in the SEC coming back this season.

His scoring numbers are down three points per game from last season, but it isn't damaging to the team because of the scoring outputs of Bobby Portis (17.6 per game up from 12.3 last season) and Michael Qualls (15.5 per night up from 11.6 a year ago). The increase in scoring from Portis and Qualls have allowed him to become more of a facilitator on the offensive end than last season, while getting his buckets in the flow of the game and the free throw line.

Madden's assist numbers are up from last season, which essentially makes up for his drop in scoring on its own. As far as turnovers per game, which he is known for getting hammered over, they remain the same as last season when people were furious he was left off the All-SEC teams, at 2.3 per night. His assists per game, on the other hand, went from 2.8 last season to 4.8 as a senior.

Early on this season, we saw a Ky Madden that was putting too much pressure on himself to make plays and forced the action more than he probably should have (Clemson being the perfect example). He had three turnovers in the win at SMU, five turnovers against Clemson, and four at Iowa State. Mentally, it seemed he was battling trying to score while also facilitate the offense, and it resulted in bad losses.

But in the same way Arkansas' defense has seen a major shift in mentality, Madden has found his role on the team as a senior leader. Like mentioned above, he is facilitating the offense while letting the game come to him as far as scoring the ball. And according to Arkansas' Mississippi State game notes, he is the team leader this season in +/- at +218.

Now on to the interesting part about Madden – he's been a far better performer on the road in SEC play than he has been in Bud Walton Arena. In six SEC road games this season, Madden has totaled 30 assists to just nine turnovers, four of which came in the road win at Ole Miss last weekend. That's a 3.3:1 assist/turnover ratio on the road. That's phenomenal.

What's even more phenomenal though is that he has not committed a single turnover in three of the six road games. In the conference opener at Georgia he tallied three assists, zero turnovers. On the road at Missouri, three assists and no turnovers. And finally, in Arkansas' 101-87 win at Auburn, he turned in eight assists and, again, zero turnovers.

I'm very comfortable with the ball. It's just something I work on a lot, and just try to take care of it best I can to give our team the best chance of winning. I try to get my teammates the ball in the best position to score. - Ky Madden

His numbers in Bud Walton Arena aren't bad in seven home league games, but they don't touch his play outside of Fayetteville. At home in SEC play he's tallied 26 assists and 18 turnovers, including a season-high five in the home loss to Ole Miss.

Now how does Arkansas get away with his average play at home? A pair of 30-point performances from Portis and Qualls, a hot shooting game from Bell, defensive intensity picking up and perhaps the calming influence of Anton Beard. When Madden's play slips at home, the others are there to pick him up. That's the mark of a well-rounded team.

The Razorbacks beginning to win their games on the road has the program back to national relevance and back inside the top 20, where it belongs.

And when you start to think about what has led to Arkansas turning the corner, particularly winning games on the road, there are a number of directions you could point to, but the numbers suggest that Madden's play has been one of the biggest factors.