Thank You, Seniors
I've been a Ky Madden fan since he was a freshman. He struggled much more in those first two seasons than he has the last two, but he always flashed elements of his game that I thought could turn into big things, and they have. He's taken plenty of heat throughout his career for some mistakes he's made, and I'm not trying to say they didn't happen, but I'll end with this: he's going to finish his four years as a Razorback with career numbers in points and assists that put him in a club with only Lee Mayberry and Kareem Reid. That's it. That's the club. Mayberry, Reid, and Madden. Not too shabby.
And to think how close he was to signing with Ole Miss.
Alandise Harris did sign with Houston out of high school, but that was because John Pelphrey screwed up (one of many ways). Mike Anderson pulled Harris in as a transfer after Harris lit up the Hogs in a non-conference game during Anderson's first year. The Little Rock native had to sit out Anderson's second season but added some much needed muscle and toughness down low when he started. I'll always remember his dropkick jumpers and ugly drives to the basket. He was the MVP when Arkansas won in Athens earlier this season. Also, he loves to show out when Arkansas plays Florida. For that reason, I hope Arkansas gets to play Florida again in the SEC Tournament.
Let's Get To Know LSU
Record: 21-9, 10-7. The Tigers were expected to compete with Arkansas for the 2nd place spot in the SEC, but LSU hasn't lived up to their part of the bargain. They're currently tied for 5th in the league and on the NCAA Tournament bubble following a bad home loss to Tennessee earlier this week, which locked up the 2-seed in the SEC Tournament for the Razorbacks.
KenPom rates LSU #44 and gives Arkansas a 71% chance of winning this game.
Players to watch: PF Jordan Mickey is averaging 16 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, but has had his arm in a sling since their game against Tennessee and it's not certain how effective he'll be able to be vs Arkansas. He's expected to play, however. C Jarell Martin is averaging 16.6 points and 9 rebounds. Those two headline a frontline that was the reason for their relatively lofty preseason expectations, and should provide a nice challenge for Bobby Portis.
Tim Quarterman and Keith Hornsby also average double figures, but all four of these players average over 33 minutes per game for LSU. They're not nearly as deep as Arkansas. This late in the season, it will be interesting to see if they'll have the legs to stay with Arkansas for 40 minutes.
How Should The Game Go?
These are the two highest-tempo teams in the SEC. Arkansas ranks #1 and LSU #2. Expect it to be an up-and-down matchup. Give Arkansas an advantage with the crowd energy and deeper roster and they may be able to overwhelm the Tigers.
It will be interesting to see how Mike Anderson chooses to play against LSU's frontline. Will he stick to what he's done most of the year and play Portis and Alandise Harris as starters with Moses Kingsley and Jacorey Williams off the bench, or if he feels the need to play Kingsley more minutes to better match up defensively with the tall Tigers. Of course, if Mickey isn't at full strength, it may be a moot point.
Mickey and Martin account for the bulk of LSU's scoring, so they're not a big perimeter team. They have made 50.1% of their 2-point shots in SEC play (how do you ever lose like that?). However, Hornsby is a good three point shooter at 39.3%. If the Hogs can lock Hornsby down, it's hard to see LSU doing much damage from outside.
The biggest advantage for Arkansas is LSU's propensity for turning the ball over. The Tigers have coughed the ball up on 20% of their offensive possessions this year, putting them toward the bottom of the league. Of course, forcing turnovers is Arkansas' bread and butter, a category in which they lead the league. It's not hard to envision the Hogs picking up a few quick steals and getting the crowd involved and having a big party.
However, LSU is one of the best defensive teams in the league. They've allowed only 97.5 points per 100 possessions, which is among best in the country. They're #2 in the SEC in 3PT% defense and #4 in 2PT% defense. They also don't commit a lot of fouls. None of their five main players commit more than 3.2 per 40 minutes this season.
You would think, what with LSU's talented big men, they would be a good rebounding team. Alas, they are not. They rank 11th in the league in defensive rebound rate, grabbing just 65% of potential defensive boards. Like Arkansas, they're better on the offensive end
Keys To The Game
Points off turnovers could end up being the most important stat of the game for the Razorbacks. The Hogs will need to create some easy transition baskets with LSU's stout defense but inability to stop turning the ball over.
Win the rebounding battle. The teams are similar in that they are good at blocking shots but inconsistent at getting back for defensive rebounds. Limit LSU's offensive rebounds, and you limit their effectiveness. True, that goes for any team, but especially so for LSU.
Jordan Mickey. It's hard to see LSU winning if their star isn't going to be 100%. That being said, the Tigers have basically done what wasn't expected of them all season.
What's At Stake
A certain well-known sports columnist in Arkansas wrote a column on Thursday that said these last few games were virtually meaningless and even if Arkansas wins the SEC Tournament, it wouldn't effect their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
Let's be clear, even if Arkansas does stay as a 5-seed (latest projections show them as a 4/5 seed) there are still four different levels of seeds. The committee ranks teams 1-68, so there's a difference even between the top 5-seed and the fourth 5-seed. And each of these games matters. Arkansas' NCAA Tournament bid and 2-seed in the SEC Tournament are locked up, but which line they fall on in the NCAA Tournament is still very much to be determined. Games like this can help the Hogs.
By contrast, LSU is on the good side of the bubble as of now, but they need another win or two to solidify their spot in The Dance. Winning at Arkansas would be their biggest resume win of the season, and likely punch their ticket into the Tournament. If they lose, that puts a lot of pressure on them to perform in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers have plenty to play for. Of course, they have throughout the season and have been maddeningly inconsistent, so who knows what type of performance we'll get from on Saturday.