Arkansas Basketball: Diagnosing the Reeling Razorbacks

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IJanuary 16, 2009

What a difference a week makes.

It was just eight days ago that the Razorbacks were riding high off their second big-time victory against a top 10 Big XII team.  Their victory over Texas took them to 12-1 and had fans, media, and everyone else thinking that they could bring some pride back to the SEC.

Their stock was rising exponentially.

Well, I warned you Arkansas still had one question remaining, and after two straight losses, including a 74-65 loss on the road to the Ole Miss Rebels, the answer does not seem to be what the Razorback faithful were hoping to hear.

Let's revisit the three factors that I thought would determine the fate of Arkansas in the SEC this season.


1. Courtney Fortson is going to have to grow up quickly.

Fortson had two games he would rather forget.

After the big win over Texas, Fortson shot an anemic 2-13 for only three points in the contest against Mississippi State. 

The freshman point guard rebounded for 24 points against the Rebels, but he also had a grand total of two assists. 

In fact, Arkansas scored 65 points on eight total assists against Ole Miss.  That shows you a team that is not doing a good job of distributing the ball and making the extra pass.

On the road particularly, defenses are going to be harder to break because the crowd and the momentum will inspire them on both sides of the ball.

Arkansas shot 36 percent in the first half against Ole Miss, allowing the Rebels to build a 21-point lead at one point.


Certainly that is not all the fault of Fortson, but he must continue to penetrate the lane and dish the ball out to the other players around.  Then those players must convert on their shots, something that will not happen when your team shoots 3-15 from behind the arc.


2. Michael Washington must become a consistent scorer and leader for this team.

When Fortson was hot, Washington was cold.

Fortson could not buy a bucket at home before shooting lights out on the road.  Washington had 18 points and 15 rebounds in the letdown game against Mississippi State before scoring only eight points and four rebounds on the road against Ole Miss.

These two players have to work in concert, not only with one another, but also the rest of their team for success.

In these two losses, the Hogs have been too individualistic.  Fortson took more shots against Ole Miss than the other four starters combined. 

In both losses, only two Arkansas players reached double digits.  In their win against Oklahoma, six players scored in double digits.

As for Washington, foul trouble plagued him on the road, which limited him to his six field goal attempts.  Arkansas simply cannot afford to be without Washington for extended periods of time; his talent and his experience are necessary when playing in hostile environments.

If their experienced leader is playing poorly, it extends to the rest of the team.

3. Arkansas must continue to play physical basketball and make teams pay at the line.

I mentioned last time the incredible stat that the Razorbacks have gotten to the line at least 20 times in 11 of their first 13 games this season.

Well, against Mississippi State, at home, Arkansas could only get to the line 15 times.

That lack of penetration in the lane led them to their lowest scoring performance of the season.  Instead they were settling for three-pointers, which does not help when you make only three of 22 treys.

Arkansas did a better job of getting to the line in their road game, particularly in the second half when they were mounting a comeback.  The Razorbacks shot 50 percent in the second half by rebounding the ball better and getting the ball in the paint.

This is the recipe for success, particularly on the road, and although it was too little, too late, it may have given Arkansas a little confidence after a dismal start to the Ole Miss game.

So now the Arkansas Razorbacks have fallen to 0-2 in the SEC, and their next game against the 15-2 Florida Gators in Gainesville.

It is odd to call a January contest a must-win game, particularly with the SEC West being so wide open but that may be just the case for Arkansas.

An 0-3 hole would put the Razorbacks in quite the hole to dig out of.  With three out of the next four games at home, including the third one against the Vols, Arkansas can make a run and get back into contention.

However, to do that, Arkansas has one more key that has become painfully clear.


4. Rotnei Clarke needs to be the third scorer on this team.

Arkansas cannot win with only two superstars. They need a third scorer to spread the defense and take the pressure off a freshman point guard and a junior big man.

While Arkansas has a cast of characters who can fill this role, Rotnei Clarke may be the best of the bunch.

Clarke is the top three-point shooter on this team with 36 treys and is shooting at over 40 percent from behind the arc.  He also has converted 28 of 29 free throws.

Clarke is averaging nearly 12 points per game, but he has been inconsistent as well, scoring 14 against Mississippi State before not making a single point on the road against the Rebels.

Stefan Welsh, the other main candidate for the third scorer position, has been a little more consistent but has struggled at the line. 

One of these two players will have to step up for Arkansas the rest of the season.  Their offensive and defensive effort will make the difference as we enter the meat of the SEC schedule.

Still, 0-2 in the SEC does not mean the panic button should be pressed just yet.  The Mississippi State game was clearly a letdown game after the emotional high of defeating Texas earlier in the week.

I mean, at least it wasn't Harvard.

If Arkansas can spread the ball and avoid costly turnovers, they are still one of the top 25 teams in the country.

However, when they compile 15 assists and 28 turnovers like they had the past two games combined, then they will struggle.

It's all about the guards, Arkansas. If the point guard runs a good floor game, then victory is possible at Florida.  Otherwise, get ready for a melee in the SEC West.