Kingsley flashes offensive punch; Hogs need similar effort for rest of season

Moses Kingsley arguably played his best game of the season last Saturday night in the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 99-86 victory over the LSU Tigers. It was certainly his best night offensively.

The media that covers the SEC named Kingsley the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year back in October, and he played like it against the Tigers.

The 6-10 senior center scored 24 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, made two assists, blocked a shot and made a steal on a night when he became the 40th Razorback to score more than 1,000 points in his career.

Some might point out that the Tigers aren’t a great basketball team and that LSU didn’t play much defense in the contest. I wouldn’t argue with that point. The game was bereft of defense, but Kingsley acted like he wanted the ball in the game, and not just to show off a mid-range game for NBA scouts.

Kingsley did hit some jumpers, going 10 of 18 from the field, but he also worked to establish position in the paint so that he could score around the basket. He went to the free-throw line for seven foul shots, too. He only cashed in on three, but at least, he forced the Tigers to try to play defense in the paint. Through the bulk of the season, Kingsley has failed to do that with other opponents.

While the Razorbacks could have used similar aggressiveness by Kingsley earlier in the season, if he is ready to pick his game up a notch, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

With February on the horizon, this is the time for the Razorbacks to start making a serious move if they hope to make the NCAA Tournament.

At the moment, coach Mike Anderson’s Hogs appear to be a bubble team. Being on the bubble is better than being off it like the Hogs were at this time a year ago, but frankly, Arkansas’ season could go either way at this point.

The Razorbacks’ overall record looks fine at 15-4, but on closer inspection, Arkansas’ NCAA resume doesn’t really stand out. The Razorbacks are just a game above .500 with a 4-3 mark in the SEC.

As you probably know, the SEC is deemed a mediocre to poor basketball conference, and after recently watching LSU, Texas A&M and Missouri, it’s pretty easy to see why. Those teams are bad, and they just happen to be the last three teams the Razorbacks have beaten to pull their conference record just above .500 in league play.

Kingsley picking up his pace couldn’t have come at a better time as long as it’s not a one-game wonder. The Razorbacks are going to need everything the big man can give them and some this week with back-to-back road games at Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on the SEC Network and at Oklahoma State at 3 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU.

Neither team is a world-beater, but neither will go down easily on their home floor to the Razorbacks.

No team in the nation enjoys a more unique home-court advantage than first-year Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew’s Commodores.

As you likely know, the team’s benches are located on the baseline rather than on the sideline at Memorial Gym, which seems much more like an opera house than a Power 5 conference basketball venue. The gym is dark and steep and odd. There’s actually an orchestra pit on one sideline.

Honestly, every time I’ve been there I’ve always expected the Phantom of the Opera to make an appearance. I know former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson used to complain about phantom calls.

The gym has an abnormal background for shooters. Every opposing team has to make that adjustment. I wouldn’t count on big nights from shooters Dusty Hannahs or Daryl Macon, although both are scorers as much as shooters, and scorers tend to find a way to get their points.

But if Kingsley can show up big in the middle for the Hogs on both ends of the court from this point forward, it will be a great asset for the Razorbacks that would only make things easier for the team.

Kingsley is one of the few Razorbacks who has the ability to get easy baskets outside of transition.

Macon and Hannahs work hard to get their three-point looks. Anton Beard has to be crafty, too, to get a three, and when he goes in for a layup, he usually ends up on his back or his rump. Macon slithers to the basket sometimes, but the shots that Jaylen Barford makes are almost always difficult. Though not as explosive, Barford has a Sidney Moncrief quality to his offensive game.

It’s too bad Barford and the other backcourt Hogs don’t play defense like Moncrief. Arkansas still struggles getting stops, and no matter what this squad accomplishes this season I’m afraid their undoing is going to be their team defense.

Vanderbilt is a tough team to figure. The Commodores (9-10, 3-4 SEC) played No. 6 Kentucky off their feet before finally succumbing, 87-81, but that game came in the midst of a four-game losing skid. Vandy broke their slide Saturday with 68-66 victory over No. 19 Florida.

Vandy is one of those teams suited to breaking the Razorbacks’ frenetic pressure. They’re tall, know how to space the floor, and they are a good-shooting team, averaging 43.7 percent from the field, 39.0 percent from behind the three-point line, and 77.5 percent from the free-throw line.

The Razorbacks usually don’t mind cheating off shooters to speed up the game, but they will have to be wary of that or the Commodores will shoot the Hogs’ doors off.

Tuesday night’s game at Vandy and then the one at Oklahoma State on Saturday will be very telling for this Razorbacks team. The Hogs need to at least split the road swing to remain on pace. If the Hogs win both, they will be on a roll without a doubt.

I don’t even want to consider what if should they lose both.