Arkansas senior Daryl Macon / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Don’t let California State University Bakersfield’s mascot of the Roadrunners fool you. They will not be looking for a road race tonight when they visit Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said the Razorbacks’ 7 p.m. matchup with Rod Barnes’ CSU Bakersfield squad will be a battle of wills. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.
“It’s contrasting styles,” Anderson said “We’ll see who will impose their will. “They like a game in the 60s. We like to play in the 80s, 90s, and up as long as we have the most points.”
Both squads will play multiple defenses, Anderson said, but the Razorbacks (9-2) pressure to speed opponents up, while the Roadrunners (7-7) pressure to slow the other squad down.
Anderson and Barnes know each other well. Barnes at Ole Miss and Anderson at Arkansas were fellow assistant coaches under Rob Evans and Nolan Richardson in the SEC during the 1990s. Barnes coached the Rebels from 1998-2006.
Ole Miss fired Barnes and replaced him with Andy Kennedy in 2006. Barnes spent a year as an assistant at Oklahoma before serving as head coach at Georgia State from 2007-2011. He has been the head coach at Cal Bakersfield since.
“Rod was a hard-nosed player at Ole Miss and his teams reflect him,” Anderson said. “They will be scrappy and tough. He’s playing a tough schedule to have his players ready for the WAC (Western Athletic Conference). Wait and see. His team will be heard from out west. They played Fresno (State) and Arizona close for a half. Our job as a coaching staff is to keep the team on task.”
To keep his team on task, Anderson gave them a three-day break for an early Christmas, but had them return to Fayetteville for an evening workout on Dec. 23. He said the squad was out of sync for that workout, but have improved with two-a-day practices since.
Anderson likes the way his team is playing and believes his six seniors are setting the pace for a strong season, despite being picked in the middle of the SEC pack.
“The depth of this team is showing itself offensively and defensively,” Anderson said. “I think we are playing the game the right way. We’re beginning to share the basketball. We really didn’t start doing that well until the end of the year, distributing the scoring. I think we have more weapons this year. I think we are playing to win. We are taking care of the basketball and turning opponents over.”
The Razorbacks are forcing 16 turnovers a game, while giving the ball up only 10.5 times a game. In their last three games, the Hogs have had just 24 turnovers to 47 by opponents. The Razorbacks are averaging a solid 17.5 assists a game.
Those numbers are very good, and Anderson wants to keep them up when the Razorbacks move into Southeastern Conference play on Saturday when the Hogs play host to No. 19 Tennessee at noon Saturday.
However, Anderson isn’t ready to talk about playing the Vols or the rest of the SEC until the Razorbacks take care of business against the Roadrunners.
If you have some extra Christmas cash left to spend, the Southeastern Conference began selling tickets for the 2018 SEC Basketball Tournament last week.
With the way the Razorbacks have been playing so far this season, the tournament might be a hot ticket for Hog fans once again.
Razorback fans dominated the Southwest Conference Tournament for many years under both Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson, and during the bulk of Richardson’s tenure as the Hogs coach in the SEC, Arkansas acquitted itself well, though only winning it once in 2000.
Attending the SEC Tournament after Richardson’s tenure became a bit dicey. The Hogs made it to the title game under Stan Heath and John Pelphrey, but neither could win the the tournament.
The Razorbacks have not won the tournament under Mike Anderson either, but his Hogs have made the title game two of the last three years, and no doubt have plans on making it back there again.
Will this be a breakthrough year for the Hogs at the SEC Tournament?
What is certain is that it will be the easiest trip for most Razorback fans since Memphis last played host to the tournament way back in 1997.
The Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo., is the site of this year’s tournament, which runs March 7-11. Tickets can be bought through Ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 745-3000.
For Hog fans across northern Arkansas, it will be a relatively easy drive. Though the Razorbacks don’t open SEC play until noon Saturday when they host Tennessee in an SEC Network-televised game, the Razorbacks have played well this season.
The Razorbacks have the talent and the depth to make a serious run at the SEC Tournament title this year if they stay healthy and their young players continue to progress. If you are thinking about attending the SEC Tournament, you might check into getting tickets sooner than later.
No doubt, Kentucky fans have already started gobbling them up.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 25
For the second week in a row, the Razorbacks fell just outside of the Associated Press’ Top 25 Poll with 85 points. Creighton (10-2) is just ahead of them at No. 25 with 143 points in the poll.
It’s decent publicity to be in the polls. If a school is in the poll, their scores are more likely to make national news broadcasts and be published online and in newspapers, but the polls don’t carry the cachet that they once did. They have never been used by the NCAA Selection Committee in making their choice for March Madness, but the A.P. Poll is reflective of how the media around the nation thinks about the current basketball landscape.
Anderson said the polls don’t worry him because he’s excited about the way his team his playing and the potential it has to improve.
That said every coach and player would rather be ranked than not.
As hungry and as competitive as the Razorbacks are, the fact they have been left out of the poll once again should add a bit of extra motivation as the old year goes out this week and the new on rings in.
As many as five SEC teams have been ranked this season, but only three were in the poll this week with Texas A&M (11-1) registering in at No. 5. Kentucky (9-2) was next at No. 16, followed by Tennessee (9-2) at No. 19. Auburn (11-1) received five votes for the Top 25, while Florida (8-4) received one.
A victory Saturday over the Vols should put the Hogs in the Top 25. If that happens, they will then have to defend that badge of honor. Sometimes it’s easier being the hunter than the hunted.