The SEC's Worst Losses: Arkansas - Can the Commodores follow Houston's lead?

Arkansas is just one of those teams Kevin Stallings is never happy to see.

The Razorbacks, regardless of the year, always seem to find a way to give Vanderbilt fits in their annual regular season matchup. Stallings's teams are just 4-10 against Arkansas in his career, and the 'Dores have won in Fayetteville just once in six tries. Things will be even more difficult in 2012; first year coach Mike Anderson has yet to lose a game at the Bud Walton Center.

Tuesday's game will be another matchup that pits the Commodores against an opponent looking for a signature win. Arkansas has a solid 15-6 record on the season so far, but they currently sit on the wrong side of the bubble with a RPI greater than 50. The Razorbacks have a pair of big wins this season, dispatching top 20 schools Mississippi State and Michigan, but losses to weaker teams like Houston and a relatively soft strength-of-schedule have put them on the periphery of the national rankings.

However, these woes seem to disappear when Arkansas is defending their home court. The Razorbacks dropped 98 (!) points on #16 Mississippi State and opened up a 46-33 halftime lead on #20 Michigan in their biggest victories of the season. They are scoring 77.5 points per game in their home wins. In road/neutral games - all losses - the team averages 65.8.

Vanderbilt can expect a high-tempo game, but the 'Dores should be ready for that after Saturday's shootout with Middle Tennessee State. Like the Blue Raiders, Arkansas uses a balanced scoring attack that relies on strong ball movement to create open shots. After seeing Vandy's weaknesses in transition last weekend, expect the Razorbacks to press downcourt with plenty of breaks in Tuesday's game.

While no one has produced a blueprint of how to beat the 'Hogs in Fayetteville, Houston came the closest, holding on for an 87-78 win in Little Rock. So how did the 11-9 Cougars do it? Let's take a closer look.

Arkansas (15-6, unranked, #78 in the Pomeroy Rankings)

Worst Loss: vs Houston (11-9, #198 KenPom, #216 CBS RPI), 78-87
Other Losses: at Kentucky, at UConn, at Ole Miss, at Alabama, at Oklahoma

Houston turned an eight-point first half deficit into a nine-point victory in a semi-away contest in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Cougars opened up a double-digit lead in the second frame and held off a Razorback rally to earn their biggest win of the season. Efficient play inside and a solid showing from the free throw line helped Arkansas pull to within four points with four minutes to play, but the 'Hogs cold shooting ultimately doomed them in the loss.

Key to Destruction: Crashing the boards. A relatively undersized Houston team made up for their 20 turnovers by outrebounding Arkansas 38-27 on the day. This steady performance, combined with 52.5 percent shooting from the field, propelled the Cougars to a big second half and their only win over a BCS conference opponent so far in 2011-2012.

Keys to the Game:

  • Watch out for Arkanas's bench - especially B.J. Young. The Razorbacks have a few big-time players that can burn you, but their depth is what gives them the power to score in bunches and run all game. Nine regulars play over 16 minutes per game, and the team's bench contributed 32 points on 13-28 shooting in the loss against Houston.

    Young, a freshman guard who was a five-star recruit, drives this team's second unit. He's scoring 14.4 points per game off the bench and has the quickness and shooting ability to score from anywhere on the court. Fortunately for Vanderbilt, the Commodores have their own freshman superstar defender waiting for him on their own sideline. Expect Dai-Jon Parker to get acquainted with Young pretty quickly on Tuesday.
  • Remember Michael Sanchez? Last season, the little-used Sanchez torched Vanderbilt for 20 points. Those were three more points than he had scored in the entire season leading up to that point. Since then, he's only scored in double-digits twice more in his career. However, the veteran big man has proven to be a capable glue guy and tide-turner for a team that relies on significant contributions from almost everyone in their lineup.

    Sanchez actually put together a strong performance against Houston, scoring 11 points on seven shots. He stands as a lasting example of Arkansas's ability to hurt opponents with contributions from unheralded players. Guys like Marvell Waithe, Rashad Madden, and Hunter Mickelson are all capable of stepping up and being the defining influence in a close game. Vanderbilt can't afford to be taken by surprise by a deep Razorback team in 2012.
  • Mix-up the defensive sets and force Arkansas to shoot. Once they gained the lead in the second half, Houston gave the 'Hogs plenty of chances from long range. Arkansas responded with just a 4-17 showing. These misses deflated the hopes of a Razorback comeback and ultimately sank a team that was shooting a respectable 50 percent from inside the arc.

    This may be a recurring theme for the Commodores. Like many of Vandy's opponents before them, Arkansas doesn't have the size to match up well with Festus Ezeli and Lance Goulbourne in the paint. Both big men, along with Steve Tchiengang, are high-level physical defenders, and they can actively prevent smaller teams from doing much damage around the rim (though, to be fair, MTSU did this well against Vanderbilt). If Vandy can force Arkansas to try to shoot their way back into this game, they should hold a big advantage in the second half.
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