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The SEC's Worst Losses: #23 Arkansas

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How can Vanderbilt beat #23 Arkansas? By following the blueprint that an 8-6 Clemson team left behind.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt basketball can pick up their biggest win of the 2014-15 season on Saturday, but it won't be easy. The 23rd ranked team in the nation stands in the way on a court where the Commodores are 1-6 since the year 2000. So what can Vandy do to upset Arkansas on the road?

Fortunately, a mediocre Clemson team has proven that these Razorbacks aren't immune to disappointing losses. The Tigers toppled Arkansas back in December and that win may hold the plans behind Kevin Stallings's strategy on Saturday afternoon. Clemson escaped with a come-from-behind victory thanks to some heroic play in the final minute of regulation, but it was their ability to limit Arkansas's scoring that gave them the chance to escape with an overtime win.

So let's break down what Clemson did right. For the formal preview of Vanderbilt/Arkansas, click here. Otherwise, sit back and read through 2015's first edition of The SEC's Worst Losses.

Arkansas (12-2, 1-0 SEC, #23 in the Coaches' Poll, #28 in the Pomeroy Rankings)

Worst Loss: at Clemson (8-6, #133 KenPom, #126 ESPN RPI), 65-68 (OT)
Other Loss: at Iowa State

The Razorbacks couldn't stem the bleeding that followed an 18-point loss to Iowa State back in December when they fell to Clemson on the road. The Tigers trailed by six points with 56 seconds remaining but battled back to send this game into overtime thanks to three straight steals that left Arkansas without a single shot in the final minute. Mike Anderson's team scored just 65 points that night - a figure that was nearly 20 points fewer than their season average despite playing an extra five minutes.

Key to Destruction: Keep punching until the final bell. Clemson was dead to rights when Bobby Portis made a layup that gave Arkansas a 57-51 lead as the clock wound down to double digits. The Tigers swarmed UA with a full court press that the Hogs failed to break, leading to three turnovers, two easy Clemson baskets, and zero composure from the Razorbacks. Vanderbilt has the athleticism to duplicate that kind of pressure - but do they have the experience to make it pay off?

The man who came up biggest in those final moments, Rod Hall, is one of Clemson's two seniors. He had two steals and four points in the last 56 minutes of regulation to send this into overtime, where he was even better. Hall scored 11 of the Tigers' final 15 points in all to notch a huge victory. If Vanderbilt wants to be able to do the same, they'll have to find someone who is equally collected in the clutch. Could that be a veteran like James Siakam? Or will the ice-blooded Riley LaChance be the one who steps up should the odds fall in Arkansas's favor?

Keys to the Game:

  • Stand tall at the perimeter. Arkansas didn't get many open looks behind the three-point line against Clemson and made just six of their 21 attempts - a far cry from their normal 39% success rate.
  • Go straight up on defense. The Razorbacks are taking an average of more than 24 free throws per game in their victories this season. In losses, that number drops to 15.5 including a 12 FT showing in 45 minutes of play against the Tigers. Keeping Arkansas from scoring from the line will eliminate an avenue through which they score more than 16 points per game.
  • Utilize depth. Clemson won in overtime despite playing all of their starters at least 33 minutes and getting just one field goal from their bench. That's not a problem that Vanderbilt will have with guys like Luke Kornet, Wade Baldwin IV, and Matthew Fisher-Davis leading the second unit.
Vanderbilt needs a top 25 win to prove their value to any postseason selection committee. Beating the Razorbacks in Fayetteville would fit that bill nicely. They'll need one of their young players to step up like a veteran to get there.