If you want to bring up a school that John Calipari has struggled with in his time at Kentucky, Arkansas would probably be at the top of the list. In the 9 times that the Wildcats and Razorbacks have faced off in the Coach Cal era, UK’s record is just 5-4. Of those four losses, three games went into overtime and the Cats couldn’t seal the deal.
Head Coach Mike Anderson always fields a really athletic team that usually forces a lot of turnovers for the young backcourts of Kentucky. This season, he brings a 12-2 record to Rupp Arena, with wins over Texas and Tennessee. The Razorbacks’ two losses came at home against Florida and to the Fighting Richard Pitino’s of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Let’s take a look at the projected starting five for the Arkansas Razorbacks tonight:
#33 Moses Kingsley, Senior Forward, 6’10”
Moses Kingsley was tabbed as the SEC Preseason Player of Year. Nothing against Kingsley because he’s a really solid player, but did any SEC coaches watch Malik Monk in high school? Interesting pick in my opinion. Last year, Kingsley scored 13 points and pulled down 6 boards in Arkansas’ lost to UK.
This season, Kingsley has been putting up numbers that are actually worse than his numbers from last year when he was named All-SEC. He’s averaging 11.1 points and 8.7 rebounds, to go along with 3 blocks per game. He’s leading the team in rebounding and is 9th in the country in blocked shots.
At 6’10”, the senior is the biggest guy on Mike Anderson’s roster and will be matched up with Bam for most of the night. What Bam gives up in height to Kingsley, he more than makes up for in muscle, outweighing him by 30 pounds. Lately we’ve seen Adebayo really step up his game, and I think tonight is another one of those instances.
#3 Dusty Hannahs, Senior Guard, 6’2″
Dusty Hannahs is a senior for Mike Anderson who can really put the ball in the basket. Hannahs spent his first two seasons at Texas Tech under Tubby Smith before transferring to Arkansas for his final two years. In the UK vs Arkansas game last year, Hannahs led the Razorbacks with 20 of their 66 points.
Both last season and this season, Hannahs has been the leading scorer for the Razorbacks. He’s putting up 14.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. He’s a dynamite shooter though, even more so than his averages suggest. He’s shooting almost 38% from 3 and almost 90% from the free throw line. He’s taken almost 30 more shots than anyone on the team so the Cats will have to slow him down to keep Arkansas at bay.
I can see Coach Cal using Isaiah Briscoe’s defensive prowess to try to contain Hannahs. Briscoe is unquestionably the best defender on the team. Plus, he will actually have a small size advantage on Hannahs, something that he hasn’t been afforded much this season.
#4 Daryl Macon, Junior Guard, 6’3″
Daryl Macon played his last two seasons at Holmes Community College and was rated as the #3 JUCO transfer coming into this season. He shot 38% from 3-point land last season on his way to averaging 23.9 points per contest. He’s the best shooter on this Razorback squad.
While Macon may be the second-leading scorer on this team, he’s only half a point below Dusty Hannahs. Also, Macon’s scoring is much more efficient. He’s averaging 14 points, 3.1 rebounds, and a team-leading 2.6 assists. He also leads the team in steals with 1.5 swipes per game. His shooting is his specialty, hitting 90.6% of his free throws and 38.7% of his deep balls.
As much as I think Dusty Hannahs needs to be contained, I think 3-point defense is a spot of weakness for the Cats and Macon is just as much of a threat from downtown as Hannahs. Coach Cal could think about putting Briscoe on Macon instead of Hannahs, but it might depend on which of them is shooting the ball better tonight.
#13 Dustin Thomas, Junior Forward, 6’8″
These next two positions are where Mike Anderson usually switches up the starters. Dustin Thomas has been starting as of late at the four position. He sat out last season for transfer rules and he played his first two seasons at Colorado. He started a total of 17 games over two seasons for the Buffalo.
Thomas is averaging 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game this year. The big thing for Thomas is staying out of foul trouble. The junior has had at least 3 fouls in 9 of the Razorbacks’ 14 games this season, including fouling out twice.
Thank goodness UK is finally facing a guy at the four position that shouldn’t kill them because of their defensive woes. To their credit, Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis have been much better lately on the defensive side and on the boards. I actually think both Gabriel and Willis could provide better offensive numbers tonight against a lesser talented Thomas.
#21 Manuale Watkins, Senior Guard, 6’3″
Manuale Watkins might not start tonight, as I mentioned that Mike Anderson does switch up the starters from game to game. However, Watkins has started 10 of the 14 games this season for the Razorbacks. Last year, he was a non-factor in the Kentucky game, finishing with just 2 points, 2 rebounds, and an assist in 9 minutes of action.
Despite having already started more games this season than he did last year, Watkins’ stats haven’t increased much. He’s putting up just 5.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.4 steals per game so far this season. He shoots a high percentage from the floor, but surprisingly hasn’t attempted a three this season. He’s 0-8 for his career from behind the 3-point line.
Despite being only 6’3″, Watkins outweighs four of the five UK starters at 222 pounds. He’s not a guard that can be easily pushed around, and he will try to be physical with the young Kentucky guards on the defensive end.
Arkansas may sport a similar record to UK, with both teams being 12-2, but the Razorbacks haven’t played the competition that the Cats have. The Cats have also beaten teams by far more points than Arkansas along the way.
One thing to look out for in tonight’s game will be the play of Malik Monk. Monk picked UK over his hometown school of Arkansas and received some pretty harsh backlash from Arkansas fans for it, most notably from Arkansas sportscaster Mike Irwin in the most nonsensical radio tirade you’ll hear today. Listen to it here, and try to piece together his all over the place rant that includes referencing that Arkansas cheated in trying to recruit Monk for three years.
Go Cats. Beat Razorbacks.