Borrowing a page from the John Pelphrey playbook, we here at RazorbackExpats had threatened to not let our staff go home for Christmas if the Hogs lost to Appalachian State. Like Coach P, however, we relented. And to help us keep the site churning during the holiday break, we have turned to one of our regular commenters, the always insightful Whit E. Knight. He and his wife have graciously agreed to provide their take on the basketball team. Without further ado ...
Whit E. Knight (W): Mrs. Knight and I are thrilled that the Razorback Expats have asked us to give our impressions of the basketball team so far and how we think they may fare the rest of the way. Of course, our excitement is a little tempered after watching the Hogs suffer a disappointing loss to Appalachian State at Alltel.
Mrs. Whit E. Knight (M): The Hogs were outplayed; it’s that simple.
W: Neither of us was a fan of Stan Heath, so we were glad to see him go. I was tired of listening to TV announcers talk about how scary talented the Razorbacks were while they were en route to another mediocre season. Mrs. Knight was elated when it was announced that Dana Altman would be the new coach; Pelphrey she was not so sure about.
M: It wasn’t Altman so much as that somebody showed up to be the coach and then called the Hogs. And then he went away! So I was a little disappointed with the whole Razorback-basketball-coach thing, as I had been for a few years, and didn’t want to get my hopes up again. But Pelphrey’s been here -- wow -- the whole season, and I like a lot of what I’ve seen, so I’m onboard. I like his energy, as some might say. He is sort of like a tall terrier.
W: I think Pelphrey will turn out well. But so far he has not managed to shake the current crop of Razorbacks out of the Heath mindset. The holdovers appear to still be undisciplined underachievers. Their record is not bad at 9-3, but with their talent they should be 11-1 right now. The Providence loss was a total team effort - everyone looked flat. But they showed a lack of character in the end against Oklahoma, and you can blame the refs and Appalachian State having an incredible shooting night, but that is a game they have to win.
So credit Pelphrey with getting them to lift their game some, but I think he has a way to go to get them to play up to their talent level.
M: I thought the Razorbacks had a lackluster first half, and then when they played with a little more fire in the second half it was too late, because Appalachian State was an efficient machine, from beginning to end.
W: In many ways, the Appalachian State game was a microcosm of what is wrong with this team. They started the game with a turnover. I haven't seen all their games, but every one I have seen has started with a Razorback turnover. It hurt that Beverley only played two minutes of the first half because of two quick fouls, but Arkansas should have been too much for them anyway. But at this point, surprisingly for a team with six seniors, this sophomore is the leader and their most indispensable player. Early in the first half, despite a decided inside height advantage, on three straight possessions they came down and immediately jacked up a long jumper. Everyone who got the ball inside shot it, no matter how awkward a position they were in or how many people were guarding them. Every time Beverley got the ball, there was a defender in his face. Ervin forced the play inside too much, and there didn't seem to be any movement on offense. (By the way, I hope I never see them again work for the last shot by having Ervin dribble the ball outside until there are only a few seconds left -- that play has about a 10 percent success rate.)
As disappointing as that loss was though, there were some good things. They never gave up, playing hard all the way. Beverley had just as much fire at the end as the beginning. And it conceivably could end up as a good memory because it was the coming out party for Marcus Britt.
M: I‘m not the huge fan of Beverley that you are, but, now, Britt -- that’s another matter! If you recall, before the game, you asked me who my “pick to click” was. I said I wished I could say “Steven Hill,” but knew chances were slim for that. I picked Britt, because of the energy and determination he had showed during the previous game. When he was on the floor he positively vibrated! He didn’t let me down in this game either -- five steals! Vibrating the whole time!
It’s good to see not quite as many turnovers as before, but it is still a weakness.
Some of the Appalachian players were large, and patient. They played very well.
W: Britt has a defensive intensity reminiscent of another No. 12, Clint McDaniel. Point guard is not his position, but I would rather he start there than Ervin or Welsh. But alternating him with Weems is OK too, just as long as he gets more playing time.
How do you see the rest of the season playing out?
M: I am the eternal Razorgod Basketball Optimist: you know that. But turnovers and free throws are two areas where they really need to improve. This is the third coach in a row who hasn’t insisted on free throws. If they practice them enough it will make a huge difference. We ran into Razorback great Ricky Medlock at a fundraiser before the season started. He was a career 90 percent free throw shooter, and according to him, it is strictly mental and a matter of practice.
W: I think if they don't markedly improve, their SEC record probably will be 8-8 or 9-7, although they could do as well as 10-6 if they run the table at home. All roads appear to lead to them getting the magic 20-win total and into the NCAA tournament. But even if they are lucky enough to play the first round in Little Rock, they probably don't advance past the second round.
The talent is there for the Hogs to win the SEC West and be a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 team. But for that to happen, the following needs to happen:
* Beverley re-finds his shot. I think he will come around; he is too good a player and has too much heart. But for him to carry the team like he can, they are going to have to run plays designed to get him open, rubbing off screens. He contributes so much to the team in so many ways; it is too much to expect him to always have to create his own shot too. He is the key player for this team. He has to have a good season for them to do well, but he can't do it all by himself.
* Hill gets more involved in the offense, either through dunks or as a high post passer a la Jimmy Counce. I like the Stroud-Schall vibe with Hill and Townes, but Hill cannot be a complete non-presence offensively like he has been. The high post passer route is more in keeping with his natural inclinations and would free up the inside for Thomas and Weems.
* Weems, Ervin, Welsh and Washington get more disciplined in their shot selection.
* Townes and Thomas might should kick the ball out a little more too. The Hogs flat take too many bad shots. They are effective shooters when in rhythm and not forcing it. This particularly applies to three-point shots. They should get the threes from working the ball inside, not passing it around the perimeter. Pelphrey said that was his plan, but I haven't seen it yet.
* Stop walking the ball upcourt. This is my pet peeve (Gary Ervin, I am talking to you). The Razorbacks’ major strengths are their athleticism and depth. Slowing down the game detracts from both. Offensive pressure can be just as effective as defensive pressure. Walking the ball upcourt allows the defense to get set and freezes our players on offense.
Arkansas got a number of easy baskets in transition against Appalachian State. The Celtics championship teams used to run off made baskets. With their horses, I think the Razorbacks should too.
Shoot, all those things happen, the Hogs could make a run to the Final Four. But I am not counting on it.
The Last Word (M): My Christmas Wish List: I would like to see Ervin remember he is a member of a team -- it’s not all on his shoulders. I would like to see Steven Hill play with the passion the game deserves. I would like to see Beverley and Thomas get their heads back into the game. And I would like to adopt Britt.
About the Authors: Although Whit E. Knight has no skills, he is a native of Indiana, which means he has basketball in his blood, and was a sports writer at one time in a former life. Mrs. Whit E. Knight is a U of A graduate who started school at the end of the Lanny Van Eman era, rooted on the Triplets and once had a class with Jimmy Counce.(more at www.razorbackexpats.com)