FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell said he was inching back toward 100 percent after last year’s knee injury earlier the preseason, believing a few games under his belt would do wonders in his recovery.
There was noticeable rust at times during Arkansas’ first few nonconference games at home. A little more when the competition picked up against opponents like Arizona State and Wisconsin. But Powell looked comfortable and confident in piling up a career-high 33-point performance in Tuesday’s win against Oklahoma.
“I am glad to see it,” Anderson said. “I think the first two or three games he really struggled to get into a rhythm. So I just think he is getting in a better rhythm and the way we play, I think it fits him. It is tailor-made for him.”
Anderson is hoping Powell’s surge continues when Arkansas (4-4) faces, arguably, its toughest test to date. The Razorbacks are on the road for their first true road test this season, facing No. 3 Michigan (8-0) at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor at 11 a.m. today.
It’s the second game in the home-and-home series between the programs, which have met six times. Arkansas won the first game in the series last January, defeating Michigan 66-64 in a thrilling game in Bud Walton Arena.
Powell didn’t play in last season’s game after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in early November. But his performance today will be key to Arkansas’ upset hopes against the Wolverines, who already have quality wins on their resume against North Carolina State, Kansas State and Pittsburgh.
Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson said the good news is that Powell appears ready for the challenge after turning in one of the best all-around performances of his career.
“He just looks so much more relaxed,” Anderson said. “He is intense, but he is relaxed. I guess he is comfortable in what is taking place.”
It was obvious Tuesday night, when Powell added six rebounds and five assists to go along with the 33 points. He ranks second on the team in both scoring (16.1 points) and rebounding (5.9 rebounds), giving Arkansas a consistent threat in the post.
Michigan is spending the week trying to prepare for Arkansas’ trapping defense and quick transition game, which took them by surprise en route to an early deficit in Bud Walton Arena last season. But coach Michigan John Beilein said Powell is an added dimension the Wolverines didn’t have to deal with last season.
“I think Powell is the best power forward we’ve seen all year, and I think we’ve seen some pretty good ones, whether it’s Kansas State, Pitt, North Carolina State,” Beilein said. “I think he’s as good as everybody we’ve seen if not better.”
Powell, who is shooting 50.6 percent from the floor , did something a little unexpected in the Oklahoma win. He went 4 for 6 from three-point range.
It has helped him equal freshman Anthlon Bell for the team lead in three-pointers so far with seven — an unexpected feat with guards Madracus Wade and B.J. Young on the roster. Anderson stressed shooting to his team after some early season struggles and Powell responded to the challenge against the Sooners.
“When I envisioned this team with a guy like Marshawn and a guy like Hunter (Mickelson), Coty (Clarke) and those guys — versatility is big,” Anderson said. “Those guys are capable of scoring inside, making hard cuts to the basket and making people come out and guard them because they can shoot the basketball.
“The object of the game is advantage-disadvantage.”
There’s no doubt Powell has given Arkansas an advantage in the frontcourt so far this season. In fact, Anderson said he sees the junior as a player capable of giving the Razorbacks a double-double every night. He has one so far this season.
Maybe that’s why Powell didn’t sound satisfied after the Oklahoma win. He was asked once again if he finally felt 100 percent recovered from the knee injury and shook his head. Powell said it’s still just 90 to 95 percent as the Razorbacks prepare for their first — and biggest — road test of the season at Michigan.
“I think I can play better,” Anderson said. “I feel like I can play better.”
Arkansas (4-4) at No. 3 Michigan (8-0)
• When: 11 a.m. today
• Where: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.
• TV: CBS (KTHV-11)
• Radio: KABZ-FM 103.7
• Series: Tied 3-3 (last meeting Arkansas 66, Michigan 64, on Jan. 21)