LITTLE ROCK —Stealing a page from the Wonderlic test for players at the NFL Combine, here’s a logic quiz for Arkansas basketball players.
The first two parts are true and the multiple choice answers are True, False, Not Certain.
—Vanderbilt’s strange home court, with the benches on the baseline, is on the campus in Nashville.
—The SEC tournament is not on a college campus.
—The SEC tournament is not on Vanderbilt’s home court.
Local folks will outnumber Arkansas fans on Thursday night in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but the arena has a capacity of more than 19,000 and there will be plenty of empty seats so Vanderbilt’s perceived advantage will be minimal.
Like so many basketball games, the rubber game between Arkansas and Vanderbilt comes down to shooting percentages, turnovers, and production from the go-to players. In Fayetteville, the Commodores made 10-of-40 from the field, including 2-of-15 3s, turned the ball over 25 times and lost by 23. In Nashville, the Commodores made 21-of-41, including 9-of-22 3s, turned the ball over 15 times and won by 18.
Marshawn Powell scored the first eight points at home on his way to 17 and BJ Young tallied 12 of his 14 in the second half. On the road, Powell went to the bench early with two fouls and fouled out with five points.
Tapes of those games are worthless, said Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, “because one was skewed one way and then it was skewed the other way.”
Neither Powell nor Young started in the final home game of the regular season — coach Mike Anderson alluded to missing class when explaining his decision — but Powell played 24 minutes, which is close to his norm. Young logged 11 minutes.
Pout or produce will be up to them in Nashville and I suspect the latter.
An Arkansas victory would wrap up an NIT bid and the game on Friday vs. Kentucky would be more critical for the Wildcats. Despite Saturday’s homecourt victories over NCAA Tournament teams, Kentucky and Tennessee are still not secure in the 68-team field.
Watching ESPN’s bracket master react to every final score, neither the Wildcats nor the Vols can afford to lose their first game in Nashville. For Tennessee, the assignment is the South Carolina-Mississippi State survivor.
To illustrate the tenuous status of Kentucky and Tennessee, go back to Saturday morning when ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Tennessee in the tournament and Kentucky among the next four. Then, Florida went scoreless for seven-plus minutes in Lexington and Kentucky recorded a must-win. Duly noted by Lunardi, Kentucky moved into the tournament bracket, replacing Tennessee. That afternoon, Tennessee rallied from an eight-point deficit in the second half to beat Missouri. Lunardi’s response? Return Tennessee to the bracket and bump Virginia, loser of two straight.
I wondered what Lunardi would do if Virginia closed the regular season with a victory Sunday evening. The Cavaliers beat Maryland in overtime to tie for fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Lunardi took note, bumping Tennessee to make room for the Cavaliers.
Don’t even speculate about the fallout if both Tennessee and Virginia lose their first conference tournament game.
When Arkansas defeated Kentucky in Fayetteville, the Wildcats did not look like an NCAA Tournament team. Eighteen Kentucky turnovers and 19 offensive rebounds by Arkansas resulted in the Razorbacks taking 26 more shots than the Wildcats. Beaten to the boards by Powell and Coty Clarke, Kentucky’s inside players are the same ones who had eight turnovers between them that day.
One thing about playing Kentucky on Friday, the crowd will be overwhelmingly blue since it’s only slightly more than three hours from Lexington to Nashville and the Wildcat fans travel in droves when the tournament is five-hours-plus to Atlanta. Besides, Big Blue fans know their team is still on the bubble.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.