Arkansas Basketball Preview: #73
Overall Rank: #73
Conference Rank: #9 Southeastern Conference
2008-09: 14-16, 2-14
2008-09 postseason: none
Coach: John Pelphrey (37-29 at Arkansas, 117-96 overall)
Arkansas may only return six players, but those six players accounted for all but two starts last season. The Razorbacks lack of depth was apparent by the time the team got into Southeastern Conference play, but that should not be an issue this year with Coach John Pelphrey bringing in a decent group of newcomers.
Key Losses: G Jason Henry
This is a team that needs depth all over the place and this class should help provide it. Wing Jemal Farmer and power forward Delvon Johnson are both junior college transfers who have the experience to contribute immediately. And they will have to contribute immediately. Marshawn Powell, a 6-7 forward, is the most highly touted of the newcomers, but fellow forward Glenn Bryant is also a talented player who can make an impact. The group on the perimeter does not need depth as much as the frontcourt, but incoming freshman Julysses Nobles could see some time as a backup point guard.
Rontei Clarke had a pretty successful freshman campaign, averaging 12.2 points per game. What Clarke does is shoot the ball. Nearly all of his shots are from beyond the arc and he hit nearly 40 percent of those attempts. As a freshman he simply lacked the strength and the confidence to get to the basket, but nobody will complain if he keeps knocking down the long ball. Stefan Welsh, a 6-3 senior, has a little more size and will mix up his offensive game a lot more than Clarke. While Welsh had a pretty cold shooting year, he still tallied 11.5 points per game and was smart enough get to the basket when his outside shot was not falling. Marcus Britt proved to be a productive contributor off the bench during his sophomore campaign and he could turn into a decent scorer if given the opportunity.
Clarke and Welsh are decent wings, but the real strength of this team lies in the frontcourt in the form of Michael Washington. The 6-9 senior center led the team with 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks last year and should be in for a huge season as the talent level around him rises. Michael Sanchez was pretty much forced into a starting role as a freshman and he did an admirable job. Most of his scoring came off of offensive rebounds, but he is a tough player who will do the dirty work and compliment Washington on the glass. The biggest issue in the frontcourt last year was depth, but the newcomers should put an end to those concerns.
Who to Watch:
Courtney Fortson was yet another freshman that was forced into action and performed well. In fact, Fortson was great at times. Fortson dished out 5.9 assists per game and was second on the team with 14.8 points. He is not a great outside shooter, but he will keep the defense honest with his ability to hit the long ball. And when the defense is forced to cover him out on the perimeter he will use his speed to score around the basket. Perhaps Forston’s best asset is his ability to rebound. For a 5-11 point guard, grabbing 5.5 rebounds per game is very impressive.
Arkansas did not lack talent last year. They had seven players who would contribute on a regular basis and they never gave up even when things looked bad. With most of those players returning and a group of newcomers who can provide some much needed depth, the Razorbacks could be in for a surprisingly good season. This is a group that will win a lot more than two games in the SEC this year and they could even contend for an NCAA berth.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Courtney Fortson, Sophomore, Guard, 14.8 points per game
Rotnei Clarke, Sophomore, Guard, 12.2 points per game
Stefan Welsh, Senior, Guard, 11.5 points per game
Michael Sanchez, Sophomore, Forward, 5.9 points per game
Michael Washington, Senior, Center, 15.5 points per game
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