Living out of state is tough during basketball season. It's particularly difficult during games like these when the seniors are being honored. And folks, we've got two great seniors to honor tomorrow night. Retin Obasohan has been a fantastic representative for the University of Alabama and a great example of how hard work and perseverance can still pay off. Five years ago John Brannen recruits him to Alabama from Belgium, he sits out as a redshirt, had to overcome the culture shock that comes with moving to a new country, progressively improves as a player, and, barring some miscarriage of justice, will be a 1st team All-SEC selection in his fifth and final season. It's a great story. As is Arthur Edwards, whose value to this team and its success this season is substantial. Art's road to Tuscaloosa has been a winding one. A native of Washington D.C., Art played junior college in Florida, made his way to New Mexico for a few seasons before landing in Tuscaloosa. He's been a natural fit with this team, and his shooting touch from the perimeter was something this team sorely needed. Their leadership, character and importance to this team will not be forgotten.
Any gameplan for defending Arkansas has to begin on the 3-point line. The Hawgs are the most efficient 3-pt shooting team in the conference, per KenPom. A big reason for this is they have two great shooters in Dusty Hannahs (16.2 ppg, 45% from 3) and Anthlon Bell (15.9 ppg, 45% from 3). If those two guys get cooking, it's going to be a long night for Alabama. But here's an interesting fact. While Arkansas may be the most efficient offensive team from 3 in the league, it is Alabama that is the most efficient defensive team from the 3-point line. And while Arkansas is efficient from 3, they only rank 11th in conference (again, per KenPom) in 2-point offensive efficiency. I can't stress it enough, Alabama's perimeter defense must be strong.
It surprised me to read that Arkansas wasn't more efficient in 2-point scoring as they have one of the most improved big men in the conference in Moses Kingsley (6'10, 230 lbs). In the 14-15 season, Kingsley averaged 3.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg and 1.1 bpg. This season, Kingsley is averaging 16.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg and 2.4 bpg. Along with Retin, I think Moses has been the most improved player in this conference. For an Alabama team that has struggled at times with athletic, physical big men, Kingsley represents a real challenge. Avery and the staff in preparing for this game will have to pick their poison. In focusing on the 3-point shooters for Arkansas, they will have to count on Jimmy, Mike and Donta to hold their own 1-on-1 vs Kingsley. Rebounding will be key for Alabama in this game. With a team like Arkansas who can be explosive offensively, Alabama must limit possessions and shot attempts. Arkansas has had their issues at times rebounding the ball. Kingsley has been a beast with 270 rebounds so far this season, but the next guy behind him has only 113 for the season (or 3.8 rpg). That would currently rank 6th on Alabama's roster. As with everything else this season, Alabama doesn't have one guy to go get rebounds; it must be a group of guys getting it done on the glass.
It goes without saying that this is yet another must-win situation for an Alabama team on the NCAA Tournament bubble (and if you're on the bubble at this point of the season, every game is a must-win). It's always an emotional evening when teams celebrate Senior Night, but Alabama must play poised and get off to a good start against an Arkansas team that has struggled on the road this season (only 2-8 this season in true road games). It's going to be a tense couple of weeks for us as we watch this Alabama team try to achieve something no one believed possible when the season tipped off. After a series of shaky performances, the team finished strong in their previous game vs Auburn. Hopefully, that's the sign of a team with one more surge left in them.