The Akron Zips head down to Fayetteville, Arkansas tonight to face off with the Arkansas Razorbacks in the first game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. Akron comes in to the contest at 2-0, while Arkansas is 1-0 with an opening night win over Southern. To get the low down on this year's Razorbacks, we reached out to SBN's Arkansas site Arkansas Fight.
Hustle Belt: What are the prospects for Arkansas basketball this year? It seems like most outlets have them middle-of-the-road to towards the bottom half of the SEC this season.
Arkansas Fight: Arkansas is certainly an unproven team. The Razorbacks lost four starters to the NBA/graduation after last season, and the fifth is serving a suspension until the semester is over. As a result, the Hogs are counting on a couple of new players, and the development of others to keep them out of the SEC cellar. This still isn't a team anybody expects to compete for the league title, but there is some talent and a lot of experience - only one freshman will get significant playing time.
But in terms of season expectations, they're not that high. But it's also not a season we're willing to write off just yet. I really have no idea what will happen.
HB: This year's team loses four starters from last year, including Bobby Portis who is now with the Chicago Bulls. Who will have to step up this season to fill those starters' shoes? Are there a couple players that Akron fans should be looking out for Wednesday night?
AF: Moses Kingsley is our center, and is likely to be Arkansas' biggest impact player in the frontcourt. He was a highly-touted prospect out of high school but never really asserted himself when he was playing behind Portis. Now that he's been thrust into a team leadership role, we're hoping for a big year from him. He's becoming more of a scorer and has always been an effective rebounder and rim protector.
In the backcourt, the star freshman is Jimmy Whitt. He's more of a slasher/scorer. He won't shoot many threes. We leave that to Anthlon Bell and Dusty Hannahs. Bell is a streaky-shooting senior and Hannahs is a sharpshooter who transferred in from Texas Tech. They'll both play big minutes and they've rotated starting duties so far.
HB: What type of offense/defense does Mike Anderson run? Is it much different than the "40 Minutes of Hell" that everyone knows about from the Nolan Richardson days?
AF: It's similar. Arkansas does like to play fast and force turnovers. The rules of the game have changed over the years so it's really sort of impossible to play 40 Minutes of Hell the way Arkansas did when the Hogs won the national title in the 90s. But elements of it are still there.
Mike Anderson now likes to call it "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball". Arkansas does play at a fast tempo. I think they've led the SEC in tempo over the past few seasons.
HB: Looking at Akron, does anything worry you? Akron beat Mississippi State in Starkville a few years ago and last year knocked off South Carolina.
AF: I think Akron's certainly a respectable program capable of making life difficult. I see in KenPom they're rated much higher than Arkansas at the moment but they're predicting just a two-point win for the Razorbacks, so I definitely think this is a game that has the potential to get uncomfortable.
It's probably too early in the season for me to look at the sample size and figure out exactly what strengths and weaknesses are, but like I mentioned above, Arkansas is completely unproven, and if Akron comes in and plays well, they certainly have a chance.
I do know there are some things about Arkansas that can be concerning. The Hogs have had poor perimeter defense over the last few years and rebounding can be an issue. If Kingsley gets in foul trouble, Arkansas is very thin in the frontcourt. That can be a problem and likely will rear its head a few times this season.
HB: Finally, give me a score prediction.
AF: Mike Anderson's only non-conference loss in Fayetteville was to a good Syracuse team a few years ago, so history says he'll find a way to win. I'm certainly not ready to predict an Arkansas loss for this type of game yet, so I'll say Arkansas 79, Akron 71.
The Zips and Razorbacks tip off at 8:00 Eastern on SEC Network.