Big game for the basketball Hogs tonight. Louisiana-Lafayette is in town for what should prove to be a stern test for Mike Anderson’s new-look Razorbacks. It’s doubtful the Hogs will face a better point guard this season than the one they will face tonight in Elfrid Payton. He’s averaging 21.5 points, six assists, four rebounds, and 3.5 steals through the Cajuns’ first two games. He’s first-team All-Sun Belt and is among 50 nominees for the Wooden Award, given annually to the best player in college basketball. He started for the gold medalist USA Basketball 19-and-under team that went 9-0 under Billy Donovan.The Cajuns also boast 6-9 power forward Shawn Long, who has averaged 26.5 points through two games. Long originally signed with Mississippi State but transferred to Louisiana during his first year in Starkville.
Louisiana likes to get up and down the floor, which should make for an entertaining night. Both teams regularly score in the 90s. For Arkansas, defense will be always be the key. That’s especially true at Bud Walton Arena, where the Hogs won ’em all last year. Their full court pressure ratchets up the intensity, and it’s critical Arkansas generate points off that disruption.The Hogs have spent the week on the practice floor since opening last week with a runaway over SIU-Edwardsville. They should be ready to play. Defending Payton and cutting off his drives to the basket will be paramount in the half court. Putting a body or two on Long down low to keep him off the offensive glass will be something to watch for, too. I like the Hogs chances much better now with Alandise Harris and Bobby Portis around the basket. And finally, they must execute and score in the half court, too. Anthlon Bell shows signs of coming into his own, but the competition is going to get progressively tougher beginning tonight. If Bell can maintain a scorer’s mentality and knock down some shots, the Razorbacks have the potential for a real inside-outside game.Tonight also marks the return of Ky Madden, who will dress after sitting out the first three games on suspension. Long term, one could argue Madden is one of the most critical pieces to the puzzle. Madden knows the game and how to play it. He could be the answer at the point both offensively and defensively. He’ll have to re earn his playing time, but he’s done that before.
It’s a long season, much more a marathon than a sprint, but tonight’s game will be an early barometer on what we might expect going forward. See you there.