Arkansas is taking advantage of early schedule
Arkansas basketball coach John Pelphrey believes in tailoring a
schedule to fit a team.
So far this season the philosophy has paid off for the
Razorbacks, who are 6-1 after a win over Seton Hall last week.
Despite the early success, Arkansas is 175th in the latest RPI
rankings, thanks largely to a strength of schedule that ranks just
”I think there’s a lot of factors that go into scheduling,”
Pelphrey said. ”As coaches, we always say it’s the second-most
important thing we do behind recruiting.”
The quick start for Arkansas comes after a disappointing season
a year ago, one that saw the Razorbacks miss the NCAA tournament
for the second straight year. That team struggled through turmoil
and suspensions, opening the season 2-5 on its way to a 14-18
This season, Arkansas has taken advantage of its soft early
schedule. Its only loss came to Alabama-Birmingham (7-2) in
overtime, and its top nonconference opponents (Oklahoma and Seton
Hall) are a combined 10-9.
”I think we’re obviously happy with where we’re at right now,”
Pelphrey said. ”We would have liked to have won them all. But we
also recognized we have a lot of work to do to get better because
there’s a lot of challenges that lie ahead for us.”
The biggest surprise this season for the Razorbacks has been the
play of forward Delvon Johnson. The 6-foot-9 senior nearly had a
triple-double against Seton Hall, finishing with 12 points, 10
rebounds and eight blocks.
After averaging just 2.6 points and 2.4 rebounds last season,
Johnson is second on the Razorbacks this season in scoring (11.6
per game) and second in the Southeastern Conference in rebounding
(9.1). He also leads the SEC and is second nationally in blocked
shots, averaging 4.1 per game.
”I feel like that’s a part of my game I’m good at,” Johnson
said. ”I read the offense. I help the guards out. If a guard
drives past one of our guards, I feel like I can go over there and
block their shot without them seeing me. That’s something I worked
on in the offseason, something I’ve been able to do but I’m just
showing it now.”
Pelphrey raved about Johnson’s offseason improvement during the
preseason, and it’s a jump the Razorbacks have needed with their
frontcourt depth depleted by early injuries. Forward Marshawn
Powell has been slowed in his recovery from a broken foot in the
offseason, and forward Michael Sanchez has yet to play after
sustaining a stress fracture in his foot.
”I expected it out of him,” leading scorer Rotnei Clarke said
of Johnson. ”He worked so hard in the summer in the weight room.
It was just a matter of time, and he’s showing up big and he’s
doing a lot of good things for us offensively and
Powell has shown signs of improvement, scoring a season-high 12
points against Seton Hall. Also, Sanchez had his walking boot
removed last week and Pelphre y hopes to have the junior back by
Johnson said the quick start, regardless of who it’s been
against, has helped build Arkansas’ confidence. The Razorbacks will
need that when they travel to Dallas to face No. 25 Texas A&M
on Saturday, as well as when they open SEC play at home against No.
7 Tennessee on Jan. 8.
”We’re real confident,” Johnson said. We’re very excited I
feel like we just practice hard every day, work on the things we
can work on and we should be good no matter who we play.”