2008-09 Arkansas Basketball Preview: #108
Overall Rank: #108
Conference Rank: #10 SEC
2007-08: 23-12, 9-7, 2nd West
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
Over the last couple of years Arkansas has failed to live up to their lofty expectations. The silver lining now is that second year coach John Pelphrey gets to pretty much start over with the departure of six key players. That might not be a good thing this season for a team that has made the NCAA Tournament in both years they underachieved, but the fresh start will help rebuild confidence in the program.
One of the biggest loses is Sonny Weems, who
averaged 15.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals last season.
Weems’ ability to create his own shot bailed out the offense many, many times
and that skill will be greatly missed. Point guard Gary Ervin never seemed to
reach his full potential with the Razorbacks, but he was always a solid scorer
and a decent distributor. For the last four years, the Razorbacks have had a
bevy of big men, but the group is finally moving on after some up and down
seasons. Darian Townes developed into a great scorer under the basket, Steven
Hill was a shot blocking machine, Charles Thomas did a little bit of everything
and Vincent Hunter was talented enough to come in and give anybody a rest
without much of a drop in production. Little used Levan Patsatsia and Nate
Rakestraw have also wrapped up their collegiate careers in
The newcomers have plenty of talent and they will have to show it off right away. Point guard Courtney Fortson has the ability to make the offense run. He can get down the lane and find his teammates extremely well. How well he can make that work as a freshman is a question, but he could be starting very soon. Rotnei Clarke can run the point too, but the 6-0 Claremore, Oklahoma product is much more known for his high scoring outbursts. For now, he will be a potentially explosive scorer off the bench. Small forwards Jason Henry and Montrell McDonald are both great athletes. Henry is a superb scorer and will get to the basket with ease and can hit the outside jumper with relative consistency. McDonald, a junior college transfer, will not score like Henry, but he is a great defender and his experience will come in handy on this young team. Andre Clark, Brandon Moore and Michael Sanchez will help replace all those senior big men who are now gone. Sanchez, who redshirted last year, has the most potential. His versatility will make him a match-up nightmare for most opposing defenders and, along with his ability to rebound and defend, that should be enough to earn him a starting role.
Who to Watch:
Stefan Welsh started 21 games last season and could start full-time at the point guard spot if he can hold off Fortson. Welsh is not as explosive as Fortson, but his experience will go a long way. Without Beverley, who is off the team this year for undisclosed reasons, joining him in the backcourt, Welsh suddenly has to become a leader and the newcomers in the backcourt will have a lot of work to do.
The lone returning player up front is Michael Washington. He only averaged 13.4 minutes per contest, but Washington could have a breakout campaign now that he will be given the opportunity. And the Razorbacks could use some consistent scoring and rebounding in the paint. Suddenly the focus will be on the Arkansas backcourt, not the frontcourt. There is enough talent to make a run at the postseason, but it is probably a year too early. The 2009-2010 season will be a different story.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Stefan Welsh, Junior, Guard, 5.3 points per game
Rotnei Clarke, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Jason Henry, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Michael Sanchez, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Michael Washington, Junior, Forward, 4.3 points per game
*This preview was updated in late August following the news of Patrick Beverley's dismissal from the team.