In the epic war between tortoises and hares, the hare may finally win one by default Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.
John Calipari will coach one hare of a team; Mike Anderson will coach a hare of a team as well. Kentucky will run, press and score in transition; Arkansas will run, press and score in transition.
The Cats have played a few SEC games so far this season—Auburn and Tennessee come to mind—in which opponents have tried to cover the game in molasses and slow it down to the speed of a well-attended walk-through.
That won’t happen with the Razorbacks.
Anderson, who is in his first year at Arkansas after coaching Missouri for five seasons, comes from the Nolan Richardson School of Uptempo Basketball. His 2010-11 Missouri team finished second in the nation in steals and turnover margin, and 10th in scoring offense. The defensive metrics can be attributed to his all-out full-court press; the scoring totals are mostly results of easy transition scoring opportunities.
So far this season, Arkansas ranks 10th nationally in turnover margin, 13th in steals and 35th in scoring offense.
“When they speed you up, they're getting into you,” Calipari said. “They don't press like normal teams where if you complete a pass they run down. They come running at you. Then they try to rotate and another guy runs at you. It will be different for our guys.”
Kentucky plays fast but creates its opportunities in different ways; instead of getting a ton of steals and running out that way, the Cats flip the court with the nation’s No. 1 blocked shots total and 15th-ranked rebounding margin.
Still, it speeds the ball up just as well.
A possible concern for UK in such a fast-paced game is depth. As they are now, the Cats only regularly go seven men into the roster (Eloy Vargas is an occasional eighth). If legs get tired or if fouls pile up, what would Calipari do against a team that goes much deeper? In Arkansas’ game Saturday against LSU, Anderson used eight players. All eight played at least 18 minutes.
“I think we’ll be fine. We’re in real good shape,” Marquis Teague said. “We’re used to playing a lot of minutes in every other game. We did it against Louisville and North Carolina and other great teams.”
In a way, Teague said that Tuesday’s 40-minute sprint will be refreshing. Against Auburn and Tennessee, the Cats were forced to squat on the ball and drain clock because that’s what was being dictated to them. They can do that, he said; that much has been proven considering they won both games.
But the Cats would much rather be the hare, and they get to do just that Tuesday.
“This is going to be exciting,” Teague said. “We’re looking forward to these type of games, playing up and down, being able to use our speed and athleticism.”
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