By the time they take on Delaware State Saturday night, Mike Anderson's Razorbacks will have played just two games in a 15-day stretch that has been filled with so much workout time that even the head coach has been getting bored with the routine.
"It gets monotonous," Anderson admitted as he addressed reporters before another (Thursday) practice session. ""We're just ready to play somebody other than ourselves and get into a regular routine (of games)."
The head Hog had invited an officiating crew to practice the previous day to throw something new into the mix but there was also a more practical purpose behind the sudden appearance of referees. Anderson said his team had been fouling too much and with SEC play just around the corner, something needed to be done. In particular, Anderson claimed his players had been reaching and grabbing too often on defense, trying to control opponents with hands instead of feet.
Junior forward Marshawn Powell pronounced himself guilty without an argument. "Everybody knows I like to foul," Powell declared with a big belly laugh. "I reach and grab and I've got to stop it. Most of our fouls come when we're tired, so if we can just play through it, we'll be a lot better off."
Better rebounding has also been a point of emphasis during the practice heavy holidays. Anderson said he'd seen good results. "It's been a team thing," Anderson stressed. "Not just the forwards, but the guards."
Indeed, after getting hammered on the boards by No. 2 Michigan back on December 5th, Arkansas outrebounded four straight opponents. Sophomore forward Hunter Mickelson led the charge and lately he's been doing a lot more than just rebounding.
"He can be a mismatch with a lot of people because he can step out and shoot the basketball, but he's also got a nice hook shot down low," Anderson observed. "We just want him to continue to develop and improve, work on being more consistent."
Mickelson said he's already been more consistent compared to his freshman year, telling the Razorback Nation, "(I'm) kind of in a mode where I'm pretty confident in what I can do and that I can do it night in and night out."
Mickelson is not the only Razorback adding offense to help compliment leading scorers B.J. Young and Powell. Anderson said that junior shooting guard Mardracus Wade has been playing solid defense since the season began, but until recently his shots weren't falling probably because he wasn't looking to shoot often enough.
Wade had another explanation, saying he had become complacent during the previous summer.
"I thought, okay I'm doing enough," Wade recalled of his practice habits. "But I wasn't. Now it's like I've got to go into overdrive. Now, instead of shooting 100 shots, I've got to shoot 200."
The Hogs will tune up for SEC play with a final non-conference matchup Saturday night against Delaware State, a no-name opponent that can be dangerous, according to Anderson.
"You can't pay attention to the name," Anderson warned. "They just went into Marshall and beat Marshall and they didn't have all their players."
After a stretch of games against teams out to match Arkansas' "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball" reputation the Hogs will be back trying to push the tempo against a team that likes to play at a slower pace.
"It's going to test our patience on defense as well as, at times, we're going to need patience offensively," Anderson predicted. "In conference play we're going to have teams that run with us and teams that try to slow us down. We've dealt with both situations and we'll continue to adjust."
A win over the Hornets (6-8) would propel Arkansas (8-4) into league play with a five game winning streak. Not bad considering a schedule that included No. 2 Michigan, No. 7 Syracuse, Arizona State (12-2) and Wisconsin (10-4).
"A couple of games we could have won," Mickelson said of Arkansas' November-December slate, "but yeah, I'm pretty happy with where we are and I think we can do a lot better."
Mickelson and his teammates won't have to wait long to see just how ready they are for SEC play. Arkansas will serve as Texas A&M's (9-3) first ever SEC opponent in men's basketball. That game is set for Wednesday, January 9th at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas.
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