Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A two-time graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Arkansas different with Young
NWA Media/ANDY SHUPE -- Arkansas sophomore guard BJ Young (11) drives to the lane past Longwood junior guard David Robinson (13) Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, during the first half of play in Bud Walton Arena.
FAYETTEVILLE It's hard to make too much out of early season basketball games.
Take Arkansas' season opener, for instance, when the Razorbacks were overwhelmed on the boards, helping Sam Houston State to a closer-than-expected 73-68 loss at Bud Walton Arena. The Hogs followed it up with a blowout win - 112-63 - over Longwood on Sunday, momentarily erasing apprehension cast by the opener.
Arkansas is likely somewhere in the middle of its opposite end of the spectrum wins over lesser competition. The Razorbacks will soon find out where they really stand with a 5-game, 15-day stretch that includes contests against Arizona State, Creighton or Wisconsin, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Michigan.
Here's what we can make of the early-season games, though: Arkansas is a completely different team with BJ Young in the lineup.
After sitting out the opener for a team rules violation, Young scored 23 points in just 20 quality minutes Sunday. The St. Louis native displayed the touch (10 of 16 shooting), poise (5-0 assist-to-turnovers) and athleticism (such as an alley-oop dunk and several drives to the basket) that endeared him to fans and scouts last season.
Young also embodies a team player, evidenced by his enthusiasm for those on the floor while he sat the final 13 minutes, 34 seconds of Sunday's lopsided contest. From his play to his demeanor, he is Arkansas' unquestioned leader.
Team improvement is expected with the addition of NBA first round picks, which Young inevitably seems on his way to becoming. He led all freshmen in the SEC - a group the included the first three picks in June's NBA Draft - in scoring last season, and briefly considered joining the likes of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal as one-and-dones.
With him, Arkansas looks the part of a team that can challenge for a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. The Razorbacks are undersized and are searching for a point guard, but those are deficiencies often masked by the frenetic defensive style that led to 47 points off 28 turnovers Sunday.
In addition to its star, Arkansas has a full complement of role players missing on a team that had only eight scholarship players at times last season.
Marshawn Powell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last November, gives the Razorbacks an inside presence on the offensive end they lacked a year ago. Hunter Mickelson is the SEC's leading returning shot blocker. Mardracus Wade was the league's best 3-point shooter last year, but looks to have been supplanted by Anthlon Bell as the best on the team at no fault of his own.
It all worked when Young was in the game Sunday. Yes, it was against a team you won't see come tournament time, but it gave the Razorbacks the look of a team you might.