Previewing Fayetteville High before state championship game with LR Hall

UPDATE: Hall won 42-31

I made it out to Cabot last weekend to watch Fayetteville take on Fort Smith Southside in the Class 7A state semifinals. Like many CenArk fans I was eager to see the team which has held the #1 ranking in the Democrat-Gazette most of the year. I wasn’t disappointed with the  FHS Bulldogs. They were especially impressive in the third quarter, when they used a 28-13 run to fuel their eventual 76-54 win.

For starters, Fayetteville is big. Really big. And in this sport, that certainly matters. No team in the state can match FHS’ “triple towers” lineup of 6-10 Tyler McCullough, 6-8 Caleb Waitsman and 6-6 Malik Fields. Against Southside this lineup – whose bigs were in the 6-4 range – was absolutely devastating.

Exhibits A, B, C, D and E:

McCullough would finish this game with 13 rebounds, 18 points and 21 instances of  Little Rock sportswriters  instinctively typing “Todd” as his first name.

As you may guess, I believe Fayetteville’s height will help make the Hall game interesting for a while. I do see some red flags though, which I believe will give Hall the eventual edge. The following clip spells trouble for Fayetteville. It highlights the ability of Southside’s best guard, DeShaun Rice,  to use his quickness to penetrate to the top of the key for jumpers and floaters. Hall has at least three guards – Dauda Berete, Quan Jones and Jobe Dillard – who can consistently resemble Rice in this regard. Senior Warrior Aaron Walton has also proven he can summon some serious midrange mojo. All in all, I think Hall’s highly skilled and athletic guards will make Fayetteville very uncomfortable:

Morever, Hall will negate some of Fayetteville’s size with 6-9 Bobby Portis, the state’s best center. He has enough shooting range to pull McCullough (who lacks superb lateral quickness) 18 feet from the basket. Portis, a Razorback commit, is also an effective shotblocker, which should make life harder for Fayetteville’s power forwards – who occasionally had trouble finishing against Southside inside:

Another Bulldog to watch is 6-2 swingman Manuale Watkins, who plays much larger than his height. This junior has a very nice 10-15 foot jumper and runner. Against Southside, I noticed he would occasionally try to force the issue by dribbling the ball through traffic, which resulted in few turnovers. Watkins’ ability to play within himself and not lose composure in the midst of a sweltering Hall press will be a big factor in whether Fayetteville can prevail.

Check out David Harten’s post-game interview with Fayetteville’s coach here.

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