With Hog fans still seemingly in a bit of a funk after last weekend's debacle in Oxford, we thought we'd try to cheer you up by talking about ... Razorback basketball! Seriously speaking, though, this week did seem to be a good time to talk some hoops. And there are few better to talk hoops with than John Gasaway, who writes about college basketball for Basketball Prospectus, a site dedicated in part to detailed statistical analysis of the sport. John also has a book coming out soon: "The Basketball Prospectus 2010 Major-Conference Preview." Many, many thanks to John for his time.
The Prospectus sites are known for going beyond the obvious statistics to provide a more complete and nuanced picture of a player or a team's strength and weaknesses. Therefore, we're interested to ask you this: Was last year's team truly as bad as its 2-15 finish? Or, are there reasons to believe that the team is closer to being a good one than it may appear?
I'm really not sure how much consolation this will be but, yes, the Hogs were indeed better than their record. Anyway, a little bit better.
John Pelphrey's team was outscored by 0.11 points for every possession they played against the SEC. Typically a team performing at that level over 16 games will win four of them. Your team won just two. Chalk that up to losing at home by two to Tennessee and by three to LSU, as well as losing in OT at South Carolina. Close games were unusually unkind to your team in 2009.
That being said, even 4-12 isn't going to trigger dancing in the streets of downtown Fayetteville. The Razorbacks were sub-par on both sides of the ball in '09 but they were especially weak on defense. SEC opponents made an absurd 41 percent of their threes against this D. The good news is opponent 3FG percentage has a strong tendency to gravitate toward normalcy from year to year. I don't foresee this team becoming lockdown-tough on the perimeter or anything, but fewer makes from opponents beyond the arc in 2010 is highly probable.
What is your take on the Hogs' incoming recruiting class? Does it have the necessary talent to help the Hogs improve significantly?
Well, your staff's certainly high on Marshawn Powell, aren't they? Usually coaches like to hem and haw about freshmen and talk about how the young men are "coming along" and getting used to the rigors of the intense drills, etc. But with Powell I've already been hearing terms like "beast" and even "NBA." Wow.
What's interesting to me, though, is that we're talking about freshmen with a roster that returns so much of its experience from last year, including a rather beastly Michael Washington.
This may not be much to get excited about considering last season's record, but the Hogs do return their top four scorers from last year - Michael Washington, Courtney Fortson, Rotnei Clarke and Stefan Welsh. How much improvement can we expect out of this quartet?
Be of good cheer! In the offseason I did some tinkering with a projection system based on 272 seasons played by major- and near-major conference teams since 2006 and "found" what I already assumed: Returning minutes and simple regression to the mean are two powerful forces in this here sport. Arkansas will have both forces working in their favor this year. Not that you should book your hotel for Indy in early April, of course. Just that wins will be more plentiful.
Considering that John Pelphrey has only been in Fayetteville for two seasons, this may be a tough and/or unfair question to ask, but we're not afraid to be tough and/or unfair. So, here goes: Do you think he has the chops necessary to rebuild the program to where it's once again a major player on the national scene?
No one knows, least of all Pelphrey, but that's how this thing called college basketball works. In 1995 Michigan State didn't know how Tom Izzo would turn out, and in 1999 Missouri didn't know how Quin Snyder would turn out. If you're an AD it'd be nice if Roy Williams or Bill Self would come coach for you, but since they're already employed you throw your relatively unproven coach out there and see what happens.
Pelphrey was hired on the strength of a 2007 South Alabama team that took very good care of the ball but lost its last five games, including a two-point contest and two OT losses. (Sound familiar? Somebody buy this guy a rabbit's foot!) Very unusual finish for a coach about to get the call from the big leagues. Interestingly, Arkansas already does pretty well at minimizing turnovers. You wouldn't think that would be the case with a young 2-14 team but turnovers weren't the problem.
Finally, what is your prediction for this year's Razorbacks?
A 7-9 record in the SEC and way too much lawyer talk!