With the Hogs two days away from the start of SEC play, we thought now was a good time to chat once again with John Gasaway, a writer for Basketball Prospectus, a site dedicated in part to detailed statistical analysis of the sport (here's our pre-season interview with him). John was kind enough to answer our questions via e-mail, and we offer him many thanks for his time and insight.
Expats: 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 strengths and weaknesses. What about this Arkansas team strikes you as particularly gruesome?
Gasaway: Losing to South Alabama at home by 13 was particularly gruesome. As is often the case, though, what tripped up the Hogs in their worst loss isn't necessarily what their biggest challenge figures to be going forward. Simply put, this defense has been pretty bad. Arkansas is getting absolutely hammered on its defensive glass, and John Pelphrey's team doesn't force many turnovers. Opponents are also shooting pretty well against the Razorbacks.
Then again that's water under the bridge, right?
Expats: On the flip side, are there any stats that can give us bedraggled, beaten-down Hog fans cause for optimism?
Gasaway: Hey, this team is 0-0 in the SEC! Keep making those threes. Only Mississippi State, Kentucky and Ole Miss have fared better from beyond the arc so far this year. Rotnei Clarke has probably had just a little to do with that. Also Marshawn Powell has taken way more shots than I anticipated, and he's done pretty well. That's a good sign for the future, maybe even near-future.
Expats: When you consider all of the suspensions, Washington and Sanchez's injuries, and the quality of their opponents, how would you rate the Hogs' performance in the pre-conference season? Did they overachieve, underachieve or were they a 7-8 team in every way?
Gasaway: No, I'd say 7-8 was about right. Again, you had Clarke raining threes, Powell showing some considerable potential, and opponents scoring a lot of points. The result is what it is. Or was, I guess.
Expats: Courtney Fortson's return and the team's subsequent nice effort against Texas has at least some of us thinking that the Hogs might fare OK in conference play. This may be hard to answer, but what is your take on the impact of Courtney's return? Is he capable of "transforming" this team?
Gasaway: You're right, it is hard to tell. Fortson kind of picked up where he left off, you know? On the one hand he scored 19 points and dished seven assists in a game where Arkansas clearly had the Longhorns' attention. On the other hand he was just 5-of-16 from the floor and he coughed up six turnovers in 33 minutes.
I'm a big believer in the truth-telling value of conference play so I'll be very interested to see this team in action at Mississippi State and beyond. Come back, and I'll have a less wishy-washy answer than "it's hard to tell." But right now Arkansas is clearly between phases. Good thing, right? That preseason phase wasn't always pretty.
Expats: In our pre-season interview with you, you predicted that the Hogs would compile a 7-9 record in SEC play. Are you sticking to that?
Gasaway: You bet. If they were 7-8 against the schedule they played in the preseason, and they improve a bit but not necessarily dramatically, 7-9 against the SEC sounds about right.