This is an excerpt of a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. You can read it in its entirety here.
This isn’t a criticism of late-game play design or player rotations. All three of these last games went to overtime, and Arkansas certainly could have won all three. Yes, if the Razorbacks were 3-1 right now with wins over Florida and Kentucky, plus a road win at Georgia, we’d all be pretty happy with where things are. The Texas A&M game could be dismissed as a hiccup. Of course, similarly, the Hogs easily could have lost that Kentucky game and be 0-4 with another road game looming. Any time a basketball game goes to overtime, you can point to one play or one shot or one pass or one rebound and say "If that one thing had just gone differently…"
But here’s the thing: not a single one of those games should have gone to overtime.
If "The Fastest 40 Minutes In Basketball" works as it’s designed to, the opponents are supposed to get worn out, right? The Hogs should take over games late because of their superior conditioning, correct? The team’s superior depth will be the difference maker, that’s what we’ve been told?
Arkansas had leads in the second half of all these games. The Razorbacks never had to come back to make it to overtime. The Hogs have been the ones who’ve looked tired and gone several minutes without scoring a field goal.
In each of the three games, Arkansas played more players and were in position to put games away if they’d been able to score at their normal rates at the end of games. Instead, they went cold and allowed their opponents to come back.
Against Florida, Arkansas had a seven-point lead with 4:43 left. Eleven different Razorbacks played in the game compared to eight for the Gators. Two of Florida’s players, including Scottie Wilbekin, who hit the shot to tie the game, were questionable to play due to injury. But Arkansas could not wear them down.
The Kentucky game was closer all the way through, but the Hogs did at one point have a seven point lead early in the second half and had a six point lead with 12:31 left. Arkansas was scoring 2.17 points per minute in the first 28 minutes of the game when they built that point lead, but slowed down to just 1.08 points per minute for the rest of regulation. The Hogs didn’t keep the lead and couldn’t pull away, even though two of Kentucky’s starters spent significant time on the bench due to foul trouble. The Hogs played 12 players to 1o for the Wildcats, and the superior bench was one of the factors that helped Arkansas win eventually, and they deserve credit for that, but if the game played out like it was designed, shouldn’t Arkansas have been able to wear down Kentucky in regulation?
The Georgia game of course is the most egregious. Other than a few early ties, Arkansas held the lead for the entire second half until the Bulldogs hit a layup with 3:17 remaining. The Hogs went on a 10-3 run early in the second half to go up seven points, and it looked like Arkansas was set to finally run away with it, but then everything stalled. Arkansas only scored 11 points in the final 15:59. The Hogs had a five point lead with five minutes to go, but as we all know, the team only made two field goals in the last nine minutes of regulation, allowing Georgia to come back and tie the game.
Again, you can read the entire column here.
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