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Arkansas vs. Iowa State Preview: On the Road Again

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It's time for the marquee non-conference game of the season! Can the Hogs pull it out on the road?

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

When the basketball schedule came out, the three road games (SMU, Iowa State, and Clemson) were circled, and most noted that Arkansas probably needed to go 2-1 to make a statement. The Razorbacks made it easy on themselves by starting 1-0, winning in the ever-difficult Moody Coliseum. With Clemson in freefall (losses to Winthrop, Gardner-Webb, and Rutgers, all at home), the Hogs may be going for 3-0 against 20th-ranked Iowa State.

The Cyclones are 4-1, with wins over Oakland, Georgia State, and Alabama, and a rough loss to Maryland on a neutral floor. They followed that up with a 96-59 win over Lamar. They were clearly prepping for the Hogs: four of their five starters played season-lows in minutes, so they should be fairly rested heading into Thursday.

For basketball previews, I'll use a particular set of statistics. Let's look at them now:

  • Effective Field Goal %: EFG% values a made three-pointer as 50 percent more, since that's how much more it's worth. For example, if Anthlon Bell goes 4 of 10 for 12 points - all three pointers - his FG% is 40 percent. But if Bobby Portis also goes 4 of 10 for 8 points - all two pointers - he is likewise at 40 percent, yet Bell contributed four more points. EFG% sets the value of a made basket at 2 for all shots, so Bell was effectively 6 of 10 to get his 12 points, or 60 percent EFG%. Basically, all made three-pointers count as 1.5 made field goals.
  • Floor %: The percentage of possessions which result in a made basket or free throw attempts.
  • Steal %: The percentage of opposing possessions that result in a steal; "Opponent Steal %" are the percentage of a particular team's possessions that result in an opponent stealing the ball.
  • Three Point Rate: The percentage of a team's total field goal attempts that are three-pointers.
  • Offensive Efficiency: The number of points divided by the number of possessions.
  • Defensive Efficiency: The number of opponents' points divided by the number of opponents' possessions.

Got it? Let's roll:

Arkansas Iowa State
15th Offensive Efficiency 19th
14th Floor % 31st
53rd Effective Field Goal % 39th
177th Two Point FG% 28th
2nd Three Point FG% 157th
289th Three Point Rate 69th
4th Assists : Turnovers 12th
82nd Defensive Efficency 175th
82nd Opponent Floor % 105th
151st Opponent EFG% 205th
130th Opponent 2FG% 174th
203rd Opponent 3FG% 214th
89th Opponent Three Point Rate 244th
66th Opponent Assists : Turnovers 323rd

Basketball is very different than football, when looking at stats. In football, every position is highly specialized: the quarterback throws the ball, the receivers catch it, the line blocks, etc. There are simple stats that cut right to heart of what you're looking for.

In basketball, it's a little different. Every player plays multiple roles. When looking at stats for clues as to how games will go, you have to find matchups. I like to watch a little film on teams to see if the eye test matches the stat test. In this case, we have some interesting stats. One key is that Iowa State is 244th in the nation in "opponent three point rate," meaning that opponents don't try many threes against them. There are two possible reasons for that: either their three-point defense is really good or opponents are having success getting inside against them. The former can be thrown out, as we see that ISU is only 214th in three-point defense. So opponents must be getting inside on them. Notice that the Hogs' three-point rate is only 289th, meaning that Arkansas loves to go inside. Other favorable matchups include Arkansas' three-point shooting (2nd) against ISU's three-point defense (214th). Arkansas' assist-to-turnover ratio (4th) shows that the Hogs get lots of assists and don't turn it over much while ISU's defense (323rd) show that the Cyclones give up lots of assists and don't force many turnovers.

Let's look at each team's roster and bring those stats into what Arkansas will likely have to do to attack ISU, and how the Hogs need to defense the Cyclones.

Arkansas' backcourt vs. Iowa State's backcourt

Arkansas

  • Michael Qualls: 6-5, Jr., 15.3 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game, 46.2 three-point FG%
  • Anthlon Bell: 6-1, Jr., 13.2 points per game, 1.2 assists per game, 48.7 three-point FG%
  • Rashad Madden: 6-5, Sr., 11.2 points per game, 6.0 assists per game, 46.7 three-point FG%
  • Anton Beard: 6-0, Fr., 5.7 points per game, 46.2 three-point FG%
  • Manuale Watkins: 6-3, Soph, 2.3 steals per game
The Hogs have four guards over 45 percent from beyond the arc, and three of them are the starters. Qualls does a little bit of everything, Bell is the main shooter, and Madden distributes the ball well. Qualls has emerged into Arkansas' best defense, shutting down Iona's A.J. English in the second half after he had 19 in the first half.

Bell is best in Fayetteville, where he's hitting 60 percent since the Ole Miss game last year, but he's struggled to take it on the road. Against SMU, he was just 1 of 5 from beyond the arc. If he's not hitting, expect to see more Watkins (for his defense) or Beard in his place to play alongside Madden, allowing Jabril Durham to relieve Madden.

Qualls will likely lead the team in minutes, as he can do everything: hit from outside, score inside, play good man defense, and rebound.

Iowa State

  • Naz Long: 6-4, Jr., 12.8 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game, 44.7 FG%
  • Bryce Dejean-Jones: 6-6, Sr., 14.8 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game
  • Monte Morris: 6-1, Soph., 10.0 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, 6.5 assists per game, 41.7 three-point FG%
  • Matt Thomas (2 games): 6-4, Soph., 9.5 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game
The Cyclones are thin in the backcourt. Morris is the point guard and is averaging nearly 37 minutes per game. He does everything for them, from distribution to rebounding, and is a general hustle player. Long and Dejean-Jones are fairly tall and athletic, but are weak jump shooters. As long as Arkansas can keep Iowa State from attacking the rim (like Iona was able to do for much of the game), the Hogs should be in good shape against this backcourt. They don't shoot the three very well, and they don't go very deep into their bench. The offense is especially shaky when Morris has to sit.

Dejean-Jones is probably the main scorer to watch. He's the transfer from UNLV. He's found himself in foul trouble a couple of times this season, so attacking him on offense is probably a good strategy. Qualls will likely match up with him, and Madden on Morris.

Arkansas' frontcourt vs. Iowa State's frontcourt

Arkansas Iowa State
219th Defensive Rebound % 4th
41st Offensive Rebound % 258th
159th Block % 275th
101st Opponent Block % 1st

Arkansas
  • Bobby Portis: 6-10, Soph., 14.5 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, 52.2 FG%
  • Jacorey Williams: 6-8, Jr., 8.7 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game
  • Alandise Harris: 6-6, Sr., 6.6 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game
  • Moses Kingsley: 6-10, Soph., 6.2 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game
For the Hogs, Portis needs touches. He came through with 22 points against SMU. For Arkansas to keep winning road games, Portis needs the ball. Williams and Harris will rotate at the 4, and we may see some of Portis/Kingsley out there at once if foul trouble takes down either of the other two. Portis has to stay out of foul trouble at all costs.

Arkansas won't win if it settles for too many jump shots. Iowa State's three-point defense isn't very good, but you don't win road games by jacking up long balls. Williams and Harris will get their fair share of opportunities, but Portis needs to be the focal point of the half-court offense.

Iowa State
  • Georges Niang: 6-8, Sr., 19.5 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game
  • Dustin Hogue: 6-6, Sr., 12.5 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, 58.8 FG%
  • Daniel Edozie: 6-8, Sr., 3.5 points per game, 2.0 rebounds per game

Niang is one of the better frontcourt players in the country. This will be a huge test for Portis down low. The winner of that battle may win the game, although Arkansas might be able to offset Niang's production from beyond the arc a little bit.

Hog strategy

You may have noticed that all five starters average in double figures. Iowa State only gets about 15 points per game off the bench, and all five starters average more minutes per game than Michael Qualls (28.3), who leads Arkansas. The Razorbacks will want to keep the tempo fast to wear the Cyclones out, and keep rotating. Nick Babb, Durham, Watkins, Keaton Miles, and Kingsley will all need some early minutes before the stretch run begins. If Arkansas leads at the under-8 timeout of the second half, that will be a good sign.

Dejean-Jones and Niang are both subject to foul trouble. Attacking them to get to the line and get them to the bench could be huge. However, it's a road game, and the current state of college basketball is pretty obvious: officiating blatantly favors the home team most of the time. Don't worry, Arkansas gets it at Bud Walton Arena, but the strategy of trying to draw fouls is very hard to execute for a road team. Because of this, Arkansas is going to have to get some three-pointers to quiet the crowd a little bit.

Arkansas Iowa State
41st Fouls per Possession 15th
215th Opponent Fouls per Possession 116th
6th Possessions per Game 45th

The high possessions per game tells us what we already knew: this will be a fast-paced, up and down game. The Hogs can't get sloppy on the road, and need to stay fresh for the stretch run.

Keys to the game

1. Hit at least 7 three's and at least 38 percent from three. The Hogs need volume and quality here. The Hogs were 6 of 15 (40 percent) against SMU, so this isn't that hard of a task.

2. Finish layups and shots around the rim. Both Portis and Kingsley, along with some others, have gone through stretches of struggling to finish around the rim. Missing layups has been an issue in road games over the last couple of years. Against a defender like Niang, one chance may be all you get. The Hogs need to take advantage.

3. Portis needs at least 16 points and no foul-out. He had a season-high 22 against SMU, and he'll be needed again on the road. Drawing fouls is a great way to accumulate points, and his scoring means the Hogs don't have to launch three-pointers.

4. Go at least +8 in extra possessions. Arkansas needs to create extra possessions. That +8 can be combination of turnover margin and offensive rebounding. On the flip side, it also means not turning it over and not giving up offensive boards. Iowa State doesn't force too many turnovers (although they forced 27 against Lamar, one of the country's worst teams).

The key to this one will be how well Arkansas attacks. Iowa State isn't an overly physical team, so Bobby Portis and Alandise Harris/Jacorey Williams should be able to make headway in the low post and stay out of foul trouble. If that happens, the Hogs have a very good chance to pull this one out.