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Arkansas vs. Tennessee Stats Preview: Bombs Away

The key to beating Tennessee? Knocking down open three pointers.

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

The Hogs are BAAAAAAAAACK! Well, not quite. The Razorbacks are ranked 19th in Monday's AP poll and last week won their first two SEC games as a ranked team since 1998. But now a pivotal road game looms. Tennessee plays in the cavernous Thompson-Boling Arena and has been very difficult to beat on its floor when they're good. This edition of the Tennessee Volunteers, however, are not all that good.

Record RPI vs. top 50 vs. top 100
Arkansas 13-2 19 3-1 5-2
Tennessee 9-5 66 1-4 1-4

Tennessee's signature win is a 67-55 pasting of Butler at home. Other than that, Texas Southern (123rd) is the next best victory. Tennessee beat hapless Mississippi State 61-47 in their conference opener, and then lost 56-38 at home to Alabama on Saturday.

Name Position Height Points Rebounds Assists FG % 3FG %
Josh Richardson* G 6-6 16.1 4.1 3.4 0.462 0.388
Kevin Punter* G 6-4 10.2 2.3 1.9 0.459 0.366
Armani Moore* F 6-5 8.9 6.9 2.4 0.409 -
Devon Baulkman* G 6-5 5.5 2.3 - 0.449 -
Detrick Mostella G 6-3 5.2 - - 0.311 0.391
Derek Reese F 6-8 5.1 4.6 - 0.446 -
Robert Hubbs III G 6-6 4.9 - 1.0 0.373 -
Willie Carmichael III F 6-8 4.1 3.1 - 0.479 -

Tennessee lives and dies by its trio of Richardson, Punter, and Moore. Richardson especially has to hit shots for them to have a chance in games. Each of those three players has logged at least 33 minutes in every major game this season for the Vols, so expect the Hogs to focus on wearing them down, just like against Georgia.

The other two spots are up for grabs. Reese and Carmichael rotate at the 5, meaning that Tennessee won't play a guy taller than 6-foot-8. Baulkman is generally the other guard, but he rotates heavily with Mostella, Hubbs, and others.

The Vols have a lot of depth in terms of minutes played, but their production doesn't go very deep into the bench.

Arkansas on offense

Arkansas offensive overview
Arkansas offense Tennessee defense Advantage
Efficiency 1.13 (11th) 0.99 (180th) Arkansas big
Floor % 53.8% (13th) 46.1% (136th) Arkansas big

Some significant advantages for the Hogs here. You will see in a second why there's such a big difference between Tennessee's defensive efficiency (points per possession) and defensive floor percentage (percentage of possessions in which points are scored).

Arkansas shooting
Arkansas offense Tennessee defense Advantage
Effective Field Goal % 53.0% (39th) 49.7% (212th) Arkansas big
Two Point % 50.6% (73rd) 44.3% (74th) Push
Three Point % 38.9% (30th) 37.4% (300th) Arkansas big
Three Point Rate 30.0% (274th) 46.1% (350th) -

There it is: three point shooting. Tennessee is a dismal 300th in the nation in three point defense. Inside the arc, Tennessee's shooting defense is fairly stout. But not only is that three point defense bad, notice the three point rate: 46.1 percent of field goal attempts against Tennessee are three pointers. Only one team in all of college basketball (East Tennessee State) gets bombed on more than Tennessee.

Why is Tennessee's three point defense so bad? As we'll see in a second, first-year coach Donnie Tyndall wants an aggressive defense that forces turnovers. He's got that, but the Vols' half-court traps cause them to overpursue the ball. They've been victimized by simple ball screens and often fail to switch when an opponent breaks a trap. If Arkansas takes care of the basketball, the Hogs should see plenty of wide open threes.

Arkansas ballhandling
Arkansas offense Tennessee defense Advantage
Assist % 60.4% (47th) 64.0% (336th) Arkansas big
Turnover % 16.0% (29th) 22.6% (28th) Push
Assist : Turnover Ratio 1.52 (7th) 0.87 (119th) Arkansas

There you see where Tennessee's defense gets the payoff: turnover percentage. The bad news for the Vols is that Arkansas' ballhandling has been excellent. Can it be excellent in a tough road environment? That's a key question. Tennessee's propensity to give up wide open threes is why they are 336th in assist percentage defense: 64 percent of opponent made field goals are assisted.

Tennessee on offense

Tennessee offensive preview
Tennessee offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Efficiency 1.01 (113th) 0.94 (91st) Push
Floor % 48.6% (110th) 44.7% (89th) Push

With Richardson, the Vols can put up points at a decent rate. They play at the signature slow, grinding, clock-killing, fun-killing, soul-killing pace that has been the primary factor in the slow, agonizing death of SEC basketball over the last decade. Of course, the strategy occasionally works if it serves to take a team like Arkansas out of its comfort zone. It also causes their points scored per game (276th nationally) to make their offense appear worse than it already is.

Arkansas shooting
Tennessee offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Effective Field Goal % 48.8% (164th) 48.8% (179th) Push
Two Point % 47.6% (174th) 48.1% (187th) Push
Three Point % 34.3% (147th) 33.6% (169th) Push
Three Point Rate 31.7% (235th) 32.9% (140th) -

Pushes across the board here. Tennessee is capable of getting hot from beyond the arc, which is probably their best chance to win. Georgia hit a season-high nine three pointers against the Hogs and lost anyway, but Tennessee may be capable of even more damage.

Tennessee ballhandling
Tennessee offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Assist % 49.2% (252nd) 52.7% (162nd) Arkansas
Turnover % 19.0% (162nd) 22.5% (30th) Arkansas big
Assist : Turnover Ratio 0.94 (187th) 0.78 (49th) Arkansas big

Tennessee doesn't assist on very many baskets and is average at turning it over. This is looking like one of those games that Arkansas can only force 10 or 12 turnovers and still win, though. Unlike Vanderbilt, whose young guards were overwhelmed in Fayetteville, Tennessee has mostly veterans handling the ball, so they are unlikely to just hand the ball to the Hogs too often.

Rebounding
Arkansas Tennessee Advantage
Arkansas offensive 36.6% (20th) 68.3% (263rd) Arkansas big
Arkansas defensive 72.6% (111th) 34.9% (34th) Tennessee

There may be a lot of offensive boards. Both teams are excellent at tracking down their own misses, but Arkansas is significantly better at defensive rebounding, giving the Hogs an overall rebounding advantage against Tennessee's much smaller lineup.

Fouls
Arkansas Tennessee Advantage
Arkansas drawing 25.8% (259th) 34.1% (346th) Arkansas
Arkansas committing 24.3% (46th) 28.2% (117th) Arkansas

Officiating always favors the home team (yes, Vanderbilt had some legitimate gripes about Saturday's reffing, but that's life on the road), but Tennessee commits a fairly astounding number of fouls. Arkansas usually doesn't commit very many, which should keep Tennessee from being able to win the game at the free throw line.

Three keys to victory

  1. Get the inside-outside game going. Tennessee doesn't have a guy taller than 6-foot-8 and commits a ton of fouls, so the Hogs should have some success going inside. On the flip side, Tennessee's three point defense is about as bad as it gets in college basketball, so the Hogs should be able to get plenty of open looks for Michael Qualls, Anthlon Bell, Rashad Madden, Anton Beard, and Jabril Durham with patience. Looking at box scores of past Vol games, forwards don't tend to score many points against them, although much of that has to do with teams getting so many open three pointers. Still, I'm curious to see how Bobby Portis does against them. If he gets going, and the rest of the team isn't stone cold from the floor, the Hogs should win this one.
  2. Take care of the basketball. Tennessee's defense depends on forcing turnovers. On the road, the quickest way to give the home team momentum is to turn the basketball over. If Arkansas can avoid Tennessee's traps, then open shots await.
  3. Win the rebounding battle. A lineup without a guy taller than 6-8 should not outrebound the Hogs. Tennessee's offense is very dependent on tracking down missed shots, so a key to stopping them is to only give them one opportunity each possession.
This game may be a great opportunity for Jacorey Williams or Alandise Harris to play well at the other forward spot. That position seems like an X-factor, because it will be needed for defensive rebounding and could provide the key to complementing Portis in the low post. With Tennessee's three point defense so bad, if the Hogs get going under the basket, this one could be over in a hurry.

Of course, ultimately, the key to every road game is to HIT SHOTS. Three top 10 teams when down on the road on Sunday. It's not easy.