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Arkansas vs. Alabama Stats Preview: Everybody Overreact

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The Hogs are still dancing. The offense is still good. The two road wins are still crazy impressive. But there are major things to fix.

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

We'll start with tonight's game, but there are also a few important things from the Ole Miss game I want to point out as well and will address them beneath the Alabama preview.

Arkansas-Alabama Preview

Record RPI vs. top 50 vs. top 100
Arkansas 13-4 28th 3-3 5-4
Alabama 12-5 47th 2-4 3-4

The Tide are another team in the top half of the SEC in RPI, making the early part of the conference schedule tougher than the latter half, which includes two games with Mississippi State, a home game with Missouri, and games against Auburn, South Carolina, and a disappointing Florida squad.

Alabama Roster Position Height Points Rebounds Assists FG% 3FG%
Levi Randolph* G 6-5 15.0 4.6 2.7 0.497 0.306
Ricky Tarrant* G 6-2 12.8 2.2 2.2 0.470 0.293
Rodney Cooper* G 6-6 10.6 4.0 1.8 0.487 0.421
Shannon Hale* F 6-8 7.6 3.4 1.1 0.387 -
Michael Kessens* F 6-9 7.3 5.5 - 0.542 -
Riley Norris G/F 6-7 4.8 3.8 - 0.500 0.462
Jimmie Taylor F 6-10 4.7 5.0 - 0.635 -
Justin Coleman G 5-10 4.4 - 1.4 0.284 -

Randolph is the cog that makes the engine go. He can pull up and shoot or drive to the basket. He's athletic and draws plenty of fouls. His supporting cast is up-and-down. Tarrant has emerged as another scoring threat, while Cooper is a veteran who is tough to contain when he's hot. They rotate plenty in the low post and don't have any dominant athletes, but they do have depth. Like most guard-oriented teams, this roster could be problematic for the Hogs if they break the press.

Arkansas offensive overview
Arkansas offense Alabama defense Advantage
Efficiency 1.12 (11th) 0.96 (126th) Arkansas
Floor % 53.5% (12th) 45.6% (112th) Arkansas

Advantage Hogs for all things offense. A good performance against Ole Miss was wasted by atrocious defense. Alabama is nothing special defensively.

Arkansas shooting
Arkansas offense Alabama defense Advantage
Effective FG% 52.7% (45th) 48.0% (140th) Arkansas
Two Point % 50.3% (79th) 47.3% (169th) Arkansas
Three Point % 38.8% (30th) 32.8% (132nd) Arkansas
Three Point Rate 30.9% (252nd) 38.2% (288th) -

Alabama gets bombed on a lot, similar to Ole Miss and Tennessee, so once again someone has to hit three-pointers. Anthlon Bell is in his usual three-quarters-of-the-season slump - which is starting to look less like a "slump" and more like what he really is as a shooter - so unless he gets hot, Manny Watkins and Anton Beard should dominate the second guard spot; Watkins if defense is needed, Beard if shooting or ballhandling is necessary.

Arkansas ballhandling
Arkansas offense Alabama defense Advantage
Assist % 61.4% (33rd) 54.9% (221st) Arkansas big
Turnover % 16.6% (41st) 21.1% (63rd) Push
Assists : Turnovers 1.46 (11th) 0.86 (99th) Arkansas

Anthony Grant's traps are similar to what Tennessee does, so the Hogs can't afford another 18-turnover performance. Typical of pressing teams, once the trap is broken the opportunity for assists exists.

Alabama offensive overview
Arkansas defense Alabama offense Advantage
Efficiency 0.97 (139th) 1.05 (64th) Alabama
Floor % 46.3% (141st) 50.1% (64th) Alabama

On the other side, Arkansas' defense continues to sag badly. Alabama is by no means a great offensive team, but they are pretty good and if the three-ball is falling they can be really good.

Alabama shooting
Arkansas defense Alabama offense Advantage
Effective FG% 50.1% (230th) 51.2% (74th) Alabama big
Two Point % 48.9% (216th) 54.6% (15th) Alabama big
Three Point % 35.1% (226th) 30.8% (274th) Push
Three Point Rate 31.9% (101st) 40.4% (40th) -

Alabama jacks up a bunch of three-pointers but doesn't hit many at all. When they are able to get inside (or, more often, penetrate with the guards) they are very dangerous. If the Hogs can force a three-point shootout, this could be an easy win. If Alabama is allowed to get in close and grind in this game, Arkansas is in trouble. Recently, the latter has been happening more and more.

Alabama ballhandling
Arkansas defense Alabama offense Advantage
Assist % 52.3% (152nd) 51.5% (208th) Arkansas
Turnover % 22.0% (37th) 18.3% (127th) Arkansas
Assists : Turnovers 0.82 (64th) 0.98 (149th) Arkansas

Arkansas' best shot defensively is to disrupt ball movement by Alabama. The Hogs failed miserably here against Ole Miss, as the Rebels were too well-organized and unfazed by the press and traps. It will be interesting to see what Grant draws up for the Tide.

Rebounding
Arkansas Alabama Advantage
Arkansas offensive 36.5% (20th) 70.1% (208th) Arkansas big
Arkansas defensive 71.3% (154th) 28.5% (185th) Push

Alabama is a poor rebounding team, much worse than either Ole Miss or Tennessee. Portis should clear the offensive glass. Expect a fourth straight double-double from him. If either Williams or Harris can turn in a good performance on the glass, the Hogs could help win this game on the boards, a rarity for this style of team.

Fouls
Arkansas Alabama Advantage
Arkansas drawing 25.9% (260th) 29.4% (270th) Push
Arkansas committing 25.2% (68th) 30.2% (40th) Push

Typical of an Anthony Grant-coached team, Alabama games are typically foul-fests. The Tide commit a bunch of fouls but also draw a bunch. Arkansas is the opposite; the Hogs rarely commit them and rarely draw them. This stat goes back to what I wrote above: the coaches have to show some fire. They cannot let the referees disrespect this team on its own floor without causing a riot. The crowd needs to get into it too, although I'm worried that a temporarily-apathetic fanbase may no-show after 18,000 watched Saturday's disappointment.

Keys to the Game

  1. Show some fire. Success in all sports requires passion and energy, but very few require more than the 40 Minutes of Hell style of play. The coaches, the players, the fans... everyone needs to show up angry and motivated. This team's first NCAA tournament bid since 2008 is on the line.
  2. Clear the offensive glass. Before we worry about the defense, creating extra scoring chances is a big factor. Portis was dominant against Alabama last season (35 points, 9 rebounds) and will need keep the offense out of a funk. Sometimes that involves scoring, but grabbing offensive boards to create more possessions is a huge advantage Arkansas should get.
  3. Play some semblance of a halfcourt defense. Getting back on D after Alabama breaks the press would be a good start. Not allowing Alabama to manipulate matchups with ball screens so easily would also be fantastic. Stopping the ball will be necessary when Randolph drives.

Let's Talk About that Ole Miss Game


We'll call the Ole Miss game the ugliest mulligan possible. Essentially, that's what it was, a mulligan. Arkansas could afford to lose one home game as long as the Hogs get 3 or 4 road wins, but no one expected it to come that early or that ugly. Pretty much everything about that game was ugly. Others have waxed poetic, but here are my takes of the ugliness:

1. The Broadcast

As a journalist, I was taken aback at the announcers' suggestion that they were in Bud Walton Arena. Of course, they called the game from a studio in Bristol, Connecticut, at the ESPN studios. Had they been up front about the fact that they were in Bristol, it would only have been slightly bad (the inability to give perception from courtside was obvious), but to claim "Here at Bud Walton Arena..." was poor journalism ethics.

2. The Two-Man Officiating Crew

One official went down in warmups, and there was no backup. Maybe he was in Bristol, too. The officiating was absolutely horrendous with 47 combined fouls, but I would be inclined to more forgiving about the situation if the crew didn't go to the monitor to review a momentum-shifting three-point shot late in the first half and confirm it although the ball was very clearly still in the shooter's hand when the clock showed zero. You don't need an extra official to get that call right. Other calls were bad, too, including a ridiculous flagrant foul called on Madden early in the second half and Kingsley getting a two-hand shove in the back on a missed dunk.

Much of this was confounded by Mike Anderson, who did not have a good game coaching and probably lost a portion of the fanbase, some perhaps for good. The difference between Mike Anderson and Nolan Richardson - and perhaps the reason Mike will  never be as good as Nolan - is that this is the type of game Nolan would have gotten thrown out of; or walked out of, a la the Strollin' Nolan game. Mike, on the other hand, looked dapper as ever in his suit, but he didn't ride the officials. In fact, he only slightly complained. Then, in a nutty final act, he appeared to refuse to shake Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy's hand (although both coaches insisted afterward they did shake hands). That was the most fire he showed all game. Listen, I'm not defending Kennedy, a louse who yelled and cursed an Arab taxi driver while drunk a few years back, but the man was owed a handshake. Don't stoop to his level. How about expending that anger firing up the team or riding the referees?

Officiating in college basketball is heading towards a crisis point. Calls are overwhelmingly in favor of the home team as a general rule, and it's gotten worse over the last 20 years. So when referees come into your home floor and disrespect your team like that, you have to do more than softly complain. You think referees would call a game like that at Rupp Arena? At Cameron Indoor? Didn't think so. Bud Walton Arena is big and loud, but it's not exactly hostile. Much of that starts with the coach. Firey coaches lead to firey atmospheres.

Finally, I don't want to hear the old argument, "Well, you gotta overcome it." No, you don't. You should not have to. Argument over.

3. Half-Court Defense

Okay, here's something Arkansas can fix immediately. Now that I've trashed Andy Kennedy, he's a fantastic X's and O's coach, which is why his teams are generally trouble for the Hogs. Ole Miss was brilliant in their use of high-ball screens and switches designed to get favorable matchup thanks to a dirty little secret: Bobby Portis is a terrible half-court defender. I don't know what he's doing half the time. After the Alabama game, I'll have some film breakdowns of Arkansas' half-court struggles, but for now just know that Arkansas has a ton of work to do.

The offense, on the other hand, did fine. Here are the possession efficiency scores:

BALLHANDLERS Points Steals Offensive Rebounds Field Goals Attempted Free Throws Attempted Turnovers Efficiency
Rashad Madden 22 0 3 6 14 5 1.39
Jabril Durham 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00
Anton Beard 0 0 0 2 0 0 0.00
SHOOTERS Points Steals Offensive Rebounds Field Goals Attempted Free Throws Attempted Turnovers Efficiency
Michael Qualls 22 0 2 14 6 0 1.41
Anthlon Bell 10 2 0 9 3 1 1.04
Manuale Watkins 0 0 0 1 0 3 0.00
FORWARDS Points Steals Offensive Rebounds Field Goals Attempted Free Throws Attempted Turnovers Efficiency
Bobby Portis 23 0 6 11 14 2 1.45
Jacorey Williams 3 1 0 3 2 0 1.00
Alandise Harris 2 1 3 5 0 1 1.00
Moses Kingsley 0 0 0 1 0 0 0.00
Formula: Efficiency = (Points + Steals + Offensive Rebounds) / (Field Goals Attempted + 1/2 Free Throws Attempted + Turnovers)

It was a bounceback game for Rashad Madden, who scored under 1.00 against Tennessee. Arkansas couldn't find a third guard (Watkins and Beard followed up great Tennessee games with duds) or a post-man to accompany Portis, which aided Ole Miss significantly (again, more on that next week).

Another problem: four steals. Four. What the heck kind of fullcourt press is that? Anthlon Bell, thought to be a defensive liability, was the only guard to record a steal. Arkansas has to figure out how to force more turnovers or it needs to stop with the fullcourt press, because guys are constantly getting beat down the floor when a turnover isn't forced.

Alright, so the Hogs lost a dud, but they're still 28th in the RPI and a 6-seed according to Joe Lunardi, and still a long way from being on the bubble, much less out of the field. On to the next one!