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Arkansas vs. Georgia Stats Preview: Another Mountain to Climb

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Can the Hogs win their first SEC game as a ranked team since 1999?

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

If you're the conspiracy theorist who believes that the SEC office hates Arkansas, then one of your sources of ammunition is the conference basketball schedule. For the third straight year, Arkansas opens up SEC play on the road against a pretty feisty team.

Georgia came out nowhere to go 12-6 in SEC play and save coach Mark Fox's job a season ago. They returned their top three scorers, joining Arkansas as the only SEC teams to do so. After a rough start to this season, they haven't lost since November 28, winning six straight. They are unbeaten at home (7-0) and have wins over the likes of Kansas State and Colorado with no really bad losses.

What's worse, they are a bad matchup for the Hogs, as we'll soon see. Still, they are certainly not without flaws, and there are plenty of things the Hogs can do to pull this game out.

Bulldog roster

Name Position Height Points Rebounds Assists FG% 3FG%
Marcus Thornton* F 6-8 13.7 7.2 - 0.520 -
Charles Mann* G 6-5 12.7 5.6 3.8 0.458 0.368
Kenny Gaines* G 6-3 11.3 3.2 2.0 0.457 0.314
Nemanja Djurisic* F 6-8 10.9 5.4 1.7 0.436 0.308
J.J. Frazier* G 5-10 9.2 3.9 3.3 0.462 0.386
Juwan Parker G 6-4 5.8 4.3 1.2 0.393 -
Yante Maten F/C 6-8 4.3 3.7 - 0.444 -

The Bulldogs don't go deep into their bench, instead relying on a four-man core of Thornton, Mann, Gaines, and Djurisic for the vast majority of their production. If any of them get into foul trouble or get tired, Georgia gets much worse on both ends of the floor. Those four guys bring unique talents that work together well, and the emergence of Frazier as a shooter has vaulted Georgia into the SEC's upper echelon this season.

When Arkansas has the basketball...

Arkansas offense at a glance
Arkansas offense Georgia defense Advantage
Efficiency 1.12 (15th) 0.89 (44th) Push
Floor % 53.5% (14th) 43.0% (53rd) Push

Remember that offensive efficiency is points per possession, and floor percentage is the percentage of possessions in which points are scored. Arkansas holds very small advantages, but this is strength-on-strength for these two teams. Georgia plays at a much slower pace, preferring bruising, low-scoring games.

Arkansas shooting
Arkansas offense Georgia defense Advantage
Effective FG% 52.8% (42nd) 41.8% (13th) Push
Two Point % 50.3% (93rd) 41.5% (21st) Georgia
Three Point % 38.9% (28th) 28.2% (28th) Push
Three Point Rate 31.0% (248th) 35.5% (217th) -

These numbers are somewhat concerning. Arkansas lost to Georgia last year for three reasons: the Hogs were cold from three (as in most road games), they gave up a bunch of offensive rebounds, and they fouled too often. Here, we see that Arkansas has no advantage as a deep-shooting team. Without someone getting hot, it's hard to expect to hit threes on the road, especially against Georgia. Arkansas has to finish around the rim and hit at least a few treys.

Arkansas ballhandling
Arkansas offense Georgia defense Advantage
Assist % 64.2% (15th) 49.0% (78th) Arkansas
Turnover % 16.2% (32nd) 17.8% (265th) Arkansas big
Assist : Turnover Ratio 1.58 (5th) 0.83 (89th) Arkansas

Arkansas' offense will get a bailout in that Georgia's defense is very reactionary, forcing almost no turnovers. Similar to Dayton, Georgia isn't going to disrupt the passing lanes, allowing the Hog guards the freedom to move the ball around at will. Getting into position for shots won't be the challenge: finishing them will.

When Georgia has the ball...

Georgia offense at a glance
Georgia offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Efficiency 1.02 (105th) 0.92 (79th) Push
Floor % 50.8% (52nd) 44.2% (80th) Push

The vast discrepancy between Georgia's offensive efficiency and floor percentage can be explained the by the fact that Georgia is an awful free-throw shooting team, so they get plenty of scoring possessions (helping floor percentage) but leave lots of points on the table (hurting offensive efficiency). Arkansas has focused on improving its defense over the past few games, and it's shown with the numbers boost.

Georgia shooting
Georgia offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Effective FG% 50.5% (102nd) 47.9% (143rd) Push
Two Point % 52.0% (45th) 47.7% (176th) Georgia big
Three Point % 31.2% (255th) 32.1% (119th) Arkansas big
Three Point Rate 29.9% (276th) 32.7% (127th) -

Georgia's ability to score down low is frightening. The Bulldogs are a really bad three-point shooting team and rarely try, but they can get down low, and they hit a pretty good percentage. The Hogs give up way too many easy buckets down low, and halfcourt defense has been an issue in road games under Mike Anderson. Michael Qualls said "it's going to be a war" in describing this game, and he's right. Arkansas absolutely must not give up easy baskets in close, because that is the focal point of Georgia's offense.

Georgia ballhandling
Georgia offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Assist % 54.8% (148th) 53.0% (155th) Push
Turnover % 18.5% (127th) 21.7% (60th) Arkansas
Assist : Turnover Ratio 1.03 (120th) 0.80 (75th) Push

Georgia is very average in all ballhandling categories. The Hogs do force quite a few turnovers, which need to happen in order to win.

Rebounding and fouls

Rebounding
Arkansas Georgia Advantage
Arkansas offensive 36.7% (24th) 74.5% (55th) Push
Arkansas defensive 74.1% (71st) 30.4% (133rd) Arkansas

You're not going to believe this, but Arkansas actually has a slight rebounding advantage. The Hogs have a slight advantage when chasing offensive rebounds, but not much. The best news for the Razorbacks is that the Hogs are better at defensive rebounding than Georgia is at offensive rebounding. Giving up offensive boards has been a serious issue in this system of play, and it's been much worse on the road. Georgia isn't great at creating second chances.

Fouls
Georgia Arkansas Advantage
Arkansas drawing 27.3% (179th) 26.1% (243rd) Georgia
Arkansas committing 32.6% (7th) 24.1% (41st) Push

Georgia commits quite a few fouls, but Arkansas draws almost none. On the other side, Georgia is one of the nation's elite teams in drawing fouls. It's an annoying style of play, but given college basketball officiating in the 21st century, it's smart. Like the hurry-up, no-huddle in football is used to take advantage of a rule loophole to prevent defenses from substituting, so the strategy of intentionally trying to use college basketball referees anxious to call dozens of fouls has shown itself to be successful. Arkansas doesn't commit too many fouls, though, so it's technically a push.

Keys to the game

1. Stop the easy buckets. Arkansas absolutely cannot give up too many easy buckets. Georgia thrives off halfcourt defenses that break down, leading to layups or fouls drawn. When forced to actually create their own shots, the Bulldogs are a poor shooting team and must rely on their defense to have a chance. Arkansas' best chance is to get the game to that point. Given that Georgia's defensive pressure on the ball is almost nil, and big man Nemanja Djurisic isn't too mobile, playing Portis along with Moses Kingsley to block shots inside and clean up rebounds is a feasible option

2. Someone needs an offensive breakout. With Georgia's tallest regular player standing 6-foot-8, Bobby Portis is the most logical candidate to have a good offensive day. A few three-pointers are needed, but it would be bonus if someone got hot from outside.

3. Win the turnover battle by a significant margin. Georgia hardly forces any turnovers and is average at giving it away. Arkansas rarely turns it over and forces a bunch. The Hogs probably need to go at least +8 in turnover margin if not more. If each team gets the same number of halfcourt opportunities, Georgia will win, probably handily. Each extra scoring chance created (through net turnovers) gives Arkansas a chance.

Overall, I don't really like this matchup for the Hogs. I'd love to see this team prove me wrong, but the numbers are unfavorable and Georgia really is a good team, especially in Athens. Looking at the schedule, I see five SEC road games more feasible than this one, three of them by significant margins (Mississippi State, Missouri, and Auburn). If the Hogs do pull this one out, the Hogs' hopes to make the Dance go up in a big way.