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Arkansas/Miss State Recap and Auburn Preview: Don't Jinx It

The Hogs are back in the top 25, where they have struggled this season. With a road game against struggling Auburn looming, a loss would not be advisable

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

The Hogs finally broke the dam open last week, winning both SEC games by 20 points. With the defense playing well, the Hogs are only a reliable three-point shooter away from looking like a team capable of a tournament run.

Arkansas Miss State
Points 61 41
Efficiency 0.87 0.57
Floor % 41.43% 33.33%
Effective FG % 41.41% 31.11%
Two FG % 45.24% 40.00%
Three FG % 22.73% 0.00%
Offensive Rebound % 25.00% 29.03%
Turnover % 15.71% 33.33%
Assists : Turnovers 1.27 0.33

Mississippi State's gameplan to drive in the lane, throw up junk, and pray for a foul didn't work on the road, as it rarely does. State's lack of shooters (0 of 10 from beyond the arc) and ballhandlers (24 turnovers) doomed the Bulldogs from the beginning.

Arkansas possession efficiency score
BALLHANDLERS Points Off. Rebs Steals FG Attempts FT Attempts Turnovers Score
Rashad Madden 7 0 2 6 1 1 1.20
Anton Beard 5 1 4 9 2 0 1.00
Jabril Durham 0 0 2 2 0 2 0.50
SHOOTERS Points Off. Rebs Steals FG Attempts FT Attempts Turnovers Score
Michael Qualls 3 0 0 9 0 1 0.30
Anthlon Bell 12 1 1 9 0 1 1.40
Manuale Watkins 2 0 0 1 0 0 2.00
FORWARDS Points Off. Rebs Steals FG Attempts FT Attempts Turnovers Score
Bobby Portis 19 3 2 14 3 1 1.45
Alandise Harris 9 0 2 6 3 1 1.29
Jacorey Williams 2 0 0 4 0 0 0.50
Moses Kingsley 0 1 0 3 0 2 0.20

Welcome back, Anthlon Bell! The usually stone-cold shooter was 4 of 8 from beyond the arc for 12 points. Portis was dominant, and Madden and Harris chipped in some offense as well. Qualls continued to struggle, as did Williams. There are way too many scores below 1.1 on this chart (that's the baseline of a decent game), something that needs to improve.

Closing it out

By my count, Arkansas probably needs a 12-6 finish in SEC play to guarantee a quality seed in the NCAA Tournament. A record of 11-7 could be sufficient with no really bad losses, but 12-6 is Arkansas' best bet. Here are my guesses on how that should happen:

  • Must-wins: Missouri (home), Mississippi State (road), Texas A&M (home)
  • Win 2 of these: Auburn (road), South Carolina (road), Ole Miss (road), LSU (home)
  • Lose: Kentucky (road)

Texas A&M provides a necessary top 100 win, while Missouri and Mississippi State are too bad to lose to. I do not expect wins in Lexington or Oxford. I do expect wins over Auburn and LSU, meaning that the South Carolina road game is the difference between 12-6 and 13-5. If the Hogs do lose Tuesday at Auburn, then the South Carolina game takes on increased importance, making it nearly a must-win.

Previewing Auburn

Record RPI vs. top 50 vs. top 100
Arkansas 18-5 22nd 3-2 7-5
Auburn 11-12 141st 2-3 3-8

Auburn sprung a road upset of LSU, but it's the Plains Tigers' only road win. They've picked off Xavier on the Plains and Oregon State (RPI: 71st) out of conference, but close home wins over South Carolina and Missouri are their only other SEC wins.

Name Position Height Points Rebounds Assists FG % 3FG %
K.T. Harrell* G 6-4 17.5 3.0 1.4 0.463 0.451
Antoine Mason* G 6-1 15.2 2.6 1.3 0.425 0.372
Cinmeon Bowers* F 6-7 13.5 11.1 1.3 0.432 -
Tahj Shamsid-Deen* G 5-9 6.1 - 1.5 0.348 0.286
K.C. Ross-Miller G 6-1 5.6 1.9 2.1 0.336 0.217
Malcolm Canada G 6-3 5.4 2.7 2.3 0.370 -
Jordon Granger* F 6-8 4.8 3.3 - 0.488 -
Alex Thompson F 6-8 2.8 1.8 - 0.270 -

"They don't have much height" is a phrase often thrown around overused, but Auburn is one of teams the moniker can accurately be ascribed to. Really, outside of Bowers, Auburn has no quality big men. Granger and Thompson are not SEC quality forwards, the amount of time they have to play is indicative of what Bruce Pearl is working with.

Harrell and Mason will handle most of the scoring. Both are decent jump-shooters, but they're the only quality jump-shooters Auburn has. Bowers is a 278-pound behemoth in the low post. He can score and rebound, but he's not very mobile and is a very poor defender in the post without fouling. Teams have had a ton of success exploiting Auburn's defense by going straight to the rim. Portis should run circles around Bowers and the Hogs should rebound a high percentage of their misses.

Arkansas offensive overview
Arkansas offense Auburn defense Advantage
Efficiency 1.08 (33rd) 1.00 (190th) Arkansas big
Floor % 52.0% (23rd) 48.5% (228th) Arkansas big

Auburn's defense is pretty bad, especially in floor percentage (which is Arkansas' strength). They are the opposite of Tennessee, a team that gives up a ton of three-pointers, hurting efficiency more than floor percentage. Auburn just gives up a bunch of close-range shots and free throws.

Arkansas shooting
Arkansas offense Auburn defense Advantage
Effective Field Goal % 50.3% (118th) 50.7% (249th) Arkansas big
Two Point % 49.3% (113th) 52.3% (311th) Arkansas big
Three Point % 35.1% (124th) 31.7% (73rd) Auburn
Three Point Rate 30.3% (274th) 32.9% (138th) -

If Portis isn't licking his lips over that two-point defense of Auburn, he should be. Bowers' immobility and Auburn's lack of another quality forward means that getting open shots near the rim shouldn't be too much of a challenge. Auburn's guards are quick and can defend three-pointers. Arkansas has to avoid settling for long shots. Auburn's total lack of depth inside should be hurt by a fast pace and fouls.

Arkansas ballhandling
Arkansas offense Auburn defense Advantage
Assist % 59.8% (47th) 47.5% (38th) Push
Turnover % 16.3% (36th) 21.7% (31st) Push
Assist : Turnover Ratio 1.41 (11th) 0.76 (28th) Push

Turnover alert: Auburn forces them. This is the Tigers' primary strength. Arkansas got roasted in both Tennessee games and at Florida, but easily eluded South Carolina's press. Avoiding turnovers is a must.

Auburn offensive overview
Auburn offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Efficiency 0.97 (225th) 0.94 (72nd) Arkansas big
Floor % 46.5% (210th) 45.0% (76th) Arkansas big

Auburn is a poor offensive team. The Tigers get a decent amount of points because of their fast pace (shots by volume, similar to Arkansas) but are not very efficient. Arkansas' defense has climbed a staggering 180 spots (from 256th) since the Ole Miss debacle.

Auburn shooting
Auburn offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Effective Field Goal % 47.0% (252nd) 48.3% (146th) Arkansas
Two Point % 44.6% (288th) 47.3% (158th) Arkansas big
Three Point % 33.9% (180th) 33.6% (157th) Push
Three Point Rate 38.3% (72nd) 32.5% (126th) -

Arkansas' last three opponents are 9 of 52 from beyond the arc. The Tigers, especially Harrell, can hit from three, and that's much of what Auburn does. If the Tigers can't crack 35 percent it's hard to see them hanging around. Inside the arc, they don't shoot very well, the result of a lack of size (7.9 percent of their shots are blocked, 325th nationally).

Auburn ballhandling
Auburn offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Assist % 48.5% (266th) 51.6% (130th) Arkansas big
Turnover % 19.2% (190th) 22.2% (26th) Arkansas big
Assist : Turnover Ratio 0.79 (289th) 0.76 (29th) Arkansas big

Ballhandling isn't a strength for the Tigers either, although they are better than South Carolina and Mississippi State. Arkansas has forced turnovers like crazy lately, and that would be a good trend to continue Tuesday.

Arkansas Auburn Advantage
Arkansas offensive 35.3% (23rd) 66.7% (312th) Arkansas big
Arkansas defensive 71.6% (145th) 27.8% (209th) Arkansas

A total lack of size and mobile big men means that grabbing defensive rebounds isn't a strength. Arkansas rebounded 50 percent of its misses against Alabama and 40 percent against Missouri, allowing the Razorbacks to win both games despite shooting worse from the floor. Since that game, however, offensive rebounding has fallen off (and so has offensive production). If the Hogs can get back to 40 percent, Auburn may not be able to overcome it.

Arkansas Auburn Advantage
Arkansas drawing 25.9% (263rd) 29.7% (281st) Push
Arkansas committing 25.0% (61st) 30.6% (26th) Push

Auburn games tend to be foulfests, with the Tigers drawing a bunch of fouls and also fouling a ton. Arkansas is the opposite, preferring low-foul games. There's no way to predict how the referees will call this one, but expect Auburn to be the beneficiary of whatever happens.

Keys to the Game

  1. Crash the offensive glass. Arkansas hasn't rebounded well since the Missouri game, and it's shown with a dropoff in scoring. Auburn will play zone and doesn't have much height, so the opportunities will be there. A good goal is 40 percent of misses.
  2. Force turnovers. Auburn is susceptible to turning the basketball over. The Tigers launch a ton of three-pointers, so turnovers can be a way to disrupt rhythm. Arkansas had long stretches earlier in conference play where it didn't force any turnovers. That can't continue on Tuesday, because Auburn has a chance if they can get a bunch of shots up.
  3. Don't turn it over. The other side of the coin is not falling victim to Auburn's press. The only thing the Tiger defense does well is force turnovers. If Arkansas takes care of the basketball, this should be an easy win.