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Arkansas vs. Kentucky Preview and Texas A&M Recap: Free Shot

The Hogs get a free shot at the historically-good Wildcats in Lexington.

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, we got to see the good and the bad of 40 Minutes of Hell.

The good was simple: the Hogs roared out to a big halftime lead over a very good Texas A&M team. The bad was also obvious: the Hogs couldn't slam the door until the game got too close for comfort. The 40 Minutes of Hell system, like any press and run style, is built on intensity. It's hard to muster intensity when you've got a huge lead like that. Basically. if halftime was just a regular 60-second timeout, the Hogs would have won by 40, but the 15-minute halftime killed the intensity. Arkansas continued to play fast: Texas A&M had 37 second-half possessions, while the NCAA average for possessions in a half is 33. At the rate the Aggies were scoring, that amounted to 4.4 extra points. By continuing to trap, the Aggies got some extra three-point looks. With the intensity down, the Hogs didn't force as many turnovers, allowing the Aggies a chance to actually run their halfcourt offense and thus get more offensive rebounds. There you have a recipe for a comeback.

But, as great SMU coach Larry Brown said after his team's failed comeback at Bud Walton in 2013, coming back from a big deficit is easy. Finishing the comeback by actually winning is hard. This wisdom rang true again.

Arkansas Texas A&M
Points 81 75
Efficiency 1.19 1.07
Floor % 54.41% 51.47%
Effective FG % 59.65% 50.00%
Two FG % 57.58% 42.22%
Three FG % 41.67% 56.25%
Offensive Rebound % 35.71% 62.86%
Turnover % 14.29% 30.88%
Assists : Turnovers 2.10 0.52

Despite rebounding a staggering 62.9 percent of their missed shots, the Aggies partially lost this game in the low post. They had 12 shots blocked, leading to 42.2 percent from 2. The forwards played scared throughout the game, as Arkansas' secondary defense (remember when I discussed it in the preview?) overwhelmed them.

Arkansas possession efficiency score
BALLHANDLERS Points Off. Rebs Steals FG Attempts FT Attempts Turnovers Score
Rashad Madden 11 3 3 9 2 2 1.42
Anton Beard 8 1 1 7 0 0 1.43
SHOOTERS Points Off. Rebs Steals FG Attempts FT Attempts Turnovers Score
Michael Qualls 6 2 0 7 9 2 0.59
Anthlon Bell 14 0 1 8 2 0 1.67
Manuale Watkins 0 0 2 0 0 1 2.00
FORWARDS Points Off. Rebs Steals FG Attempts FT Attempts Turnovers Score
Bobby Portis 22 2 1 13 3 1 1.61
Alandise Harris 11 1 2 5 3 2 1.65
Jacorey Williams 4 0 0 4 2 2 0.57
Moses Kingsley 2 0 1 1 0 0 3.00

Qualls had another one of his mysterious bad games, but the other four starters played extremely well. Bell needs to get hot in Lexington, but it was nice to see him with a good game.

Kentucky Preview

Record RPI vs. top 50 vs. top 100
Arkansas 23-5 19th 6-2 9-5
Kentucky 28-0 1st 10-0 15-0

This is what we call a "free shot." There is no penalty whatsoever for losing - even for getting blown out - and Arkansas will not drop a seed with a loss. Expect Kentucky to be really focused, since losing three straight to a team usually serves a good wakeup call. When Kentucky is really focused, they're pretty much unbeatable. They were not focused for games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M where they were taken to overtime, but they've generally been dominant since those two.

Name Position Height Points Rebounds Assists FG % 3FG %
Aaron Harrison* G 6-6 11.2 2.3 1.5 0.385 0.302
Devin Booker* G 6-6 11.1 1.9 1.3 0.491 0.453
Karl-Anthony Towns* F 6-11 9.3 6.6 1.1 0.553 -
Willie Cauley-Stein* F 7-0 9.1 6.4 - 0.607 -
Andrew Harrison* G 6-6 8.4 2.1 4.1 0.360 0.359
Trey Lyles F 6-10 7.9 5.1 1.3 0.497 -
Dakari Johnson F 7-0 7.3 5.4 - 0.520 -
Tyler Ulis G 5-9 5.3 1.6 3.7 0.414 0.429
Marcus Lee F 6-9 2.8 3.1 - 0.643 -

I need to see a team picture with these nine guys. Ulis is probably the easiest to recognize, given that the's a full nine inches shorter than the next shortest players. Overall, though, five guys are 6-foot-9 or higher, three are 6-foot-6, and then there's Ulis. That's crazy height. Foul trouble doesn't affect Kentucky, as they can sub big men like crazy. Wearing them out is nearly impossible as well, since they play fewer minutes than even Arkansas' guys.

Arkansas offensive overview
Arkansas offense Kentucky defense Advantage
Efficiency 1.09 (30th) 0.79 (1st) Push
Floor % 51.9% (21st) 38.5% (1st) Push

Defense is Kentucky's forte, and its defense is rapidly approaching the all-time greats. This is the basketball version of the 2011 Alabama defense.

Arkansas shooting
Arkansas offense Kentucky defense Advantage
Effective Field Goal % 51.0% (90th) 38.7% (1st) Kentucky
Two Point % 49.4% (107th) 37.6% (1st) Kentucky
Three Point % 36.3% (87th) 27.3% (2nd) Kentucky
Three Point Rate 31.2% (255th) 31.7% (98th) -

The Hogs actually will get a few open looks from beyond the arc, and with patience, Portis should find some looks down low. They won't be easy looks, but they'll be shots Portis can hit. Arkansas is very good at avoiding having shots blocked, and that will be kind of important here.

Arkansas ballhandling
Arkansas offense Kentucky defense Advantage
Assist % 61.0% (31st) 39.7% (2nd) Push
Turnover % 16.0% (33rd) 21.9% (22nd) Push
Assist : Turnover Ratio 1.46 (8th) 0.51 (1st) Push

Teams generally have success against Kentucky through isolations, where guards or ballhandling big men take a Wildcat one-on-one with everyone else cleared out. This explains why Kentucky's defensive assist rate is so low; teams rarely get assists against them. It was through this strategy that Ole Miss' Stefan Moody wreaked havoc on the Kentucky defense. The good news for Arkansas is that both Qualls and Madden are capable of doing this (and tall enough to not get easily swatted). Kentucky also forces a lot of turnovers in the halfcourt because teams are unsure of what to do so they through it away. Arkansas doesn't stand a chance if it turns the ball over.

Kentucky offensive overview
Kentucky offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Efficiency 1.12 (10th) 0.95 (82nd) Kentucky
Floor % 54.8% (6th) 45.4% (84th) Kentucky

Kentucky isn't a great shooting team, but they have pretty good ballhandlers and their offensive rebounding is crazy good, giving them a very efficient offense. In fact, they've been the SEC's most efficient offense in conference play after a shaky non-conference run offensively.

Kentucky shooting
Kentucky offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Effective Field Goal % 52.1% (65th) 48.3% (140th) Kentucky
Two Point % 52.2% (37th) 46.6% (125th) Kentucky
Three Point % 34.5% (156th) 34.6% (204th) Push
Three Point Rate 29.3% (287th) 31.8% (100th) -

Booker is their only reliable three-point shooter (although Aaron Harrison is money when they really need a shot; see 2014 NCAA Tournament). The Harrison twins and Booker can pull up, and they rely on their big men, specifically the freshman Towns, to take most two-pointers.

Kentucky ballhandling
Kentucky offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Assist % 58.8% (57th) 51.0% (110th) Kentucky
Turnover % 16.7% (51st) 22.7% (14th) Push
Assist : Turnover Ratio 1.38 (17th) 0.74 (17th) Push

Arkansas has to win defensively by forcing turnovers. It can be done; Kentucky's turnover rate is so low partially because most SEC teams do not press or press well. The Hogs have to create some extra scoring chances.

Arkansas Kentucky Advantage
Arkansas offensive 34.1% (36th) 71.1% (167th) Arkansas big
Arkansas defensive 69.7% (234th) 40.7% (2nd) Kentucky big

You may not believe this, but Kentucky isn't actually a great defensive rebounding team. The Hogs should actually be able to rebound a decent amount of missed shots. Of course, Kentucky has a huge advantage on its misses, and that could create a problem for the Hogs.

Arkansas Kentucky Advantage
Arkansas drawing 26.3% (243rd) 25.7% (98th) Kentucky big
Arkansas committing 25.4% (74th) 30.1% (32nd) Push

Foul situation benefits Kentucky, but the game is Lexington so you didn't need stats to tell you that. Arkansas won in Lexington last year largely by making all 16 free throws, and similar production may be required this year.

Keys to the Game

  1. Someone has to get unconscious from three. Either Beard or Bell needs to have a crazy game. Portis should get a little bit of production down low, but Kentucky will be zeroing in on him and he'll desperately need help. Arkansas isn't going to win without a barrage of triples.
  2. Madden. Ky can carve his name into the list of the all-time Razorback greats with a heroic effort in this game. Pretty much everything he does will be important. He can't turn it over, he has to be active in the press and force some turnovers, he needs to play a role in collecting long rebounds (offensive or defensive), he needs to hit some threes, and, perhaps most importantly, he needs to create shots and draw fouls off the dribble. As I said above, Kentucky has been somewhat vulnerable to this in previous games, and Madden is the most likely guy to make this happen.
  3. Force turnovers. Kentucky will win easily if it gets shots or free throws on above 80 percent of its possessions. Arkansas has to make the Kentucky offense uncomfortable through turnovers.
  4. Rebound at least decently. Yes, four keys, because it's the Kentucky game. Arkansas cannot let Kentucky do on the glass what Texas A&M did. Yes, Kentucky will get away with a ludicrous number of over-the-backs, so just prepare yourself for that accordingly. The Hogs can make Rupp Arena uncomfortable by winning on the offensive glass.