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Arkansas/South Carolina Recap & Mississippi State Preview: Into the Weeds

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The Hogs finally got an easy win to get to 6-3 in conference play over the first half of the slate. Duplicate that in the second half and a bid to the Dance awaits.

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Even as Arkansas missed eight straight shots to fall behind 16-10 early, any viewer could tell that the Hogs had the advantage. Bobby Portis was significantly faster than Carolina's two big Lithuanian forwards, and the Gamecock guards had major issues with ballhandling.

True to form, the shots finally started falling and South Carolina was helpless. Here are the final stats:

Arkansas Carolina
Score 75 55
Offensive Efficiency 1.00 0.72
Floor % 50.67% 38.16%
Effective Field Goal % 40.85% 31.97%
Two Point % 44.83% 32.43%
Three Point % 15.38% 20.83%
Offensive Rebound % 45.45% 38.64%
Turnover % 10.67% 26.32%
Assists : Turnovers 1.75 0.55

The Gamecocks' dismal 0.55 assist-to-turnover ratio highlights their ballhandling struggles. The Hogs had five turnovers at the 10:00 mark of the first half. Nearly 22 minutes later, just before the 8:00 timeout of the second half, the Hogs still had five turnovers. To go half the game without turning the basketball over once is just astounding.

The only concern was the three-point shooting, with only two made. The Hogs have struggled to hit the deep ball for a while now. I'm not as worried about this game because Arkansas had superior athleticism and was able to get to the rim with ease, making three-pointers unnecessary.

On the flip side, after being torched from beyond the arc for the first 7 conference games, Arkansas' last two opponents have combined to shoot 9 of 42 (21.4 percent) from downtown. Granted, Florida and South Carolina aren't great shooting teams to begin with, but the improvement is impressive.

BALLHANDLERS Points Offensive Rebounds Steals Field Goals Attempted Free Throws Attempted Turnovers Efficiency
Rashad Madden 9 0 0 5 2 2 1.13
Jabril Durham 0 0 0 2 0 0 0.00
Anton Beard 7 2 0 8 3 2 0.78
SHOOTERS Points Offensive Rebounds Steals Field Goals Attempted Free Throws Attempted Turnovers Efficiency
Michael Qualls 11 5 1 14 6 3 0.85
Anthlon Bell 6 0 0 6 2 1 0.75
Manuale Watkins 4 2 1 3 0 0 2.33
Nick Babb 0 0 0 2 0 0 0.00
FORWARDS Points Offensive Rebounds Steals Field Goals Attempted Free Throws Attempted Turnovers Efficiency
Bobby Portis 18 3 2 13 4 0 1.53
Jacorey Williams 7 2 0 5 2 0 1.50
Alandise Harris 7 1 1 6 2 1 1.13
Moses Kingsley 6 0 0 7 1 0 0.80
Formula: Efficiency = (Points + Offensive Rebounds + Steals) / (Field Goals Attempted + 1/2 Free Throws Attempted + Turnovers)

Portis was a monster again, and this time he got help from the entire frontcourt, as Williams, Harris, and Kingsley turned in efficient games as well. This, of course, speaks to Arkansas' overwhelming talent and athletic advantage against the Gamecocks, who were not really build to handle a player like Portis.

In the backcourt, Madden was his usual under-the-radar self. Beard always seems to play well in important moments, helping start the 18-3 run gave the Hogs a big lead late in the first half. Qualls came off the bench and struggled but, to his credit, was relentless and finally started hitting the statsheet, scoring all 11 of his points in the second half. Bell continued to struggle. His shot isn't falling, and he's justifiably losing minutes to Beard.

Rick Ray sold his soul to the devil

Record RPI vs. top 50 vs. top 100
Arkansas 17-5 23rd 3-2 6-5
Miss State 11-11 159th 1-3 2-6

Rick Ray's first three seasons in Starkville have been forgettable, finishing at or near the bottom of the conference each season. He made the mistake of trying to actually run set plays and other crazy stuff that SEC teams don't do anymore, and without the right talent, it didn't work. So he changed things.

State nearly upset Texas A&M in College Station on January 13 and is 4-2 in conference since that game, including wins at Auburn and Tennessee and against LSU. It's a far cry from the team that suffered non-conference losses to Arkansas State, McNeese State, USC Upstate, and Tulane. How?

Ray, like many SEC coaches over the last few seasons, realize that SEC referees are well-meaning but generally incompetent folks that will buy whatever you're selling when it comes to calling fouls. So State's new offense consists of guards driving into the lane and flailing at the basket. The are next-to-last in the NCAA in assists. They don't pass the ball around. They just drive into the lane, draw contact, and throw up junk. After averaging under 20 free throw attempts per game in non-conference play, the Bulldogs have attempted over 32 free throws per game in their last three victories.

Now the shooting is coming along as well. Mississippi State was 19 of 34 from the floor against Tennessee - yes, just 34 field goals due to all the free throws (and turnovers) - for a cool 56 percent. They were 8 of 11 (77.7 percent) from beyond the arc (!!!). And they shot 35 free throws, drawing 24 Tennessee fouls. It's ugly, ugly basketball.

Name Position Height Points Rebounds Assists FG % 3FG %
Fred Thomas* G 6-6 10.6 4.0 - 0.374 0.351
Roquez Johnson* F 6-7 10.4 5.7 - 0.539 -
Gavin Ware* F 6-9 9.6 7.4 - 0.496 -
I.J. Ready* G 5-11 8.7 1.9 2.2 0.421 0.313
Craig Sword* G 6-3 8.4 2.2 1.4 0.404 0.385
Travis Daniels G/F 6-8 6.5 4.3 - 0.405 -
Tivante Bloodman G 6-0 4.5 1.1 2.3 0.435 -
Demetrius Houston F 6-7 2.3 2.5 - 0.229 -
Oliver Black F 6-9 2.0 2.5 - 0.552 -

Sword has been the catalyst for the recent offensive outburst, scoring 26 against Tennessee and averaging over 12 per game in conference play so far. He's a below-average jump shooter but gets to the line, which is what Miss State is banking on. A game that isn't a foul-fest forces State to take care of the basketball and hit contested shots, something they do not do well.

Arkansas offensive overview
Arkansas offense Miss State defense Advantage
Efficiency 1.09 (27th) 0.96 (115th) Arkansas
Floor % 52.5% (18th) 45.8% (108th) Arkansas

State's defense is better than its offense, but neither unit is really that good. The Hogs' efficiency has lagged in conference play.

Arkansas shooting
Arkansas offense Miss State defense Advantage
Effective Field Goal % 50.7% (95th) 48.0% (136th) Push
Two Point % 49.4% (107th) 46.9% (150th) Push
Three Point % 35.7% (103rd) 33.3% (147th) Push
Three Point Rate 30.1% (276th) 37.2% (271st) -

Similar to South Carolina, the Bulldogs' field goal defense is pretty good. Arkansas' athletic advantage should ensure plenty of open shots, but don't be surprised if they don't fall left and right. Arkansas' three-point shooting fell another 18 spots after going 2 of 13 against South Carolina.

Arkansas ballhandling
Arkansas offense Miss State defense Advantage
Assist % 59.9% (47th) 52.5% (160th) Arkansas
Turnover % 16.4% (38th) 18.9% (175th) Arkansas big
Assist : Turnover Ratio 1.41 (11th) 0.94 (157th) Arkansas big

Unlike the Gamecocks, Mississippi State doesn't force many turnovers. Arkansas had just five turnovers while the game was still in reach, and probably won't be forced into many against the Bulldogs.

Miss State offensive preview
Miss State offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Efficiency 0.96 (233rd) 0.96 (104th) Arkansas big
Floor % 47.2% (167th) 45.7% (103rd) Arkansas

The massive difference between floor percentage and efficiency for State is due to the recent uptick in free throws. State has a ton of scoring possessions due to free throws, but they are a poor three-point shooting team, so their actual points per possession isn't as high.

Miss State shooting
Miss State offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Effective Field Goal % 47.9% (220th) 48.9% (177th) Push
Two Point % 47.5% (186th) 47.6% (165th) Push
Three Point % 32.7% (226th) 34.4% (202nd) Push
Three Point Rate 29.3% (292nd) 32.8% (140th) -

State isn't a good three-point shooting team and doesn't try much, although they were 8 of 11 against Tennessee, the worst three-point defense in the SEC. If Sword does happen to be hot, putting a hand in his face is advisable.

Miss State ballhandling
Miss State offense Arkansas defense Advantage
Assist % 41.1% (350th) 51.5% (128th) Arkansas big
Turnover % 22.6% (331st) 21.8% (33rd) Arkansas big
Assist : Turnover Ratio 0.60 (341st) 0.79 (39th) Arkansas +300

I've been waiting to use "Arkansas +300" all season. Here it is. Mississippi State's ballhandling is, um, staggering. Again, State doesn't really do assists, given that the offense consists of driving into the lane and throwing up junk. Turnover numbers are crazy, worse than South Carolina's. Mississippi State might be looking at a record-low assist-to-turnover ratio. The Bulldogs have successfully mitigated this with other means, but if they turn it over 25+ times there may be no overcoming that.

Rebounding
Arkansas Miss State Advantage
Arkansas offensive 36.3% (16th) 71.2% (163rd) Arkansas big
Arkansas defensive 71.3% (156th) 34.5% (35th) Miss State big

Both teams are excellent at offensive rebounding. The Hogs need to back that up against a smaller Bulldog lineup.

Fouls
Arkansas Miss State Advantage
Arkansas drawing 26.0% (262nd) 28.8% (248th) Push
Arkansas committing 25.1% (62nd) 28.8% (83rd) Push

Arkansas doesn't foul all that often. Miss State is performing at a higher level than 83rd in fouls drawn right now. This could end up being key if State wants a chance.

Keys to the Game

  1. Don't play their game. State's best chance is an ugly foul-fest. Don't get sucked in. The Bud Walton crowd still hostile over the Florida game will angrily react to every call. Arkansas has to avoid embracing the sloppiness by fouling 45 feet from the basket and giving sloppy help defense that consists of unnecessary shoves and over-the-backs.
  2. Cover the shooters. Sword and Thomas are the only jump-shooting threats, and even they are very up and down. Don't let them get hot.
  3. Win turnovers. Arkansas should win turnovers by a massive margin, like Florida free throws to Arkansas free throws kind of margin (that's 25 to 7, in case you forgot). State struggles with ballhandling and doesn't force many turnovers.