Welcome basketball season!
The young Hogs have a lot of potential and could be one of the best teams in the SEC if a lineup heavy on junior college transfers comes together in time. Hog fans certainly hope the Razorbacks have improved since an ugly 85-71 loss at Minnesota last month.
The next opponent is Texas. Former VCU coach Shaka Smart is in his second season in Austin, and his “Havoc” system is partially based on Nolan’s “40 Minutes of Hell.” Havoc hasn’t quite taken hold in Austin yet, and ‘Horns are just 5-4 this season, with losses to UT-Arlington (a team Arkansas beat) and lopsided affairs against Colorado and Northwestern.
Texas is going to test Arkansas’ ability to score points away from home. The ‘Horns have a decent defense and run a solid press. Still, Texas has major offensive issues that will likely prevent it from taking advantage of Arkansas’ own defensive weaknesses.
Meet the stats
Basketball is a much simpler game than football, so advanced stats like S&P+ or EV don’t exist, and the ones that do exist (like PER) are less useful for predicting the total result of the game. However, there are still some stats worth keeping up with:
- Efficiency: the number of points the offense scores per possession. The average college basketball game has about 70 possessions, so scoring 70 points gives you 1.0 points per possession.
- Floor %: percentage of possessions in which the offense scores at all. It doesn’t matter how they score or how many points, it just matters that they score. Teams with the higher floor percentage almost always win.
- Effective Field Goal %: field goal percentage, but calculated with each made three-pointer worth 1.5 in order to account for the increased value of a made shot beyond the arc.
- Effective Possession Ratio: Ratio of possessions in which the offense gets a shot off or gets to the free throw line, compared to the opponent. Offensive rebounds effectively create a new possession; turnovers cost you a possession. I’m not using it in this preview, but I’ll use it at some point.
I love using EFG% and EPR in tandem: one calculates how well you create shooting opportunities and the other calculates how efficient you are with those opportunities. They work better for recaps than previews, though.
Arkansas’ 3 biggest advantages
- Arkansas allowing steals (22nd) vs. Texas stealing the ball (255th)
- Arkansas offensive rebounding (9th) vs. Texas defensive rebounding (221st)
- Arkansas’ defensive assist to turnover ratio (54th) vs. Texas’ offensive assist to turnover ratio (223rd)
Texas’ 3 biggest advantages
- Texas’ defense committing fouls (22nd) vs. Arkansas’ offense drawing fouls (226th)
- Texas’ offense drawing fouls (98th) vs. Arkansas’ defense committing fouls (186th)
- Texas effective field goal defense (57th) vs. Arkansas effective field goals (73rd)
As expected from a Mike Anderson-coached team, Arkansas has significant ballhandling advantages and an ability to control the offensive glass. Texas has an advantage in fouls and has a pretty good shooting defense.
When the Hogs have the rock
The chart can be divided into four parts: overall, shooting, ballhandling, and rebounding. Fouls are thrown in under ballhandling but don’t really belong in that category.
Texas owns a slight advantage in shooting, but Arkansas (theoretically) more than cancels that out with a major rebounding advantage and a slight ballhandling advantage, giving the Hogs the overall nod.
If this chart holds, Arkansas won’t shoot that well, but should be able to dominate on the offensive boards and keep from turning it over, this giving the Hogs a bunch of chances to score.
When the ‘Horns have the rock
Arkansas’ defense has two severe weaknesses: three point defense and rebounding. Texas is atrocious at both, likely rendering them unable to take advantage.
The ‘Horns look likely to shoot poorly, especially from beyond the arc, turn it over a decent amount, and battle to a stalemate on the offensive boards.
Offensively, Texas’ best chance is to get inside and draw some fouls. I don’t really see any other workable strategy.
Texas has a very young team, with several freshmen and transfers in key roles. The primary reason for the Longhorns’ weak offense is evident: the good shooters (forward Jarrett Allen and combo guard Tevin Mack) are bad ballhandlers, and the good ballhandlers (guards Kermit Roach and Eric Davis) are bad shooters. The interior is also light on depth, which has hurt Texas on the boards.
Keys to the game
- Keep the pressure on Texas. Texas is a young team that doesn’t really do anything well on offense. The Hogs need to make the ‘Horns earn every point. That means staying away from cheap fouls and doing at least a mediocre job of clearing the defensive boards, along with forcing a few turnovers through traps and presses. The opportunities will certainly be there.
- Take care of the ball. Texas doesn’t force many turnovers, so Arkansas can’t give them any gifts. The Hogs turned it over 21 times against Minnesota (minus-7 margin) in their lone loss.
- Crash the offensive glass. Statistically, offensive rebounding is one of Arkansas’ biggest advantages. Texas has a lack of depth inside and their best rebounder is a freshman. Arkansas rarely shoots well away from home, so getting extra scoring chances is going be key.