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Arkansas vs Florida Preview: Starting Out Right

There’s a lot on the line as Arkansas and Florida open SEC play.

NCAA Basketball: Sam Houston State at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

After four consecutive years of opening SEC play on the road, the Hogs finally caught a break from the SEC office in Birmingham.

The Hogs (11-1, NR AP, #18 RPI) open conference play with a challenge against Florida (9-3, #25 AP, #3 RPI) at Bud Walton Arena. The Gators have played a tough schedule, but lost their three biggest games (Duke, Florida State, Gonzaga). According to RPI, their best win (Seton Hall) is about equal to Arkansas’ best win (UT-Arlington).

A win in this game will all but guarantee big crowds for the next several SEC games as confidence in the program will be renewed. A loss will likely force Mike Anderson’s sixth team to continue searching for a breakthrough. A lot is on the line.

Scouting report

Arkansas’ 3 biggest advantages

  • Arkansas offensive rebounding (24th) vs. Florida defensive rebounding (214th)
  • Arkansas 3-point defense (101st) vs. Florida 3-point shooting (177th)
  • Arkansas effective field goal defense (64th) vs. Florida effective field goal shooting (118th)

Florida’s 3 biggest advantages

  • Florida offensive rebounding (27th) vs. Arkansas defensive rebounding (177th)
  • Florida drawing fouls (66th) vs. Arkansas committing fouls (184th)
  • Florida assists to turnovers defense (4th) vs. Arkansas assist to turnover ratio (45th)

I’ll be you didn’t expect to see “Arkansas advantages” and “shooting defense” in the same thought, did you? Well, the Hogs have exploded in the rankings thanks to three straight excellent performances to close out the non-conference schedule: Texas, North Dakota State, and Sam Houston State. No one has really bombed on the Hogs this year, and the Hogs have had their share of stingy performances.

Also, as you can see, offensive rebounding is the most significant advantage for both teams. Expect to see both squads crash the offensive glass.

When the Hogs have the rock

These two squads are nearly dead-even across the board. The Gators have a slight advantage in shooting and ballhandling, but Arkansas makes up for it with a massive rebounding edge. As long as Arkansas converts this on-paper advantage into actual offensive boards, there’s no reason the Hogs shouldn’t get points.

Turnovers are the other major factor. Arkansas turned it over 21 times in its only loss against Minnesota. Florida comes in among the nation’s elite at forcing turnovers. On their home floor, things should go better this time for the Hogs, but if they don’t, it could spell trouble.

When the Gators have the rock

It’s a similar story on the other side of the ball. Small Arkansas advantages in shooting and ballhandling are canceled out by Florida’s big rebounding edge. Florida also does a good job of getting to the line, so that could be a concern for the Hogs.

Starting lineups

Some extremes for Florida’s lineup. The Gators prefer a three-forward lineup, which gives them added length. They have two very efficient shooters (Robinson and Leon) and another one who’s pretty efficient (Allen, from North Little Rock). The other two starters plus the top guard off the bench are not efficient shooters at all.

I think the key for Arkansas is going to be denying Robinson easy shots. If he’s not shooting, Hill and Barry are. Hill is also the only really efficient ballhandler for Florida, so making sure the Gators have to keep moving the ball on the perimeter could pay off with some extra turnovers.

Key to the game

Rebounding and free throw shooting. These two go hand-in-hand. Arkansas creates a lot of free throw opportunities by crashing the offensive glass. Based on the numbers, I expect a somewhat sloppy, grinding game where the shooting and ballhandling are poor. In that case, the team that creates the most opportunities for itself will win.