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Arkansas vs Tennessee Basketball Preview, Plus Florida Notes

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The basketball Hogs will have to go on the road to win their first SEC game

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

I guess the good news about Thursday’s 81-72 loss to Florida is that it was overshadowed by the epic collapse of the football team.

Still, the Hogs (11-2, 0-1 SEC) went down on their home floor against 25th-ranked Florida (10-3, 1-0 SEC). That the Gators are probably the second-best team in the SEC and a top-5 RPI program is little consolation to a fan base wanting to jump back on the bandwagon but understandably gun-shy.

All I can say is that it is not yet time to panic, as there are still plenty of chances for this team to establish itself. That starts Tuesday night against Tennessee in Knoxville. Before we preview that, let’s take a quick look at the Florida game.

Florida recap

As we saw in the preview, the game pitted two pretty evenly-matched teams. In the end, Florida was slightly better at everything.

If you need a refresher, here are the advanced stats we’re using:

  • Efficiency. The number of points per possession.
  • Floor %. The percentage of possessions in which the offense comes away with at least one point.
  • Effective Field Goal %. Field goal percentage with made 3-pointers counting as 1.5 to account for their higher actual value. It allows you compare shooting percentages by standardizing the value for a made shot.
  • Effective Possession Ratio (EPR). Measures the ability of a team to actually create shot opportunities with its possessions. Offensive rebounds are good, and turnovers are bad.
  • Game Score. A very crude stat to compare individual players, created by multiplying each player’s EFG% and EPR.

As has been a problem under Mike Anderson, the Hogs got pounded inside. Florida’s big men had their way, while Kingsley, Cook, and Thomas were highly ineffective. Compare the top three big men of both teams:

  • Florida: Hayes (1.10), Leon (0.68), and Egbunu (0.52) = 2.3 score
  • Arkansas: Kingsley (0.37), Cook (0.35), and Thomas (0.17) = 0.9 score

Macon played an incredible game and it’s a shame he didn’t get even more chances to score. Beard and Watkins were also very efficient. Hannahs had a down game but wasn’t awful. Overall, Arkansas’ guards are solid.

Kingsley’s regression is the real concern. As you can see, not only is he not performing on the offensive end, but he’s allowing the bigs he’s matched up against to play well. And of course, Arkansas cannot find a 4 to save its life. Both Thomas and Cook have had their moments, but both have vanished in Arkansas’ two biggest games. Did we ever think we’d miss Alandise Harris this much?

Tennessee preview

Tennessee (8-5, 1-0 SEC) is very similar to Florida, but slightly worse at everything. The Vols have also played a tough schedule: a loss to Chattanooga to open the season was bad, but the other losses are against Gonzaga, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Winning in Knoxville, as we know, is not easy.

Scouting report

The Vols are not very big and get limited production from their big men. They are better on defense than offense, so expect another low-scoring, physical affair. Those kinds of games generally don’t benefit Arkansas on the road. Still, Tennessee is a poor shooting team and can be overcome by size.

Arkansas’ 3 biggest advantages

  1. Arkansas offensive rebounding (24th) vs. Tennessee defensive rebounding (242nd)
  2. Arkansas three-point defense (104th) vs. Tennessee three-point shooting (251st)
  3. Arkanas effective field goal defense (68th) vs. Tennessee effective field goal shooting (203rd)

Tennessee’s 3 biggest advantages

  1. Tennessee offensive rebounding (44th) vs. Arkansas defensive rebounding (195th)
  2. Tennessee drawing fouls (108th) vs. Arkansas committing fouls (185th)
  3. Tennessee two-point defense (73rd) vs. Arkansas two-point shooting (142nd)

If these look familiar, five of the six are the exact same as the Florida game, but Arkansas is slightly better at each against Tennessee than they were against Florida.

When the Hogs have the rock

Defense is the strength of Rick Barnes’ team. They’re good at interior defense (despite a lack of size) and decent at forcing turnovers. Their three-point defense and rebounding are bad. Arkansas should take advantage of the rebounding, and can take advantage of the three-point shooting if Hannahs, Macon, or Beard can get going.

This could be a good game for C.J. Jones — Arkansas’ most efficient shooter — to get some minutes. He could give the offense a boost, and with Tennessee’s own problems on offense, he wouldn’t be that much of a liability on defense.

When the Vols have the rock

Tennessee is a poor shooting team, especially from beyond the arc. They are average at avoiding turnovers. Their two saving graces are offensive rebounding and drawing fouls, both of which they are decent at.

Arkansas needs to force some turnovers, and cannot get worked over inside, like in the Florida game.

Starting lineups

Here’s one place Tennessee and Florida aren’t similar: while Florida’s first six guys include three really good shooters and three really bad shooters, Tennessee is much more balanced, with no major strengths, but no major weaknesses either. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Tennessee doesn’t get too much production out of its front line, relying on Robert Hubbs, Detrick Mostella, Lamonte’ Turner, Shembari Phillips, and Jordan Bowden for almost all of its scoring. The lack of size at the 4 could help out an Arkansas front that was manhandled by Florida’s tough big men.

Key to the game

Interior defense. After the Florida game, this becomes top of mind. Tennessee isn’t going to win this game with shooting or turnovers, so scoring close the basket (and drawing fouls and grabbing offensive boards in the process) is the Vols’ best bet. If Arkansas can keep Tennessee from getting easy shots, getting to the line too often, and dominating the offensive glass, the Hogs should take this one, even on the road.