As a disappointing football season winds down, all eyes on the Razorback basketball team after a hot start. The Hogs dispatched with ease a pair of mid-majors picked to finish near the top of their conference.
This team looks fun and aggressive, and more importantly, it looks like it could compete for the top of the SEC.
Two games may be too early to draw conclusions, but it isn’t too early to look at some stats.
Arkansas Razorbacks 2017-2018 Team Stats
|Free Throw %||76.6%||54.5%|
|EFFECTIVE POSSESSION RATIO||0.99||0.93|
|Offensive Rebound %||38.3%||34.2%|
|POINTS PER POSSESSION||1.26||0.90|
Recall that we’re looking to calculate one critical stat (points per possession) by following this understanding of how basketball works:
Possessions → Scoring Opportunities → Points
The stat that measures how well possessions are converted into scoring opportunities is called Effective Possession Ratio (EPR), and the stat that measures how scoring opportunities are converted into points is called True Shooting (TS). Here’s the formula for EPR:
EPR = (Possessions + Offensive Rebounds) / (Possessions + Turnovers)
Offensive rebounds basically create a new possession by eliminating a failed one, and turnovers cost you a possession by ending it without a shot opportunity.
Once we know scoring opportunities, we can calculate points:
TS = Points / Scoring Opportunities
Pretty simple, right? Thus our most important stat, Points per Possession (PPP), is calculated like this:
PPP = EPR x TS
Looking back at the chart, we see that Arkansas is winning in every single statistical category. Some, like 3-point shooting and offensive rebounding rate, are close, while others, like 2-point shooting and turnover rate, are not.
Right now, the Hogs are winning the games by dominating near the basket and forcing turnovers. Those are pretty much the hallmarks of an aggressive, attacking basketball team. Watching this team fly at the rim with reckless abandon has been a lot of fun so far. I’m anxious to see if they can keep it up against more athletic opponents.
Arkansas Razorbacks 2017-2018 Player Stats
A few observations about these numbers. First, the emergence of Adrio Bailey at the 4 has been very impactful, especially with Dustin Thomas and Arlando Cook out for now. I mentioned Bailey as the guy I wanted to step up this season in our Razorback Roundtable last week:
For the benefit of the team, I'm hopeful it's Adrio Bailey. A dynamic 4 really changes the game for this team.
Right now, Bailey leads the team in steals per 40 minutes and is second in blocks per 40 minutes. He’s also been an effective shooter, posting a TS of 1.57, which the equivalent of shooting about 77% from the floor (if all shots are 2s).
Trey Thompson continues to be ultra-efficient but hesitant to shoot. He shot 63% from the floor last year and ranked near the top of the team in steals per 40, blocks per 40, and assists per 40. Right now, his defense has been less impressive, but he’s been even better on offense, leading the team in TS and EPR, giving him an unsustainably-high 2.7 points per possession. The reason that number is so high is that his 5 offensive rebounds have “eliminated” all of his turnovers and missed shots plus one of his makes, meaning that he’s effectively scored 10 points on about 4 possessions. A larger sample size will even things out, but that’s impressive.
If Bailey and Darious Hall are the defensive stars, then Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon, and Daniel Gafford are the offensive studs. They’re shooting at incredibly-high levels, and Gafford has added enough offensive rebounds to boost his PPP to 1.9.
Keys for the rest of the season
- Gafford needs to stay out of foul trouble. This was a known concern with him, but he’s fouled out of both games despite averaging just 17 minutes a contest. That’s a foul every 3 minutes he’s out there. Oklahoma and North Carolina will go right after him if he hasn’t correcting his fouling problems by then.
- Three-point defense needs to improve. Bucknell hit 11 treys and shot 40% from beyond the arc and still lost by 28, so I’m not sure what the level of concern should be. Keep in mind that Arkansas’ scheme calls for aggression near the rim and pressure in the open court, so there’s a natural gap for teams looking to pull up from 3. Arkansas will never have an elite 3-point defense, but not being terrible should be a goal going forward.
- Maintain the aggression. For the last two seasons (2016 and 2017), Arkansas’ trademark pressure defense has been less successful. The Hogs were only 185th in the country in forcing turnovers last year. The fall has coincided with improvements in halfcourt offense and defense, but don’t look for Mike Anderson to abandon 40 Minutes of Hell just yet. This roster is better-built for pressure, and the Hogs are turning opponents over at a rate of 25%. Anything above 20% is decent, and about 22% is a good target for the full year. Athletic teams will occasionally beat the press, but I tend to think Arkansas needs to keep pressing.