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Arkansas vs. Houston Scouting Report

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A closer look at the numbers inside an important early-season matchup

Duke University v University of Texas Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

All the attention may still be on the football team, but the Hoop Hogs deserve our attention. They aren’t in the top 25 yet, but that doesn’t matter, since a win over Houston on Saturday all but assures a jump into the polls.

Don’t let the Cougars’ lack of name recognition fool you. They’re coached by Kelvin Sampson, a very good coach who would probably be at a much larger school if he wasn’t a prolific cheater. This team is probably an NCAA Tournament team, or at least a strong bubble team, and will be packing their home gym for their biggest home game of their non-conference schedule. This won’t be easy.

Houston is 5-1. Their strength of schedule is unimpressive. Their best win is over middling Wake Forest (81st KenPom) on a neutral floor, and have a very bad loss against Drexel (235th), along with a collection of unimpressive wins against Liberty (164th), Incarnate Word (266th), McNeese State (317th), and New Orleans (262nd). Lacking chances at big RPI victories, the Cougars really need this game.

(For comparison, Arkansas’ worst win is over Samford, ranked 206th according to KenPom. All other Hog games are against teams ranked in the top 100.)

The Cougars are led by high-scoring guard Rob Gray, who averages 23.6 points per game while shooting nearly 50% from beyond the arc. Stop him and you stop Houston, but that’s easier said than done.

Houston individual stats

Name TS EPR PPP Minutes Points/40 Orebs/40 TO/40 Steals/40 Blocks/40 Dplays/40
Name TS EPR PPP Minutes Points/40 Orebs/40 TO/40 Steals/40 Blocks/40 Dplays/40
Rob Gray 1.28 0.98 1.26 163 29.0 0.5 1.0 1.2 0.0 1.2
Wes VanBeck 1.25 1.00 1.25 169 18.7 2.6 2.6 1.7 0.5 2.1
Devin Davis 0.88 1.05 0.92 160 15.5 2.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 3.0
Armoni Brooks 1.31 1.05 1.38 95 20.6 2.1 1.3 1.7 0.4 2.1
Corey Davis Jr. 1.06 0.93 0.98 137 13.4 1.2 2.3 0.9 0.0 0.9
Fabian White Jr. 1.32 0.88 1.16 95 13.1 3.8 5.9 1.3 2.1 3.4
Braeon Brady 1.01 0.98 0.99 92 11.7 5.2 5.7 0.0 0.4 0.4
Nura Zanna 0.99 1.22 1.20 102 10.2 4.7 2.4 1.6 0.4 2.0
Galen Robinson Jr. 0.96 0.73 0.70 121 6.0 0.3 3.6 1.3 0.0 1.3

(Note: Confused about these numbers? Read up on the EPR/TS stats system I use. Trust me, you’ll need to know this in order to understand these tables.)

Houston provides a bit of a problem for the Hogs... and the Hogs will counter with a problem of their own for Houston. Let’s see if you can figure it out by looking at the five guys who have played the most minutes this season for the Cougars:

  • Rob Gray, G, 6-1
  • Corey Davis Jr., G, 6-1
  • Galen Robinson Jr., G, 6-1
  • Wes VanBeck, G, 6-3
  • Devin Davis, F, 6-6

The sixth man, forward Nura Zanna, is just 6-6 as well. The only guy taller that figures into the 8-man lineup that Houston uses is forward Breaon Brady at 6-8. So the Cougars’ lack of height will give them problems against the likes of Daniel Gafford, Adrio Bailey, and Dustin Thomas.

But Arkansas also has a problem. With Khalil Garland still out, the Hogs have just four guards to play three positions: point (1), shooting guard (2), and wing (3). Expect Jaylen Barford to give 30 minutes at the 1 and Daryl Macon 30 minutes at the 2. Anton Beard will likely give around 30 minutes: 20 at the 3, and 10 at the 1 filling in for Barford. The rest will have to be filled by C.J. Jones (10 minutes at the 2 and an unknown amount of time at the 3), who is a defensive liability, or by Darious Hall, who at 6-6 is much bigger than the guy he’ll be matched up with. If Hall or whoever plays the wing can hold up defensively, I think Arkansas has the advantage. If Houston can use its speed to space the Hogs out and get open drives to the basket, then the Cougars have the advantage.

With a 4-guard lineup for Houston, it gets tougher. Bailey’s athleticism could allow him to hold up when matched with a guard, but if Houston puts four guys outside the arc, that leaves Gafford or Trey Thompson inside without help. If the Cougars can space the Hogs out, they can attack the rim and get Gafford in foul trouble. Trust me, everyone watches film, every team for the rest of the season is going right after Gafford as soon as he enters the game. He’s a known fouler. So I think Mike Anderson needs to prepare for the possibility that Gafford’s minutes will be limited due to foul trouble.

When Houston has the rock

Stat Arkansas Houston Advantage
Stat Arkansas Houston Advantage
Points per Possession 0.92 (62nd) 1.10 (46th) Push
True Shooting 1.04 (99th) 1.13 (88th) Push
Points per 2FGA 0.97 (145th) 1.06 (83rd) Houston
Points per 3FGA 1.01 (145th) 1.16 (68th) Houston
Effective Possession Ratio 0.89 (57th) 0.98 (42nd) Push
Rebound % 24.3% (105th) 39.7% (4th) Houston
Turnover % 21.0% (89th) 18.4% (157th) Arkansas

The Cougars boast a good three-point shooting team, and they also hustle to crash the offensive glass. I think if Arkansas uses its size in the post, the Hogs can keep Houston from getting much of anything (2-point shots or offensive boards) down low, which leaves the Cougs entirely dependent on hitting jump shots. It’s always risky to start a jump-shooting battle on the road, but it beats the alternative.

When Arkansas has the rock

Stat Arkansas Houston Advantage
Stat Arkansas Houston Advantage
Points per Possession 1.13 (30th) 0.92 (59th) Push
True Shooting 1.18 (43rd) 1.03 (94th) Arkansas
Points per 2FGA 1.06 (89th) 0.91 (75th) Push
Points per 3FGA 1.25 (25th) 0.96 (102nd) Arkansas
Effective Possession Ratio 0.95 (93rd) 0.89 (40th) Houston
Rebound % 28.4% (139th) 22.7% (68th) Houston
Turnover % 15.5% (36th) 21.7% (64th) Push

Arkansas’ primary advantage is three-point shooting, where the Hogs are hitting 41.7%, good for 25th-best in the country. The Razorbacks do everything well on the offensive side. This hot shooting will need to continue on the road in order for the Hogs to win, since Houston is fairly sound defensively everywhere else.

Arkansas individual stats

Name TS EPR PPP Minutes Points/40 Orebs/40 TO/40 Steals/40 Blocks/40 Dplays/40
Name TS EPR PPP Minutes Points/40 Orebs/40 TO/40 Steals/40 Blocks/40 Dplays/40
Trey Thompson 1.16 1.09 1.27 120 6.7 3.0 2.3 1.0 0.7 1.7
Jaylen Barford 1.23 0.94 1.16 181 27.6 1.1 2.7 1.1 0.9 2.0
Daryl Macon 1.24 0.90 1.11 176 22.3 0.5 2.7 1.8 0.2 2.0
Anton Beard 1.00 0.92 0.92 182 16.0 0.9 2.4 1.3 0.0 1.3
Daniel Gafford 1.42 1.00 1.42 117 26.3 2.4 2.4 1.7 3.1 4.8
Adrio Bailey 1.27 1.19 1.51 135 14.2 3.6 1.5 1.2 3.9 5.0
C.J. Jones 1.18 0.98 1.16 114 19.6 0.0 0.4 1.1 0.0 1.1
Darious Hall 0.95 0.85 0.80 69 11.6 6.0 4.6 2.3 1.2 3.5
Gabe Osabuohien 0.41 1.09 0.45 34 4.7 3.5 2.4 1.2 0.0 1.2
Dustin Thomas 1.07 0.95 1.02 60 9.3 4.7 4.7 2.0 0.0 2.0

I think Arkansas can dominate Houston inside here as well. If he avoids foul trouble, Gafford could have a big game, and I really think Bailey or Thomas could go wild matched up against a smaller defender.

Keys to the game

  1. Match their athleticism. Houston will play a lot of small, quick guards. Arkansas defenders, especially at the 3 and 4, cannot let Cougar guards run around them, or Houston will get open shots and attacks on the rim. As in any road game, avoiding cheap fouls is part of this.
  2. Dominate the low block. Arkansas needs to control rebounding and 2-point field goal shooting on both ends. That doesn’t mean the Hogs should be constantly looking to feed the ball to the low block — Arkansas’ offense runs through the athleticism of its guards, and that shouldn’t change. But the Hogs should crash the glass and attack the rim even more than usual.