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Arkansas vs. Georgia Tech Hoops Preview

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Can the Hogs rediscover their defense as a physical Georgia Tech team comes to town?

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

After sliding up to Joe Lunardi’s “First Four Out”, the Hogs are off the bubble entirely after a home loss to Western Kentucky. That seems a little harsh, since Western Kentucky is decent, and Indiana is up to a 5-seed in the latest bracket. Of course, it’s December, so it really doesn’t matter.

That said, if the Hogs (7-2) want to surprise some folks and go dancing in a rebuilding year, beating Georgia Tech (5-4) on Wednesday is a must. The Yellow Jackets have beaten up on five really bad teams, lost to three pretty good teams, and took an ugly loss to Gardner-Webb in their last outing.

Without further ado, let’s check out the matchup.

When Arkansas has the rock

Statistically, Arkansas’ offense has had two incredible performances (Colorado State and Florida International), five solid performances, and two bad performances (Texas and Montana State). They’ve been mostly consistent, but their identity depends on getting the ball to Daniel Gafford.

Arkansas Offense Team Stats

Statistic Arkansas Georgia Tech Advantage
Statistic Arkansas Georgia Tech Advantage
POINTS PER POSSESSION 1.07 (72nd) 0.84 (11th) Georgia Tech
TRUE SHOOTING 1.13 (87th) 0.93 (13th) Georgia Tech
2-Point FG% 53.8% (94th) 43.3% (22nd) Georgia Tech
3-Point FG% 36.2% (94th) 26.7% (10th) Georgia Tech
FTA per FGA 0.43 (31st) 0.46 (330th) Arkansas
EFFECTIVE POSSESSION RATIO 0.94 (131st) 0.91 (81st) Push
Offensive Rebound % 26.3% (181st) 26.4% (164th) Push
Turnover % 16.4% (63rd) 21.4% (51st) Push

These teams are almost mirror images of each other, at least on paper. Both play great defense. Georgia Tech will foul a lot in order to play good defense (330th nationally), so the Hogs are going to have to hit some free throws. Tech can force turnovers and guards both the perimeter and the lane well. The offense needs to mature in the half-court.

In Georgia Tech’s best defensive performances, they’ve forced turnovers: in their three best turnover-forcing games this season, their defense overall has performed in the 91st, 89th, and 86th percentiles. In their three worst turnover-forcing games, they’ve performed in the 58th, 16th, and 4th. I’m going to guess that Arkansas needs to keep the turnover rate under 20%, a figure they’ve been able to meet in six of nine games this year.

Arkansas Player Season Stats

Player Usage PPP EPR TS EFG% Adj. Floor% Usage x PPP
Player Usage PPP EPR TS EFG% Adj. Floor% Usage x PPP
Daniel Gafford 28.0% 1.30 0.97 1.34 66.7% 73.0% 0.36
Adrio Bailey 15.9% 1.19 1.00 1.19 57.5% 70.0% 0.19
Mason Jones 19.7% 1.12 0.87 1.29 59.1% 58.1% 0.22
Isaiah Joe 22.2% 1.27 0.93 1.37 66.7% 55.6% 0.28
Jalen Harris 16.6% 0.89 0.96 0.93 36.5% 68.0% 0.15
Reggie Chaney 19.6% 1.06 1.00 1.06 55.8% 64.3% 0.21
Desi Sills 16.3% 1.00 0.79 1.26 59.7% 61.6% 0.16
Gabe Osabuohien 21.4% 0.69 1.12 0.62 28.8% 52.1% 0.15
Keyshawn Embery-Simpson 17.1% 0.87 0.93 0.93 44.7% 48.0% 0.15
Usage rate is the percent of plays a player is involved in when he is on the floor. Effective possession ratio shows the player’s ability to convert possessions into shot opportunities. True shooting is the points scored per shot opportunity. EPR times TS gives points per possession. Effective FG% is the player’s shooting percentage adjusted for the higher value of 3-pointers. Floor % is the percent of a player’s possession where he scores at least one point or makes an assist.

I’ve added some new stats: usage rate (percent of total plays a player is involved in when on the floor) and adjusted floor percentage (percent of a player’s personal possessions that include a point or an assist). I’ve also created a Value Added stat by multiplying usage rate by points per possession. It passes the eye test.

Here are a few nuggets from these data:

  • Reggie Chaney is the gaining fast, but the bench still has some strides to make. He’s up to 0.21 Value Added, which is 4th-best on the team. The Hogs still don’t get much consistent shooting outside of Gafford, Isaiah Joe, and Mason Jones. If one of the guards is cold and Gafford is on the bench, the offense frequently looks lost.
  • Jalen Harris is 6th nationally in assists per game, and his ridiculous 7.56 assist-to-turnover ratio is the best in the country by a huge margin.
  • Adrio Bailey started the season off hot, leading the team in raw PPP over the first six games thanks to a low usage rate that mostly sees him shooting when he gets really open. However, he’s fallen off a cliff over the last couple games. He’s just 1 of 9 from the floor over his last two. He really needs to get back to being that low-volume, high-efficiency secondary option on offense.

When Georgia Tech has the rock

Arkansas’ defense started the season hot, ranking among the nation’s elite in forcing turnovers and defending 2-pointers. But for some reason, they’re in a rut. Observe:

That’s not good. The Colorado State game (19th percentile) was bad, but the Western Kentucky game (3rd percentile) was the bottoming-out. At just 11 percent, the UTSA win wasn’t exactly a bounceback. These numbers are opponent-adjusted, so that partially explains why allowing 67 points to UTSA is still bad, since the Roadrunners should be even worse than that on offense.

Arkansas Defense Team Stats

Statistic Arkansas Georgia Tech Advantage
Statistic Arkansas Georgia Tech Advantage
POINTS PER POSSESSION 0.89 (30th) 0.97 (226th) Arkansas
TRUE SHOOTING 0.98 (33rd) 1.08 (186th) Arkansas
2-Point FG% 43.8% (27th) 51.6% (147th) Arkansas
3-Point FG% 30.2% (53rd) 30.9% (281st) Arkansas
FTA per FGA 0.40 (288th) 0.41 (55th) Georgia Tech
EFFECTIVE POSSESSION RATIO 0.92 (110th) 0.90 (299th) Arkansas
Offensive Rebound % 26.7% (172nd) 24.1% (247th) Arkansas
Turnover % 20.6% (76th) 19.8% (246th) Arkansas

Maybe Georgia Tech will be the antidote this team needs. The Yellow Jackets are putrid on offense. They’re awful from beyond the arc, don’t get many offensive rebounds, and turn the ball over way too often. Getting to the foul line is the only thing they do remotely well.

The Hogs’ recent swoon hasn’t torpedoed the overall defensive stats. The Hogs are still 27th in 2-point defense, 53rd in 3-point defense, and force turnovers at an above-average rate. One positive sign is that defensive rebounding — generally bad due to Arkansas’ style of play — hasn’t been an Achilles’ heel as the Hogs are in the middle of the pack nationally.

Georgia Tech Player Season Stats

Player Usage PPP EPR TS EFG% Adj. Floor% Usage x PPP
Player Usage PPP EPR TS EFG% Adj. Floor% Usage x PPP
Jose Alvarado 21.8% 0.97 0.89 1.09 50.5% 54.2% 0.21
Brandon Alston 19.8% 1.08 0.88 1.23 55.7% 55.7% 0.21
James Banks III 16.6% 1.55 1.24 1.25 61.4% 88.8% 0.26
Curtis Haywood II 17.1% 1.08 0.90 1.20 57.8% 55.8% 0.19
Michael Devoe 16.5% 0.80 0.78 1.03 43.3% 49.1% 0.13
Moses Wright 22.3% 0.79 0.84 0.94 46.3% 45.8% 0.18
Khalid Moore 13.9% 1.38 0.96 1.43 63.2% 74.4% 0.19
Abdoulaye Gueye 17.6% 0.90 0.98 0.92 40.0% 54.3% 0.16
Shembari Phillips 15.3% 0.70 0.72 0.97 43.3% 43.6% 0.11

Tech uses a lot of players and spreads the ball around a lot. The only major offensive threat is 6-foot-8, 243-pound forward James Banks III. Banks is by far the most efficient player for the Yellow Jackets, thanks to solid shooting (61.4% EFG) and the ability to get to the free throw line at an abnormally-high rate. However, he’s only averaging 8.9 points per game because he doesn’t actually get the ball that often. The highest-usage player — point guard Jose Alvarado — leads the team with 13.6 points per game but is a subpar shooter, especially from beyond the arc (26.5%).

Overall, Georgia Tech will engage their forwards a little bit on offense, which is a problem for an Arkansas that has struggled with good forwards over the last couple years (e.g., Butler in the NCAA Tournament). But the other way to take advantage of Arkansas is to drain three-pointers, and Georgia Tech is not well-equipped to do that.

What to watch for

Unless the Jackets get hot from 3 — or Banks can draw Gafford into major foul trouble — Georgia Tech will have major trouble finding offense. On the other side, Arkansas wins when it avoids turnovers. Georgia Tech loses when it doesn’t force them. Protecting the ball will be paramount.

Barring something above going awry, expect the Hogs to grind out a low-scoring win.