The Hogs are back in the Dance for the second straight year. The draw isn’t a flashy one, but if Arkansas wants to get back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996, they’ll have to beat two good teams.
Butler was gunning for a 6 or 7 seed until the final two weeks of the season when the Bulldogs stubbed their toe. Losses to St. John’s and Georgetown dropped them to 9-9 in the Big East and 20-13 overall. Still, they own wins over Villanova (1-seed) and Ohio State (5-seed) on a neutral floor.
This should be a fun game because both offenses are perfectly tooled to beat the others’ defenses.
- Dynamic offense led by big-time guards
- Great free-throw shooting
- Rarely turns the ball over
- Good at securing defensive rebounds
- No rim protector
- Awful three-point defense
- Not a good offensive rebounding team
Advanced stats preview
It’s been a while, so here’s a brief recap of the statistics that we use:
- Effective Possession Ratio (EPR): Ability to convert possessions into shot opportunities. For example, a 0.97 EPR means that for every 100 possessions, that team got 97 shot opportunities. A shot opportunity is a field goal attempt or a trip to the free throw line. Turnovers make this go down by ending possessions without shots; offensive rebounds make it go up by extending possessions and allowing the offense to shoot again.
- True Shooting (TS): Ability to convert shot opportunities into points. For example, a 1.12 TS means that for every 100 shot opportunities, a team scored 112 points. Making shots (and free throws) is obviously how you increase this statistic. Missing them makes it go down.
- Points per Possession (PPP): Ability to convert possessions into points. It combines the first two stats. The formula is quite simple:
PPP = EPR x TS
Everybody good? Now onto the preview!
The Bulldogs rely heavily on their guards. They lack size (more on that in a moment), with 6-foot-8 forward Tyler Wideman providing most of their boost in the paint. Wideman is an extremely efficient scorer but doesn’t handle the ball much. Senior Kelan Martin is a high-volume player. He averages 20.8 points per game and shoots 36% from beyond the arc, best among Butler’s top three guys in attempts. Interestingly, Martin is also the team’s leading rebounder.
When Butler has the rock
|Points per Possession||1.02 (196th)||1.08 (52nd)||Butler|
|True Shooting||1.09 (197th)||1.14 (69th)||Butler|
|Points per 2FGA||0.96 (89th)||1.08 (42nd)||Push|
|Points per 3FGA||1.07 (202nd)||1.07 (139th)||Push|
|Effective Possession Ratio||0.94 (190th)||0.95 (132nd)||Push|
|Rebound %||29.6% (292nd)||24.2% (255th)||Push|
|Turnover %||19.0% (112th)||15.3% (27th)||Butler|
Butler has some clear advantages against Arkansas’ porous defense. The Hogs struggle to defend the 3-point and secure defensive boards. Thankfully, Butler runs a “one-shot” offense that doesn’t get many offensive rebounds, so that may not be a threat. The Bulldogs aren’t an elite 3-point shooting team, either. However, the Hogs will still have some trouble.
Here is Butler’s offense in a nutshell (play stats come via a nifty data dump posted on Twitter by Hogtrough):
Their main two plays are the spot-up jumper (22%) and the pick-and-roll keeper (17%). They aren’t great at either of these plays, but they’re good enough to draw defenders out to try and stop them, allowing them to set up Stage 2. Let’s watch the pick-and-roll progress in their game against a bigger, more physical Seton Hall team. Here’s the “keeper”.
The keeper draws the attention to the ballhandler. Once the forwards are drawn out to stop the ballhandler, it’s time to attack the rim, via the pick-and-roll give. Butler is 35th in TS on these plays.
That’s not their only weapon to attack the defense once they’ve drawn out the forwards. Butler is really good at basket cuts. They don’t run them often (7%), but they are 4th nationally with a 1.41 TS on basket cuts. As a team, they shoot 59.7% inside the circle, also among the best in the country. Due to their lack of size, they won’t post-up very often. Instead, basket cuts are how they open up the defense. In this gif, a basket cut leads to a wide-open 3.
The Razorbacks are very good at stopping pick-and-rolls (35th) and very bad at stopping spot-up jumpers (241st). They aren’t great against basket cuts, either.
All in all, Gafford needs to have a mature game defensively or he’ll either spend most it in foul trouble or giving up wide-open J’s. If Butler’s early jumpers don’t fall, they could be in trouble as well. Relying on jump shots is not a good strategy in the NCAA Tournament... but giving up wide-open jumpers on defense isn’t an ideal strategy either.
Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon have remarkable efficiency for guys that produce such a high volume of stats.
When Arkansas has the rock
|Points per Possession||1.10 (32nd)||1.00 (121st)||Arkansas|
|True Shooting||1.13 (71st)||1.11 (259th)||Arkansas|
|Points per 2FGA||1.03 (115th)||0.99 (164th)||Push|
|Points per 3FGA||1.20 (15th)||1.12 (296th)||Arkansas|
|Effective Possession Ratio||0.97 (46th)||0.90 (20th)||Push|
|Rebound %||27.5% (149th)||22.8% (32nd)||Butler|
|Turnover %||14.9% (17th)||19.4% (90th)||Push|
Arkansas is a little more aggressive on offense than Butler is. The Hogs struggle when they stick with spot-up jumpers. About 20% of Hog shots are pull-up jumpers and they are dismal 220th in TS on those.
For most possessions, Plan A includes a pick-and-roll (12%, 10th in TS on pick-and-roll keeps) or an isolation (8%, 13th in TS) with Barford. The Hogs also love basket cuts (9%) but they are only 237th in TS on those. As a fundamentally sound defense, Butler is pretty good against pick-and-rolls, but that’s about all they’re good at here.
Here’s a basic iso, aka the Barford Special. This gives Butler problems (177th).
The Hogs also do some off-screen stuff (6%, 77th in TS). That might work against Butler, who really has trouble defending jump shooters coming off screens (221st).
The main thing I’d like to see is Arkansas attacking Butler at the rim. The Bulldogs are horrendous at low-post defense. They rank 339th out of 351 teams in defense against post-ups, and opponents know it: 11% of shots against Butler are post-ups, compared to the NCAA average of 7.6%. If Gafford can get set in a traditional post-up, he could dominate. As you can imagine, Butler also struggles against basket cuts (275th). As a team, they allow opponents to shoot 54% inside the circle, below-average for Division I. Arkansas shoots 57% in the circle (really good) and 71% at the rim (99th-percentile nationally).
In this gif, the Bulldogs basically have to concede a layup to Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado.
One of Butler’s problems is that it doesn’t have a rim protector. Butler’s leading shot blocker has 16 blocks: compare that to 73 for Gafford, 28 for Trey Thompson, and 23 for Adrio Bailey.
When Butler’s defenders crash to help in the low-post or secure the defensive rebound (they are 32nd in defensive rebounding rate), they leave the arc wide open.
The Bulldogs are one of the nation’s worst 3-point defense teams. They are especially bad on the wings, which is where Arkansas is especially good. The Hogs are 15th in 3-point shooting percentage and shoot nearly 41% on 3-pointers from the wing. But before you get too excited, keep in mind that in the NCAA Tournament, 3-point shooting is very fickle. Good teams can’t hit the broadside of a barn all of a sudden. Arkansas doesn’t depend heavily on 3’s (they have one of the lowest 3-point rates in the country despite a high percentage) and unless someone gets hot, that should continue on Friday.
Shot selection is paramount against the team that can secure missed shots as well as Butler can. The Hogs have the ability to create good shots; they have to actually do it. The Hogs will also need to watch the turnovers. They do a good job of avoiding them, but Butler does a decent job of forcing them.
Keys to the game
- Don’t settle. A lot of the Razorbacks’ base stuff on offense will work fine against Butler. Three-point shooting is notoriously fickle in the NCAA Tournament, and the best play when the game gets tight remains the old-fashioned “iso”. The Razorbacks don’t shoot many 3’s and run the iso as often and as well as just about any team in the country. What the Hogs don’t need to do is settle for long 2’s. Don’t overthink this: Gafford on the low block, Barford on the iso, Macon pull-up from the wing. Butler has no answers for those three plays.
- Extend the D. The Hogs can overwhelm most opponents with their athleticism. I’m not sure they can get away with that against Butler, whose slow-paced offense is far too patient and prodding. If Butler starts hitting jumpers, then it will be up to the forwards to get a hand in the shooters’ face and still be ready to defend the basket cut. Defensive breakdowns will lead to easy buckets.
- No second chances. Butler is a bad offensive rebounding team. Arkansas is a bad defensive rebounding team. The Hogs have to at least stalemate this part of the game. If Butler has success on the offensive glass, that changes the dynamics.