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Mid-Season Reaction: Arkansas Hoops + SEC Thoughts

Phil Ellsworth

Here we are 8 games into the Arkansas Men’s Basketball season and I feel no different than I did 4 weeks ago when the season began. This Arkansas team didn’t disappoint or do anything extraordinary. 8 wins by double digits against Mid or Low-Major teams. They did what they should do, but what really matters is how it happened.

Dominating wins over Mississippi Valley State, Lipscomb, and Southern. Grind it out victories against North Texas, Texas-Arlington, and Abilene Christian. Lastly, 2 comeback wins over Central Arkansas and Oral Roberts.

For a team with no experience playing together, that’s what you want. Obviously, watching Arkansas down by 10 at halftime against Oral Roberts was extremely frustrating. Despite that, these are the experiences that this team needs. You want to see them learn how to win in many different ways. What do you do when your team shoots poorly on 3? What do you do when you forced to play slow? What do you do when the opposing team goes on a 9-2 run?

These experiences are invaluable. Were they against inferior talent? Of course, but this team will be better in the long run because of it.

Now let’s dive into the Elite, Good, Bad, and Ugly.

The Elite

Arkansas is holding opponents to just 36.2% from the field which ranks 13th in the country. The 3 point defense has carried over from last season. The 2019-20 Razorbacks finished 1st in the country in 3PT defense. This year’s team is holding teams to 27.5% beyond the arc. This 3 point defense will be tested night #1 in the SEC facing Auburn.

Arkansas also ranks 6th in blocks per game and 3rd in total rebounds per game.

The Good

Arkansas struggled with senseless turnovers last year, but things are different in year 2 of the Musselman era. 11.8 turnovers per game is very manageable.

A number that is good, but I’d like to see improve is team free throw attempts. Arkansas ranks 90th in the country at 21.6 per game. I want to see that number get up around 25 per game. This team can do it. They are too athletic and too versatile not to get to the basket more.

Moses Moody has been as advertised. He’s consistent, quiet, and business-like. Every night I’m surprised by his numbers. 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals with 51.2% FG% and 41.7% 3P%.

The Bad

I don’t have any statistics for this section, but to me Arkansas settles on offense sometimes. They can get to the basket at will, but they will settle for 3s. The Hogs don’t shoot the deep ball bad and often times the shots are open. It just feels lazy at times on the offensive end to chuck 3s the way they do.

The Ugly

This team can’t finish at the rim. It should be a real concern at this point. There have been 8+ points wasted in every game from easy shots at the rim. Going forward, things won’t be any easier. SEC teams have a lot more size and skill around the rim. Arkansas has to shore this up to go to the next level.

The Rest of the SEC

It has been an extremely disappointing season so far for the SEC. Kentucky has the worst start since 1911. Florida has lost its’ best player. Alabama and South Carolina have been disappointing. LSU, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State all lost games the SEC always needs to win.

Here’s a recap of what the other SEC teams have done so far.

LSU (5-1) KenPom Rating: 36th

The Tigers have had some scares and a 16 point loss to St. Louis. I’ll say it: I don’t think Will Wade is a good coach. He has done nothing on the court to tell me otherwise. There’s no question he can recruit. Because of that great recruiting, they always have much more talent than their opponents. SLU beat them by 16, Nicholls State played them close for 40 minutes, and other teams have kept it close for much of the game. LSU is still extremely talented, but letting inferior opponents hang around is a dangerous habit.

Missouri (6-0) KenPom Rating: 39th

Missouri was my sleeper team in the SEC this season. They returned everyone and are actually healthy. The Tigers beat a ranked Oregon team on the road and Top 10 rival Illinois. Yet, they needed a Jeremiah Tilmon layup at the buzzer to bear Bradley. I think a lot of games this team plays will be very close, but there’s no question they are one of the best in the SEC.

Tennessee (5-0) KenPom Rating: 9th

Tennessee had a late start to the season with a pause due to COVID-19. The defense has been great for the Volunteers, but when facing better competition, their offense has struggled. The Vols are still the favorites and I don’t know if anyone will really challenge them for it. Time will tell. It’s easy to give them a pass for struggling on offense against a bad Cincinnati team and Colorado. The pause put them behind. They will continue to get better.

Alabama (5-3) KenPom rating: 55th

I am all the way out on Alabama at this point. Maybe that is harsh, but there is some bad locker room juju going on after James Rojas and star John Petty were not allowed in the building during their game against ETSU. They were blown out by Stanford, handled by Clemson, and lost to Western Kentucky at home. They just can’t play defense. I’m out.

Florida (3-1) KenPom Rating: 22nd

This may be the toughest one to call in the conference. The best player in the conference is a Florida Gator, but his season is surely done. Keyontae Johnson collapsed on the court against Florida State. Johnson is home now, but there is no sign or belief he will be back this year. What do you make of this Gators team now? They haven’t played a game since Johnson went down. They have talent, but Mike White isn’t good and they are without their leader. They can be competitive, but I will be surprised if they finish in the top 5 in the league.

Georgia (7-0) KenPom Rating: 85th

Georgia is another interesting team. They lose 2 stars in Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds, but the quality of basketball they are playing has been better. They cruised past Cincinnati and only gave up 13 points to Northeastern in the 2nd half to erase a big deficit.

Camara is good, Wheeler is solid, but I need to see more to have a real feel for this team.

Auburn (6-2) KenPom Rating: 65th

People are pretty down on Auburn after 2 early losses and Sharife Cooper still being ineligible. This young team has a long way to go, but their athleticism will give other teams problems. As the season goes along, they will continue to improve. They don’t have the star power to compete at the top of the conference, but there’s no reason to think they can’t finish in the middle of the league.

Kentucky (1-6) KenPom Rating: 52nd

Kentucky’s struggles have been the story of the college basketball season. This is their worst start since 1911. Their defense is competitive, but their offense is abysmal. They are shooting 25.0% from 3 and are 303rd in assists per game. There have been locker room troubles and even freshman Cam’Ron Fletcher was asked to step away from the program for a time. He is back now. The Wildcats are 1-6, but I still believe they will turn it around. It may too late to make the NCAA Tournament, but I think they will be very competitive.

Ole Miss (5-1) KenPom Rating: 32nd

Kermit Davis has this group playing elite defense. The most points Ole Miss has allowed is 65 in their lone loss on the season to Dayton. I don’t know what to make of this team, but they play the most intriguing matchup of the first set of SEC games at Alabama. I need to see more.

South Carolina (1-2) KenPom Rating: 64th

COVID has impacted South Carolina more than any other SEC team. SC has played just 3 games and lost 2 of them. No surprises though because Frank Martin seems to lose 1 or 2 non-conference games a year that make no sense. The Gamecocks lost to Liberty by 16 to start the season. They will play 1 more non-con game before opening the SEC slate against Texas A&M.

Texas A&M (5-1) KenPom Rating: 75th

While I don’t know how good Texas A&M is, there’s no doubting that Emanuel Miller is a great player. Miller is averaging 18.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.4 steals. He gets to the free throw line 10 times a game. He’s been awesome! The Aggies were played close by Tarleton State, Texas-Rio Grande Valley, and Wofford. TCU dominated A&M by 18 in a game that was never close. I think the Aggies will finish worse this year than they did in year 1 with Buzz Williams.

Mississippi State (5-3) KenPom Rating: 80th

Ben Howland has had 2 bright spots on a subpar season to start. D.J. Stewart is pouring in 18.3 points per game and Western Kentucky transfer Tolu Smith is averaging 13.9 points and 8.9 rebounds. The Bulldogs started the year with 2 losses to Liberty and Clemson then later lost a double overtime game to Dayton. There just hasn’t been any impressive wins and 3 losses. I expect a long season in Starkville.

Vanderbilt (4-2) KenPom Rating: 135th

Scotty Pippen Jr. was fun to watch last year, but he has made great strides as a sophomore. He is leading the SEC is scoring at 23.3 points, but he has been the one bright spot on this team. Jerry Stackhouse has to start building momentum. The end of the Bryce Drew era was really bad. Stackhouse has to find a way to turn it around or this may a cellar program in the SEC for years and years to come. The Commodores are 0-2 against the Atlantic-10 with losses to Richmond and Davidson.

As always, thanks for reading!

For all things Arkansas Basketball, give me a follow on Twitter @BenBrandonHoops