Arkansas senior guard Anton Beard / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Looking at an Arkansas Razorbacks stat sheet is like looking through a time machine back to the hey days of Razorbacks basketball under former head coach Nolan Richardson.
Richardson’s best teams always had a well balanced stat sheet with multiple contributors posting solid stats in a number of categories, and that’s what I recognize now when I look over the Hogs’ stat sheet.
Arkansas vs. Oral Roberts
Date: Tuesday, Dec. 19
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
Television: SEC Network Plus
» See full schedule
Arkansas head basketball coach Mike Anderson, of course, learned from Richardson, and while he’s not a carbon copy of Nolan, their basic basketball philosophy is very much the same. So it’s exciting for me to see numbers like I used to see back in the late 1980s and through the mid 1990s when there was no better brand of basketball being played in the land.
Arkansas’ still not close to that level this year, but the Hogs are knocking on the door of national respectability.
Right now, the Hogs are just outside the latest A.P. Top 25, but according to ESPN, the Hogs’ Ratings Percentage Index is No. 7 in the nation.
I wouldn’t hazard a guess how long it has been since the Razorbacks had an RPI that high. If Arkansas takes care of business at 7 p.m. Tuesday against Oral Roberts, then they might be ranked next week going into their conference opener against Tennessee at noon on Dec. 30.
That would be fun for the fans and make the game more prominent to national onlookers. It would make it a big game nationally.
In the Hogs’ glory days from the late 1970s when Eddie Sutton got the program off the launch pad through the bulk of the 1990s, it was a big deal anytime the Razorbacks played.
It’s beginning to feel like that again.
Through 10 games — nearly a third of the season — the Hogs (8-2) have five players scoring in double figures and seven contributing between 5.3 and 18.6 points per game. That’s a healthy balance. It means the Razorbacks can still have a really good shot at winning even if one of its key scorers has a bad night shooting, gets in foul trouble, or suffers an injury.
That kind of depth and balance is needed to play at the tempo Anderson wants from his Razorbacks. The Hogs don’t necessarily have interchangeable parts, but they have seven players who have proven they can score consistently in a variety of combinations.
Jaylen Barford leads the Hogs in scoring with 18.6 points per game followed by his fellow senior Daryl Macon at 15.4 ppg. Either could be averaging in the 20s in another situation, and either could have a 30-point night, if the game calls for it. They are the best offensive backcourt the Hogs have had since Lee Mayberry and Todd Day played together 1989-92.
Freshman forward Daniel Gafford is averaging 11.6 ppg, and he’s doing it without Arkansas running plays for him or really even intently trying to get him the ball. He scores in transition, off rebounds, and dishes. As he advances and matures, this season expect his scoring average to improve.
Senior guard Anton Beard is averaging a solid 11.6 ppg. Beard is a streakier shooter than Barford and Macon, but he has a scorer’s mentality to go with his experience and toughness. He won’t shy away from taking shots in a critical situation, if he’s called upon to do so.
C.J. Jones rounds out the top-five scorers at 10.7 ppg. He’s been on fire of late from 3-point land, but he can also score in transition as he showed in the Hogs’ 88-63 victory over Troy last Saturday in North Little Rock, with a rim-rattling jam.
Adrio Bailey also adds 6.8 ppg and Dustin Thomas is contributing 5.3 ppg. Both are consistent but both do their best work on defense. Darius Hall at 3.4 and Trey Thompson at 3.2 ppg could score more if it was needed. Arlando Cook was suspended for the first semester, but he could work himself back into playing a role for the squad based on his talent and experience.
Part of the reason the Hogs score so well is their shooting percentage, which is the most important stat in basketball behind the final score. The Hogs are shooting at a very good 49.7 percent from the field. It’s actually an excellent percentage for a team that relies on outside shooting as much as the Razorbacks do.
Jones, Bailey, Thomas, and Thompson are all shooting over 50 percent from the field, and Barford is right behind them at 48.2 percent. Macon is making a respectable 44.1 percent. Gafford, however, leads the way at 69.2 percent, and he is throwing those dunks down with authority.
The Hogs are shooting a solid 39.7 percent from the three-point line with Macon hitting at a 43.1 percent clip with 58 makes, and Barford at 42.9 percent with 49 makes, and Jones at 42.6 percent with 47 makes. Beard has made 36 treys, but is only shooting 27.8 percent behind the line.
Arkansas is solid at the free-throw line, getting to the line 23.9 times per game and making 16.8 of the attempts for a 70.3 percent average. Those numbers aren’t bad, but no doubt Anderson would like to see the Hogs draw more fouls and hit free throws at a bit better clip. The Hogs are putting their opponents on the line 23.6 times a game and they are hitting 68.6 percent of them. Arkansas holds the advantage in this category, but the margin is slim.
The Razorbacks do a solid job of sharing the basketball and finding the open man. Four Razorbacks have 23 or more assists on the season. Macon leads the way averaging 3.9 assists per game, followed by Beard and Macon both 3.4 per game apiece. Thompson averages 2.3 assists a game which is good for a big man.
Arkansas is holding opponents to 41.7 percent shooting from the field and 33.8 percent shooting from the three-point line. Those are solid numbers, but it would behoove the Razorbacks to crank the screws up on their defensive intensity as they go into SEC play.
The Hogs have not played a truly close game. All but three games have been decided by double digits one way or the other. There are bound to be closer games in SEC play where the Razorbacks will have to play serious defense throughout the length of the game rather than coasting. It will be interesting to see how they play in those tight games.
That said, the Hogs did make late-game plays in victories against Bucknell, Fresno State, and Oklahoma that kept those games comfortable and from becoming nailbiters. That is to the Razorbacks’ credit. If the Hogs can do that consistently against SEC opponents, this might be a very good year, indeed.
The Razorbacks are making 6.5 steals a game compared to their opponents’ 5.1. The margin isn’t great but every possession and every point off a steal adds up. Macon leads the way with 15 steals, while Beard has 10, Thompson 7, and Barford 6.
Arkansas is blocking 5.2 shots a night compared to their opponents at 2.9. Gafford leads the way with 20 blocks, followed by Bailey with 14, and Thompson with 8.
Overall, the Razorbacks handle the ball well, averaging just 10.7 turnovers a game. That’s pretty good at the pace the Hogs play. Richardson always liked to see the number at 9 turnovers or less for his teams, but it was a goal they rarely managed. Arkansas is forcing 15.1 turnovers a game, which give them a net advantage of 5.6 possessions a game. Most coaches would love to have that number.
Anderson’s system of pressure on the offensive and defensive end is unorthodox, and leads to rebounding totals that other coaches would find unacceptable. Arkansas can deal with it because they gain possessions by forcing turnovers through pressure and pace.
Arkansas averages 35.7 rebounds a game to 35.4 by opponents. The stat is basically a wash. Arkansas does have a net disadvantage of 1.6 offensive rebounds a game. That doesn’t sound like a great deal. At the most, it only would amount to 3.2 points a game, but 3 points can be a lot in a close game. Offensive rebounding is an area of weakness for the Razorbacks that can be exploited.
Conventional wisdom is that once the Hogs enter conference play, all of these numbers could change and possibly drastically against better competition and opponents that have more time to scout and prepare specifically for a game against the Razorbacks.
Even with that knowledge, Anderson has to be encouraged by his team’s play through 10 games.