Razorbacks must improve on defensive rebounding

With all but the College Football Championship Game already in the books, it’s time to turn our attention to basketball.

The SEC is once again expected to be among the premiere conferences in the land this season with national analysts predicting as many as eight or nine SEC squads making the NCAA Tournament before the season started.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Who: vs. Texas A&M
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5
Where: College Station, Texas
Watch: SEC Network

Remaining schedule

Jan. 9 – Florida
Jan. 12 – LSU
Jan. 15 – at Tennessee
Jan. 19 – at Ole Miss
Jan. 23 – Missouri
Jan. 26 – at Texas Tech
Jan. 29 – Georgia
Feb. 2 – at LSU
Feb. 5 – Vanderbilt
Feb. 9 – at South Carolina
Feb. 12 – at Missouri
Feb. 16 – Mississippi State
Feb. 20 – at Auburn
Feb. 23 – Texas A&M
Feb. 26 – at Kentucky
March 2 – Ole Miss
March 6 – at Vanderbilt
March 9 – Alabama
March 13-17 – SEC Tournament

It would be fantastic if that happened. Mike Anderson’s Arkansas Razorbacks would almost certainly make the cut if nine league teams did get their dance card punched for the Big Dance this March, but preseason hype rarely becomes reality when the regular season is all said and done.

Six or maybe seven SEC teams seem to be a more realistic number, and any way you look at it, there is going to be an all-out battle for the Razorbacks to make that cut.

At the moment, No. 3 Tennessee (11-1), No. 12 Auburn (11-2), No. 13 Kentucky (10-2), and No. 17 Mississippi State (12-1) appear to be the class of the league according the Associated Press Poll.

However, the SEC member’s positioning in the new NCAA NET Rankings, which will be used by the NCAA Selection Committee this year as a replacement for the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) are a bit different.

Tennessee is ranked at No. 7, Kentucky at No. 12, Mississippi State at No. 19, Auburn at No. 22, LSU (10-3) at No. 27, Florida at No. 31, Vanderbilt (9-3) at No. 41, Ole Miss (10-2) at No. 42, Missouri (9-3) at No. 67, Alabama (9-3) at No. 73, Arkansas (9-3) at No. 84, Texas A&M (6-5) at No. 117, and South Carolina (5-7) at No. 220.

If you are counting, the NCAA has the Razorbacks ranked 12th out of 14 SEC teams in its NET Rankings, which again will be used as a factor for selecting the NCAA Tournament field. That was a sobering discovery for me when I sat down to write this story.

The NCAA Net Rankings consider five major factors:

1. Team Value Index — It is an algorithm set unto reward teams who beat other good teams. It only counts games against other Division 1 opponents, and it factors the opponent, location and the winner.

2. Net Efficiency — It is a calculation of offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency. The formula for offensive efficiency is:

Field goal attempts minus offensive rebounds plus turnovers plus (.475 x free-throw attempts) = total number of possessions.

The total points are divided by total number of possessions which yields a team’s offensive efficiency.

The formula for defensive efficiency is:

Opponent’s field goal attempts minus opponent’s offensive rebounds pul opponent’s turnover plus (.475 x opponent’s free-throw attempts) = total number of opponent’s possessions.

The opponent’s total points is divided by the opponent’s total number of possessions, yielding the team’s defensive efficiency.

Offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency = a team’s Net Efficiency.

(Is your head hurting? Mine is.)

3. Winning Percentage — (Ah, an easy one.) A team’s wins divided by the total of games played.

4. Adjusted Win Percentage — This is a weighted value based on a game’s location and result.

Road Win: +1.4
Neutral Win: +1.0
Home Win: +0.6
Road Loss: -0.6
Neutral Loss: -1.0
Home Loss: -1.4

(That’s a really severe penalty for losing at home, and probably too much of a bonus for winning on the road.)

5. Scoring Margin — This is the difference in score, but capped at 10 points. All overtime wins are capped at 1 point.

(A ridiculous designation to me. Why should a team be penalized for blowing out an opponent in overtime?)

I’m not a big fan of this analytic approach to rating teams. Sure, it is only going to be one factor that the Selection Committee looks at in selecting and seeding teams for the NCAA Tournament, but it penalizes a team that wins by narrow margins no matter the circumstances and rewards teams for blowing out opponents no matter what.

Arkansas could get more credit for beating a team like Saturday’s opponent unranked Texas A&M by 10 points on the road than beating a higher ranked squad like No.17 Mississippi State at home in overtime.

Now, anyone with a half a brain knows that beating the ranked team at home in overtime is the better victory, but this analytical approach to rating teams denies what would be clear to blind man.

It’s going to be interesting to watch the NCAA’s NET Rankings to see just how influential they will be come March Madness and how much they will color the media and fans’ view of basketball teams.

As for the Razorbacks, they have more tangible worries than the NET Rankings.

The Razorbacks have to improve on their defensive rebounding by bodying up on opponents and fundamentally blocking out.

In their last game against Austin Peay, the Governors missed so many outside shots that the Hogs should have feasted in transition off those long rebounds, but the Governors tracked their misses down and basically earned extra possessions. That made the game much tougher than it should have been. The Razorbacks won’t get away with that type of rebounding effort in SEC play and come out on top.

The Razorbacks have shown they can play gritty defense in spurts, but until they learn to finish their defensive possessions with rebounds, their effort is wasted.

While the Razorbacks have a number of good outside shooters, they can’t fall in love with the long ball and just settle for outside shots. The Razorbacks need to run the offense through 6-11 All-American candidate Daniel Gafford as the first option, and then attack the basket as the second.

If the Hogs do that, their shooters will get all the open three-pointers they want and have a much better opportunity of making them.

The Hogs have been going through two-a-days since last Saturday’s 76-65 victory over Austin Peay. It will be interesting to see what type of improvement they have made when they square off with the Aggies at 5 p.m. Saturday at College Station. The SEC Network is televising the game. It should be a highly competitive game.

The Razorbacks return to Walton Arena on Wed. Jan. 9 to host Florida at 7:30 p.m. and again on Jan. 12 to host LSU. That’s two huge early season games that will no doubt impact Arkansas’ NCAA chances. The SEC Network will televise both of those games, as well.