Early Returns: Arkansas RazorbacksPosted by Greg Mitchell on November 25th, 2013
Arkansas leaves the comfort of Bud Walton Arena and heads to Maui this week for a stretch of games that will define its non-conference season. The road hasn’t been kind to the Razorbacks under Mike Anderson, so getting some neutral site wins would be a nice confidence booster. Reaching potential later round games with teams like Syracuse, Gonzaga, and/or Baylor is also important because the rest of Arkansas’ non-conference schedule is devoid of quality opponents. They also won’t play another game away from Bud Walton Arena until their SEC season begins in College Station on January 8 against Texas A&M.
Here’s a look at what the Razorbacks have shown in their first three games:
Wins: (plus KenPom rating) Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (#329), Louisiana-Lafayette (#170), SMU (#67)
The Good: Turning the opponent over and defending the three. It’s not a big surprise when it comes to forcing turnovers because that is what Anderson’s teams do. The Razorbacks have forced 61 turnovers in only three games, and currently hold a 19-turnover advantage over their opponents in that area. They are also doing a good job pressuring opposing three-point shooters, allowing a meager 28 percent from beyond the arc. Contrast that with the 41 percent Arkansas has shot from three and you’ve got a recipe for success.The Bad: Rebounding the ball. Here’s another facet that isn’t surprising from an Anderson team. The Razorbacks have struggled on the glass, out-rebounding largely inferior competition by only six boards. Only two players on the team have a total rebounding percentage above 12 percent, and one of those is 6’3” role player Rickey Scott. They’ve especially struggled to generate second chance points, as the frontcourt has only pulled down a combined 15 offensive rebounds so far. Moses Kingsley has impressive rebounding numbers in very limited time (14 total minutes), so this area could improve as he and fellow freshman forward Bobby Portis develop.
Surprise Player: Alandise Harris. The Houston transfer was easily the least hyped of the Razorbacks’ frontcourt newcomers, but he is the only one with any experience. He’s been the team’s best player through three games, averaging 18.3 PPG and knocking down 20-of-23 free throw attempts. He had a big game against SMU with 21 points and six rebounds.
X-Factor: Portis. The five-star recruit has the type of dynamic “get his own shot whenever he wants” talent that could take the Razorbacks to another level, especially if Anderson’s pressure system starts humming along. His coach seems to have faith in him already, as Portis has played the second most minutes on the team. He hasn’t turned into a star yet (9.3 PPG, 49 percent true shooting percentage), but it has only been three games.
Reading the Tea Leaves: This team looks like more of the same since Anderson returned to Arkansas three years ago. The optimist would say that with several solid guards with experience in his system and an influx of talented big men, this could be the year that the Razorbacks hold their own away from Bud Walton. That may be the case, but a win over a decent SMU team at home doesn’t yet establish it as true. Arkansas has one chance to show it has improved before SEC play starts, and it happens over the next three days in Maui.