Doc Harper: Something Has To Change With Arkansas Basketball

 

Something Has To Change With Arkansas Basketball

Doc Harper Bio PageWell don’t I feel a tad foolish.

A couple of weeks ago in this space, just before the Razorbacks began SEC play against Texas A&M, I wrote about how the table was set for a resurgence in Arkansas basketball, and I believed this team was prepared to be the one to, essentially, bring the Hogs back to relevance.

I still believe the first part. The yellow brick road has been paved for the Arkansas basketball program, the only question is whether the Hogs will ever be able to walk it.

After these first four SEC games, there are certainly plenty of people asking that question. It feels like this team, the one that dominated non-conference opponents at home in a way Arkansas fans haven’t seen in more than a decade, that went to Maui and was competitive against three quality teams – beating one – has completely reverted back to the same Two-Faced team we’ve watched for the last few years.

I don’t pretend to know everything Mike Anderson may have tried in an attempt to break this curse. He reportedly brought in a sports psychologist to work with the team before conference play started. Before the season, he had the team go through drills with the UA ROTC to develop mental as well as physical strength.

Whatever has been done, it’s clearly not enough. Something more needs to change.

Don’t jump too far ahead. This is not in any way calling for a coaching change. That’s a pointless discussion right now. The Razorback program is clearly better both on and off the court than when Anderson came back to Fayetteville. He staked his professional career on rebuilding the Arkansas basketball program and he’ll get every opportunity to do that, which is why Arkansas rightly went ahead with plans to build the practice facility.

This isn’t a criticism of late-game play design or player rotations. All three of these last games went to overtime, and Arkansas certainly could have won all three. Yes, if the Razorbacks were 3-1 right now with wins over Florida and Kentucky, plus a road win at Georgia, we’d all be pretty happy with where things are. The Texas A&M game could be dismissed as a hiccup. Of course, similarly, the Hogs easily could have lost that Kentucky game and be 0-4 with another road game looming. Any time a basketball game goes to overtime, you can point to one play or one shot or one pass or one rebound and say “If that one thing had just gone differently…”

But here’s the thing: not a single one of those games should have gone to overtime.

If “The Fastest 40 Minutes In Basketball” works as it’s designed to, the opponents are supposed to get worn out, right? The Hogs should take over games late because of their superior conditioning, correct? The team’s superior depth will be the difference maker, that’s what we’ve been told?

Arkansas had leads in the second half of all these games. The Razorbacks never had to come back to make it to overtime. The Hogs have been the ones who’ve looked tired and gone several minutes without scoring a field goal.

In each of the three games, Arkansas played more players and were in position to put games away if they’d been able to score at their normal rates at the end of games. Instead, they went cold and allowed their opponents to come back.

Against Florida, Arkansas had a seven-point lead with 4:43 left. Eleven different Razorbacks played in the game compared to eight for the Gators. Two of Florida’s players, including Scottie Wilbekin, who hit the shot to tie the game, were questionable to play due to injury. But Arkansas could not wear them down.

The Kentucky game was closer all the way through, but the Hogs did at one point have a seven point lead early in the second half and had a six point lead with 12:31 left. Arkansas was scoring 2.17 points per minute in the first 28 minutes of the game when they built that point lead, but slowed down to just 1.08 points per minute for the rest of regulation. The Hogs didn’t keep the lead and couldn’t pull away, even though two of Kentucky’s starters spent significant time on the bench due to foul trouble. The Hogs played 12 players to 1o for the Wildcats, and the superior bench was one of the factors that helped Arkansas win eventually, and they deserve credit for that, but if the game played out like it was designed, shouldn’t Arkansas have been able to wear down Kentucky in regulation?

The Georgia game of course is the most egregious. Other than a few early ties, Arkansas held the lead for the entire second half until the Bulldogs hit a layup with 3:17 remaining. The Hogs went on a 10-3 run early in the second half to go up seven points, and it looked like Arkansas was set to finally run away with it, but then everything stalled. Arkansas only scored 11 points in the final 15:59. The Hogs had a five point lead with five minutes to go, but as we all know, the team only made two field goals in the last nine minutes of regulation, allowing Georgia to come back and tie the game.

Even against Texas A&M, the Hogs were looking respectable at halftime. Arkansas was down by just two after scoring 33 points. But in the second half, when the speed and depth is supposed to take over, Arkansas only scored 20 points. The Hogs played 12 players compared to just nine from the Aggies.

While the team is accomplishing its goal of winning the turnover battle – they’ve done so in each of the overtime games – they’re not doing so in a way that is wearing down opponents and allowing the Hogs to make late runs to seal the game. The opposite is happening. Arkansas’ opponents are the ones playing better late. And this is not just a road issue, even if the problem is exacerbated on the road.

I’m all for playing fast. It’s fun to watch and it’s proven it can be effective. But something isn’t working right now and it’s not as simple as questionable coaching decisions late in the game. The team isn’t hitting as many shots (in particular, Michael Qualls is shooting 19.6% in SEC play compared to 53.1% in non-conference) and sometimes isn’t playing smart (why has Fred Gulley, despite having two of his best offensive performances of the season, committing nine fouls in the last two games?).

We all know this team can play better, and can do so outside of Bud Walton Arena. In the team’s two losses in Maui they scored 77 and 81 points. I still think they’re capable of winning a lot of games this year, but what must be acknowledged is this “Fastest 40″ system must be tweaked. It’s simply not doing what it’s designed to do. Perhaps the new foul rules have hampered its effectiveness. Maybe teams are just smarter about conditioning than they were 10 or 20 years ago. But Arkansas doesn’t appear to be wearing anybody down. They’re not winning any games by imposing their will.

Let’s be proactive and make some adjustments. Make the chaos a little more controlled. Design a couple more plays.  Just don’t rely on wearing anybody down because that’s not happening. If the team’s results end up relying on how many threes they make, that’s not a recipe for long-term success – especially with as few pure shooters as Arkansas has.

Again, this isn’t to suggest Arkansas abandon playing up-tempo basketball. But lets look for a little tweak or adjustment to tighten it up a bit. Most likely, if Arkansas is take advantage of the opportunities laid out before them, both this season and in seasons to come, some sort of changes must be made.

Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and is a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at heydocharper@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

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16 Responses to “Doc Harper: Something Has To Change With Arkansas Basketball”

  1. Bobby
    January 20, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    as long as Ky Madden is your go-to guy with the game on the line (KY, GA), you’re not going to win many games. He’s a streaky guy who, granted, can score 6-8 points in a row at some point in a game, but he’s not a sure-thing, go-to guy when you have to have a basket. he’s not a clutch scorer. he just throws up threes

  2. atxhog
    January 20, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    This may seem silly, but since this whole “We win at home and lose on the road” thing has gone on pretty much for about 10 years straight now, has anyone ever suggested to try going with the road red uni’s at home? Other teams do that sort of thing. Maybe we get used to actually winning a few games while wearing them and then take that away from Bud Walton. I think we should be willing to try anything at this point.

    And your go-to guy to take the last shot at the end of the game is almost always going to be your best ball-handler/playmaker. That guy on this team has proven to be Ky Madden. And he’s no more streaky than every other player that’s on the team. You’re right in that he needs to try to take it to the hole to get a better shot than settling for the long 3 though.

    • Joe
      January 20, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

      Since their shooting is so much poorer on the road than in Walton, I would suggest that all practices in preparaation fro road games are in Barnhill, or even better yet, at Fayetteville HS. I also agree that there are no go-to guys at Arkansas. But also they played just as well, or better when Scott and Wade were starters, and now most of the time those two never play enough to have any confidence.
      Whatever else one wishes to say, neither the players, who now are all Anderson’s, nor the coaching is any better than it was under the two pervious coaches. In fact, except for Portis, who likely would have come to Arkansas regardless of the coach, both Heath and Pelphery seemed to land better players than Anderson has.

  3. nchogg
    January 20, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    There have been too many long non scoring droughts. There have been a lot of bad shot selection. So many times I wonder “why did you take that shot”. Players out of position to rebound the ball. When this team gets the small things fixed they will win a lot of games. There are spurts where you can see it in them. Go Hogs!

    • Barry
      January 20, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

      I saw the Georgia game over here the other day and the Hogs were wild and out of control. Anderson has very little discipline and it shows. Hog ball suuucks on the road!! B

    • DaveHI
      January 20, 2014 at 11:55 pm #

      nchogg is exactly correct. When up tempo does not result in a turnover, the Hogs have trouble in the half court offensive set. They move the ball around the perimeter trying to penetrate. Usually someone takes the ball too far into traffic and puts up a bad shot OR the perimeter passing runs the clock down and someone heaves a low percentage three point attempt while guarded changing the arc on the shot.

      Teaching BB involves more than traps and defense. Must learn to set a pick away from the ball getting someone open for a shot, then work the pick and roll or the inside pass, back outside for the 15 footer. Going 18 minutes without a field goal lost the game at Georgia. Blocking out rather than jumping for the rebound on defense will stop the many put backs from offensive rebounds that Georgia had. Good assistant coaches get the attention of individual players during the game, keeping their minds on what needs to be fixed. Not sure that MA allows his assistants that much influence. Note the coaches huddle at time outs before talking with the team and MA does all the talking with players. It is on the coach, as much as I love the up tempo Nolan ball. It is about offensive sets discipline and rebounding. Something that has been amiss for years at Arkansas.

    • Dfayad
      January 21, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

      Williams, wade, and Scott should never leave the bench.

  4. nicholas
    January 21, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    I agree on your analysis of the game but I do not agree that we have been running the FASTEST 40 – if anything, we have settled into half court offense which we do not even possess.

    NO ONE is going to the rack, NO ONE in SEC play. Yes, I know- the Qualls dunk will have you thinking otherwise but that was after an ill advised 3 pter from the corner from madden. Same pathetic play we saw v. Florida and UGA.

    GO TO THE RACK. GO TO THE RACK. DRAW FOULS, HIT FTs. I love Alandise but those FT misses cost the UF game, or the terrible CC putback. GO TO THE RACK!!!!! thats a win

    UGA? we ran more half court sets (funniest part, we dont have any) and the shot selection was bad b/c no one knows who is supposed to shoot and we get stuck in the lane. CLEAR OUT and GO TO THE RACK. can I be any clearer- in order to run fastest 40, you must attack the rim and kick out- we have not done any of that… we look for post play and Portis does not set that way, and moses is clumsy (for now) with ball. So the guards need to go to the rack, keep their emotions in check and work to get those fouls. Put the defense on rest and it gets easy down the stretch. FULL COURT OFFENSE – base line to base line in under 15 seconds- that is the fastest 40. If you have a team built for it, you better do it. UGA dominated us in the half court set- and that aint saying much as that second half was terrible basketball.

    • DaveHI
      January 22, 2014 at 1:21 am #

      Go to the rack in Bud Walton. On the road, we don’t get to the foul line enough. Most of the time, no call and bad shot. I agree that we play best up tempo. When we run into teams that can limit turnovers, we can’t get started on the break.

      You have to do both, play full court pressure and force turnovers creating offense AND know what to do in the crunch when you need a basket and are already in the half court set. We also need to correct some bad free throw form to improve percentage. We need to hit at least 70% free throws.

      Making threes or long twos is much easier when in rhythm. Shooting off balance while covered or jacking it from five feet beyond the arc will always be below 10%. We need to shoot 30% from three point. Assistant coaches can change the game making adjustments. That was a strength under Nolan. These guys are young and coachable. They are also more talented than any team in the last ten years. I think they continue to improve, but winning on the road will happen when we play with discipline on offense in the half court game. There is always a time in a close game that the winner can make that happen.

      Under Nolan, the inside to the post and quick outside pass resulted in some made baskets. I did not see that much at all at Georgia in the second half. We need better bench coaching in the second half. Arkansas was clearly the better team at Georgia.

    • Mike
      February 5, 2014 at 11:02 pm #

      Yep, go to the rack is correct.
      Although going to the rack with guys 40 to 60 pounds lighter than the defenders is just senseless. I will state the obvious here. Arkansas needs two 6’10″ 250 to 280 pound ball hungry monsters for both defending in the paint and blocking out for offensive rebounding.
      We have two excellent bigs. It’s just they have no way to out muscle the bigger inside teams which are the guys that make up the top ten.
      Also, one way to get around the size issue is for them, and the whole team, to learn how to protect the ball against blocks, jump balls and learn quick side stepping and using the rim to protect against these things for lay-ups.
      Stating the obvious, I know. But, it takes what it takes to win and win consistently.
      It all begins in the paint with scoring and offensive rebounding.

  5. gohogsbill
    January 21, 2014 at 10:54 pm #

    The road losses are due to three things missing on this team, 1st Madden and Gulley are the only SEC guards on the team ( and at the end of regulation when we were down 1 and Madden shot the 3, Mike had told them to take it inside and when Madden shot the 3, Mike took him out and he didn’t play in OT, and might be why we lost that game)but Gulley is there for his D, not his shooting. 2nd by not having a true shooting guard (3 pt 40%+)or another true point, leaves us weak at the end of games. 3rd Although Qualls and Clark are good small forwards/ big guards, they are 6’5″ and 6’6″ not the true 6’7″ to 6’9″ small forwards you need to close out games or be national contenders and all the teams know what Portas can do so he’s took out of most of the end of games by good D. As Nolan would say in this spot, “all sickness isn’t death” and we could pull out of this road slump, but we have to win some of these road games to be an NCAA team this year. Unless the SR’s can start playing consistently and Madden can execute what Mike tell’s him to, then the road losses might be a part of this team like all of the last 10 or 12 years have. The bottom of the SEC this year is far and above what it’s been and road games are tough to come by, so call the Hogs and hope for the best for this is our team. WPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GO HOGS !!!!!!!!!!

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