Hoop-de-do: Coaches Get It Right With Razorbacks’ Portis as SEC’s Top Player


By Kevin McPherson

In this space last week, we wondered if the national groundswell lovefest for Kentucky and its march into March with a perfect regular season would be parlayed into an SEC Player of the Year Award for Willie Cauley-Stein. The national and regional media seemed to be clamoring for it — and when the Associated Press awards for the SEC are announced later this week, we may see it — but the SEC coaches have spoken and their choice is the correct one: Arkansas Razorbacks Bobby Portis, the 6-foot-11 sophomore forward from Little Rock Hall High School, has been named their SEC Player of the Year, announced Tuesday by the league.

Based on what played out on the basketball courts over the course of the season, especially in the 18-game SEC slate, this really was not a close call.

We told you last week that collectively, BP’s scoring, rebounds, blocks, field-goal percentage, and free-throw percentage for the season put him head and shoulders above the rest of the league. His 17.8 points is second in the SEC, 8.7 rebounds is fourth, 1.5 blocks is sixth, 56.3 percent FG percentage is first, 74.8 percent FT percentage is tops among the seven all-league post players, and his 11 double-doubles is fourth most. Even more impressive is that Portis’ averages and percentages were better in SEC games.

But season statistics can be misleading, or sometimes only tell part of the story. So, when we examined how Portis fared head-to-head against the 6 other bigs who made the coaches’ All SEC 1st and 2nd teams, including WCS, we were surprised that the statistical gap between BP and the rest was significant, in some cases staggering …

Arkansas 79, Georgia 75 … Bobby Portis vs. Marcus Thornton

Bobby Portis, 8-of-14 FGs (1-of-1 from 3), 4-of-4 FTs, 21 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block
Marcus Thornton, 3-of-8 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs, 11 points, 8 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 1 block

Arkansas 82, Vanderbilt 70 … Bobby Portis vs. Damian Jones

Bobby Portis: 13-of-18 FGs, 6-of-8 FTs, 32 points, 11 rebounds, 0 assists, 4 steals, 1 block
Damian Jones: 6-of-10 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs, 14 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 steals, and 0 blocks

Kentucky 84, Arkansas 67 … Bobby Portis vs. the Hyphens (Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns)

Bobby Portis: 6-of-11 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs, 15 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 steals, 0 blocks
WC-S: 3-of-6 FGs, 1-of-4 FTs, 7 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocks
K-AT: 4-of-5 FGs, 0-of-0 FTs, 8 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 steals, 1 block

LSU 81, Arkansas 78 … Bobby Portis vs. the M&M boys (Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey)

Bobby Portis: 10-of-17 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs, 21 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 0 steals, 2 blocks
JMartin: 11-of-18 FGs, 5-of-7 FTs, 27 points, 8 rebounds, 0 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block
JMickey: DNP

Bobby Portis vs. The Field head-to-head (5 out of 6 bigs because 1 DNP) in 4 games

Bobby Portis: 22.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks, 61.7 FG%, 82.4 FT%
The Field: 13.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.4 blocks, 57.4 FG%, 68.4 FT%

Wow! Those are Ronald Reagan-Walter Mondale-esque, landslide numbers … an overwhelming tipping point that favored Bobby Portis. And there are so many other metrics that favored BP over everybody’s favorite frontrunner, Willie Cauley-Stein — per-40-minute stats, win shares, offensive and defensive efficiency — when you look at all of that collectively and globally, the correct answer always comes up BP.

But don’t tell that to the national talking heads. Just today, after the SEC coaches’ post-season awards and all-league teams were announced, ESPN’s college analyst Andy Katz said on Paul Finebaum’s daily radio/SEC Network broadcast that the POY award was given to Portis “by default”, because the “Kentucky players cancelled each other out.”

I can digest Cauley-Stein’s take much easier, and it makes sense. When asked about the SEC POY award, he said “”Honestly, you can give [Portis] Player of the Year. I’ll take 31-0 any day of the week. You know, he’s a good player but that’s what it is. I’d rather be undefeated than get Player of the Year.”

He’s right, but so were the coaches. This was not a default trophy. Too often, individual awards go to the best player on the best team, and not to the best player. That’s the real default mechanism, not what Katz was babbling about. In the end, everything pointed to BP as SEC POY, and in a big way. What he accomplished as a player and teammate could not be ignored. Glad the SEC coaches got this one right.

And here’s a bit more on Bobby Portis …

* BP, who was also named Tuesday to the All SEC 1st team, is only the second Razorback to be honored as SEC Player of the Year. Corliss Williamson was the first, winning the award in back-to-back seasons (1993-94 as a sophomore, and again in 1994-95 as a junior).

* The Hogs may have fallen at home in their regular-season finale against LSU, but Bobby Portis had a monster game … to go along with his team-high 21 points, he grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds, dished out a season high 4 assists, notched his 11th double-double of the season (and 15th of his career), and recorded at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in a game for the 4th time in his career.

* With 971 career points, BP’s 29 points away from becoming the 38th Hog to score 1,000 points in a career as a Hog (Michael Qualls became the 37th Hog to reach that milestone on Saturday, scoring 15 points against LSU to land precisely on 1,000 career points; and Rashad “Ky” Madden became the 36th Hog to score 1,000 carer points just a few weeks ago.).

* With 499 career rebounds, BP’s 1 rebound away from 500 in a career (and 18 away from taking over 15th place on the UA’s all-time career rebounds list).

* With 101 career blocked shots (BP had 2 against LSU to push him over 100), BP became only the 11th Hog to get to 100, and with 3 more blocks, he’ll replace Derek Hood for 10th all time in career blocks at Arkanas while also reaching at least 50 blocks in a season for the second consecutive year.

More Hogs on All SEC teams …

* Razorbacks junior swingman Michael Qualls was named to the All SEC 2nd team. A case could be made that he deserved to be on the 1st team, but to make the 2nd team is quite a testament to how far the 6-foot-5 Shreveport, La., native has come in his 3 seasons at Arkansas. Mr. Walk On Air’s numbers are really, truly good: 30.1 minutes per game led the Hogs, 15.3 points was 2nd best on the team and 7th best in the SEC, and his 5.5 rebounds were also 2nd best on the team.

His real value in so many close, competitive SEC games was his ability to collect tough defensive rebounds late in games, and his determination to be Arkansas’s toughest lane- and rim-attacking player, as evidenced by his team-leading 174 free-throw attempts (by comparison, BP was 2nd with 115 attempted FTs, and Madden was 3rd with 105). Qualls made the charity-stripe trips pay off, too, knocking down a career-best 77.0%, good for 2nd best on the team behind Madden.

* Freshman guard Anton Beard is quickly becoming a fan favorite at Bud Walton Arena, and apparently the SEC coaches think highly of him, too. Beard was named to the All SEC Freshman team on Tuesday, joining 4 Kentucky Wildcats, 2 Vanderbilt Commodores, and 1 Florida Gator. For the season, Beard averaged 18.0 minutes, 6.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals, and he shot 38.0% from 3-point range, second-best on the team (behind Madden) for players averaging at least one 3-point attempt per game.

But Beard’s statistical and team-chemistry value sky-rocketed after he joined the starting lineup in the backcourt alongside Madden to begin the second half of the Missouri game in Columbia, back in game 6 of the SEC schedule when the Hogs were just 3-2 in league play. Beard finished with 7 points in that game, then started the remaining 12 games of the regular season, helping Madden re-define his role as a steady backcourt complement, which in turn helped the Hogs to 7-game winning streak and a 9-3 finish in league play. Over the course of those 12 games as a full-time starter, Beard’s numbers took a big step up: 23.8 minutes, 7.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.3 steals. Of his 8 total games scoring in double figures this season, he did it 5 times in those last 12 games.

Madden turned things around … for the better

Remember when Rashad Ky Madden came out of high school as a top 50 recruit nationally? Then, he struggled his first two seasons as a role player off the bench before really flourishing at times over the next two years to help lead the Hogs to 46 wins (and counting).

The easy take is that Madden didn’t live up to expectations. Going off high school rankings and projecting to the next level (high-major D1), it would be hard to argue against that notion. But, when you break down his 4 years at Arkansas, you MUST acknowledge that Madden’s maturity, development as a player, and on-court contributions are at the core of what has taken a once proud program off life support and back to the land of the nationally relevant and living. He wasn’t the biggest star, he wasn’t the guy who saved the day on the last play, and he was never an all-league player, but he made himself into one of the most effective, successful jack-of-all trades in school history, and that has translated into individual and team success.

Let’s break it down.

2014-15 …

* 10.0 points per game … one of only three Hogs in double figures this year
* 3.6 rebounds … is 3rd on the team, too, and a career best
* 4.8 assists … leads the team and good for 2nd best in the SEC, also a career best
* 2.1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio … respectable, and by far a career best for a season’s worth of work
* 39.1% 3-point-FG% leads all Hogs who have attempted at least one 3 per game, and is Top 15 in the SEC
* 86.7% FT% is 4th best in the SEC, and a career best
* Helped guide the Hogs to their best season since last century, including a return back to the national rankings and a coveted 6-or-better seed in the NCAAT

2013-14 …

* 12.7 points per game led the Hogs
* 2.8 assists per game led the Hogs
* 40.0% 3-point FG% was a career best
* 45.5% overall FG% was best among the guards
* 82.1 FT% was tops on the team
* Helped guide the Hogs to their first 20-win season and post-season tournament in 6 years

Career …

* Became the 36th Hog to score 1,000 career points as a Hog
* One of only 3 Hogs to score 1,000 points, grab 350 rebounds, and dish out 350 assists in a career as a Hog (along with Lee Mayberry and Ron Huery)
* The only native Arkansan to score 1,000 points, grab 350 rebounds, and dish out 350 assists in a career as a Hog
* Currently 30th in school history in career points with 1,070
* Currently 5th in school history in career assists with 356
* Again, was one of the 3 key player components in turning around a program on life support and making it into one of SEC and national relevance again.

If Rashad Ky Madden didn’t live up to your expectations, maybe he lived up to what being a standout Razorback is all about. He’s going to be in the argument as a Top 25-40 Hog all-time — certainly its subjective — and depending upon how well this 2014-15 group does in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, he might crack the top 25.

Speaking of the SEC Tournament

The Razorbacks, 24-7 and 13-5 in the SEC regular season, draw Tennessee once again in the tourney, in Nashville on Friday night. The Vols eliminated a hot (8 our of their last 10) Vanderbilt team on Thursday night 69-63. It seems the Vols have eliminated Arkansas in this event more times than the Hogs have toppled the Vols, and this marks the third meeting this season between the teams, though they haven’t seen each other since Jan. 29 in Fayetteville. Arkansas is No. 21 in the AP poll, No. 20 in the coaches’ poll, and No. 22 in the NCAA RPI rankings — still finished at least two games better than 12 other SEC teams despite their 81-78 loss to LSU at Bud Walton Arena in the season finale. The second-place finish behind Kentucky (31-0, 18-0 SEC) marked the Hogs’ third-consecutive winning season in SEC games. The Hogs reached as many as 13 SEC wins for only the third time in school history (the previous two times, in 1991-92 and 1993-94, resulted in SEC championship seasons). It’s also interesting to note that Arkansas’s 13-5 SEC record is the 3rd-best in the SEC covering the last two seasons, trailing only last year’s Florida Gators and this year’s Kentucky Wildcats, both of which finished with perfect 18-0 SEC records. The Hogs went 17-2 at home (7-2 in SEC home games) and 7-5 on the road (6-3 in SEC road games).

With an RPI Top 100 record of 10-6, including 4-4 against the RPI Top 50, the Hogs are currently trending as a 5 seed for the NCAAT, with a more likely chance to drop to a 6-seed than they have of improving to a 4-seed. The Hogs would likely have to win the SECT to lock up a 4-seed, and they probably need to win at least one game, maybe two, to lock up a 5. Lose in the Friday quarterfinals to Tennessee and the Hogs will have lost three of their last four games, and are likely headed for a 6-seed.

Razorbacks bobby portis sets freshman record


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