5 Observations from Sam Houston State (lengthy)

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— No video because no TV, but media seating allowed a better opportunity to watch Mike coach defense, so I wrote about that. The Hogs switch up constantly to keep opponents off balance and guessing. Every defense has an inherent defense, but it’s harder to take advantage of that if you don’t know what’s coming. And the team seems to be playing much better as a whole with less miscommunications. Hit their deflection goal again tonight with 43. Posted a 72.7 defensive rating, which is fantastic. Four straight sub-100 defensive ratings, a solid trend after a shaky start and some needed momentum going into a matchup with a Florida team that is by far the best offense they’ll have faced (113.7 ORtg, No. 23). Want to see how they play then, but trending the right way.

— Macon led the team in scoring for a third straight game. Some of his takes to the rim were really, really nice. Where Barford finishes with force, Macon uses craft. Maybe the best all-around player on the team. He and Moses are the only two in the conversation, in my mind. Beard is probably No. 3 at this point.

— Moses had a distinct size advantage and they played through him in the post early. Scored nine points on six shots in the first six minutes. He got good positioning and was more decisive/aggressive with his moves. Seemed like the early success fostered confidence. Had 2 assists after having just 2 the previous 4 games combined. Solid outing.

— Anton has been playing some really good basketball and that continued Thursday. He is doing an excellent job of getting into the lane and setting others up. Also had 16 points on 6 shots. Efficiency! He needs to play more in SEC games.

— Dustin Thomas had 4 boards and an assist in the first 4 minutes. I thought he played with a sense of urgency and activity after 2 subpar games in which Arlando Cook outplayed him and started taking some minutes from him. They were about even Thursday, but Thomas was solid, finishing with 6 points and 7 rebounds. Kinda feel like some of his game is negated by the guards having the ball in their hands so much (not that they shouldn’t), but he had to start playing more aggressively and he did. Still having some trouble finishing around the rim lately.

— Lot of stray thoughts, including great crowd and the player I think needs to pick it up most.

Jimmy, I am not sure what position Dustin played in HS and at Colorado, but to me it looks like Dustin is doing some on-the-job-training at the 4. It appears right now that he seems content to get fouled rather than finishing the shot while getting fouled. That is possibly the issue with not being able to finish even when he is not fouled. It is a skill to stay committed to the shot even when you are feeling the contact. I don’t think he is there yet. How did he appear to you in preseason practices when you spoke very highly of him?

I do think he is a strong kid and eventually, possibly before the season is over, he will be finishing these shots.

Nothing wrong with getting fouled, whether you finish or not. My observation is that if a player is challenging the shot on time and makes contact, it is very difficult to get the and-one unless you get lucky enough to flip it up and it goes in. And-ones are usually when somebody gets hit after they’ve already released the shot (or when the ref calls contact he anticipates that never really occurs). When I would worry is if DT was trying to avoid the contact. And-ones are nice, but they’re gravy.

I watched him closely last night against SHS at close distance. To me, he seemed to quit on the shot when he was fouled. He seemed to not finish it with conviction. Sure, he won’t make the basket every time, but it seemed the way he was approaching it, he will never make it. Just seemed like he has not been an inside player before. Maybe my eyes are deceiving me. That is why I am asking Jimmy how he performed inside in practice.

OK. I have to defer to you on what you saw. I wasn’t there and even if it had been on TV, I was at work and quite busy. In thinking back over the years at people I’ve seen who were good at taking the contact in the lane and making the basket, it was either people who could contort their bodies to get the shot off without getting it blocked (Sidney was a master of this), or people who just bulled their way to the hoop, hacking be damned. Getting fouled on jump shots is a different animal, unless you get lucky on some weird double pump stuff that somehow goes in.

What really jumped out to me about him was his ability as a playmaker and a rebounder. He’d often grab rebounds, lead the break and make nice dishes. In the halfcourt, he regularly showed a really good feel for the game and the ability to set people up. That hasn’t translated very well, I think in part because the stakes are real in a game and there are actual consequences for not connecting on a slick pass in traffic. He just hasn’t been as aggressive as a secondary ballhandler as I’d thought he’d be. And I think the other part of it is that the guards have the ball in their hands a ton, so there are less chances for him to do that stuff.

He also hasn’t stretched the floor as much as he did in August. He was spacing the floor out to the arc, shooting 3s and driving, which seemed like it would make him a perfect fit next to Moses. He’s spent a lot of time in nonconference play posting up and calling for the ball, which hasn’t struck me as his strong suit.

They made a big deal about having reformed his shot to where he went straight up and straight down. He made a lot of jumpers in practices, both in drills and live work, but his form seems to slip in games. He’ll kick his feet out and fade.

He’s decently athletic. A good leaper, which shows up in him ranking third among rotation guys with 8.6 boards per 40, ahead of Arlando and Adrio. He’s got decent assist numbers, but the guy I saw in August led me to believe he would be a much more active playmaker.

That is what I thought. Dustin not shooting threes has been my biggest surprise of his play. I remember Don and I watching him in pregame warmup last year and he seemed like a deadeye shooter from beyond the arch. Looked smooth.

[quote]What really jumped out to me about him was his ability as a playmaker and a rebounder. He’d often grab rebounds, lead the break and make nice dishes. In the halfcourt, he regularly showed a really good feel for the game and the ability to set people up. That hasn’t translated very well, I think in part because the stakes are real in a game and there are actual consequences for not connecting on a slick pass in traffic. He just hasn’t been as aggressive as a secondary ballhandler as I’d thought he’d be. And I think the other part of it is that the guards have the ball in their hands a ton, so there are less chances for him to do that stuff.

[/quote]

Thomas’ 12.2 minutes per assist is actually outstanding for a PF, better than a lot of guards in the SEC. He’s also eliminated the TOs that were a problem early.

I got to see the Sam Houston State game + truly wanted to believe it was an outstanding Arkansas performance against good opposition. Arkansas played very well, but SHS is not very good.

The Bearkats are 5-4 against Division I opponents with four lower-division wins and four against sub-200 opposition. Their best win was 79-73 at Southern Illinois on Dec. 10. They still are likely to win the Southland this season, but it is a bad conference.

SHS lost to Arkansas by 34, to Baylor by 34, to Ohio by 21, and to Georgia Tech by 8. That’s good company at the top.

I do not know how to place the Bearkats into context – but that was a fine performance by Arkansas. The Hogs’ “second half of first half” problem recurred, but that was the only problem. Watching this happen again, all I can say is this – somewhere after the 10-minute mark of the first half, the starters were given a rest. When they came back, they struggled to get back to speed on offense.

SHS is a fast-paced team that tries to win on TO margin and solid rebounding. The Hogs didn’t do much on the offensive glass but held strong on the defensive boards + managed +1 on turnovers. The key for Arkansas was running a good halfcourt offense, attacking the hoop, and pushing the pace off rebounds. SHS had to foul to prevent easy shots. It wasn’t an unfairly officiated game, and Arkansas had 40 FTA.

Ten different players scored baskets. Trey Thompson didn’t score but provided six rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

My biggest question is whether Arkansas will get fouls called when its players are aggressive on offense when SEC play begins. SEC refs usually let opponents foul the Hogs, but these players as a group have more skill going to the basket.

He just hasn’t had the ball in his hands as much as I expected and hasn’t flashed the same type of playmaking he did earlier. Not that he hasn’t moved the ball and made his share of nice passes, just not what I expected.

I should’ve explained that more in-depth. But you’re He’s a good passer and has posted some good assist numbers. His 13.7 assist percentage is good. Before the year I looked at how Mike’s other “4s” had distributed. Coty averaged 4.3 assists per 40, DeMarre 3.1 and Alandise 2.8. Dustin is averaging 3.3, just hasn’t had the ball in his hands making plays as much/in the way I envisioned.