Losses and problems almost entirely about offense

By my estimations from the boxscores our worst defensive effort to date was against Western Kentucky when we surrendered just under 1.07 points per possession. We exceeded that mark on O in 12 of 17 home games last year. In fact, in our only losses at home last year we gave up 1.1+ ppp. The only other opponent that managed any better than 1.01 ppp against us this season was Colorado State in a blowout win. Ga Tech didn’t manage 1.0 ppp against us. We were undefeated (14-0) with such defensive efforts last season and in most seasons under CMA, or very close to it. The defense is why we have been no worse than a one-possession loss this season. The offense is why we have lost three of those.

This team has been surviving primarily by its defense. We really have had stellar offensive outings in only three games - Colorado St. (1.38 ppp), FIU (1.30), and Montana St. (1.16). When a team is living under 1.1 ppp in the era of the three-pointer and freedom of movement, it is vulnerable to the odd hot night, or even hot run, from an opponent. You’re a couple of contested treys going down from being in a dog fight at the end when a young team is liable to cough up some games. Likewise, struggling to score can take energy away from the defense.

That we are struggling on offense with four new starters, eight frosh, and only one offensive threat returning from last year is not a huge surprise. Opponents have film on us now and are able to exploit some holes in our personnel. It’s an arm race over the season. You find something that works. The defense starts taking it away, and then you adjust.

We have some good parts on O, but we also have weaknesses that are exploitable. Our MVP Dan Gafford is a great player, but he isn’t yet a great scorer. We have two outstanding perimeter shooters who don’t do a lot off the bounce. Joe and Jones have 3 midrange makes between them all season. Joe in particular isn’t getting to the line much where he could break team and personal droughts. They have scored primarily via treys, which will come and go, or cuts to the rim. We have a great penetrator and distributor in Harris, but the defense has no fear in playing off him. He’s done some damage in the midrange. If you can play off him and keep him out of the lane, that takes away a good fraction of the O from our forwards, who need help to score. The bench has been shaky on O.

The O should improve as the season progresses. The young players will just get better and adjust to the defense. Joe and Jones have bounce capabilities. The bench can shoot better than it has. We can hope Harris will start making enough jumpers to get more respect from the defense. We can also hope that Bailey gets back to November form. That would help since he is the only other player besides Harris to do anything in the midrange so far. Phillips giving us another option off the bench is a possibility as well. More points should make the defense even stingier with more energy.

Yep. As always, great post.

Probably the most disappointing thing with DG is the lack of post moves near the basket. Would like to see him being more aggressive in wanting the ball too.

The season is now 1/3 complete, so there’s ample history to analyze, yet we’ve played a poor SOS and already have 3 losses. Most importantly, we’ve lost 2 of the last four games, all home games. Clearly the team is young, but it seems like the team has regressed in December.

While, on balance, I have seen better defensive play than offensive play, the Hogs have struggled at the beginning of several recent games. That’s hard to understand.

As I mentioned in another thread, the struggles on O have recently been in the first 10 minutes of the halves. We’ve been playing at around a 40-point pace in the first 10 minutes, which will get you behind or lose a lead quickly unless the D is perfect. In the second stanza we’ve scored at about a 100-point pace, which is en fuego.

We’ve played a weak schedule, but none of the power-5 teams have managed 1.0 ppp against us. We beat the only top-30 opponent that we have played. The team usually throws at least one stinker out during the holidays. The frosh may be hitting a wall with their first finals and perhaps their first serious bouts of homesickness. I’m hoping that they come back from Christmas break refocused.

Western Kentucky was poorly scheduled, a quick turnaround from altitude and thin air. Also, playing UTSA right after finals in the Little Rock Shot of Horrors when UTSA basically had two weeks to prepare was a recipe for a grinder. I thought we would rebound with a strong performance against Ga Tech but didn’t. A matchup zone against our O as presently constituted is a tough go, especially if getting Joe a good look is not a high efficiency play. This team needs to see the ball go through the hoop a lot in a game to get them back on track. I do wonder if the interior D will hold up in SEC play. If it doesn’t and we don’t improve significantly on O, January could be rough.

I think scheduling non-conference games is not exactly easy. You cannot control it the way fans want. With pressures of getting enough home games, meeting SEC requirements for decent RPI opponents and other pressures, it is difficult. Matt Zimmerman talked about that after the WKU game.

Also, one common factor in the three losses is that those are the three games the opponent had a legit big man. We went into the season with Gafford as our biggest strength. It is not playing out that way.

And yes, we do not have a scorer who can create his own shot like Macon and Barford last year. We miss those in your face three pointers and drives to the hoop, Joe and Jones have the potential and so does Harris. Phillips came in with that reputation, but I don’t know when he will be fully ready. Also Keyshawn was a scorer in high school, but I think he is still not fully fit.

I’m not criticizing the staff for the schedule. Maybe “unfortunately scheduled” would better convey my meaning. I realize constraints prevent them from laying out a slate of games that would be ideal in their eyes. However, the WKU matchup had trouble written all over it. We were obviuously up for our first true-road test, and we shot the ball incredibly well in a mile-high gym. We basically had one day at home to adjust to a drop of 3500 feet in altitude. I was afraid that would affect our shooting against WKU, and the altutude and travel probably had an amplified effect on fatigue. We’ve only shot 32% from the arc since returning from Fort Collins. It seems to have put us in a funk. Maybe holiday blahs have something to do with that. I’m sure the players would rather be at home eating Grandma’s cookies than on an empty campus this time of year.

I’m just wondering what the expectations were for Daniel Gafford, who is playing 28.3 minutes per game - fourth most on the team behind Jalen Harris (30.4), Mason Jones (30.0) and Isaiah Joe (29.1).

He is averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 65.8 percent from the field and 60.8 percent from the free throw line, where his percentage is on the rise.

Gafford has 26 blocks and 32 turnovers - a high number for him.

He has 29 offensive rebounds and 73 defensive ones.

Gafford is only averaging 2 1/2 fouls per game and has fouled out once.

I would say those are about what I expected except for the turnovers.

To compare, Gafford averaged 11.8 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 60.5 percent from the field and 52.8 percent from the line.

He only had 37 turnovers all last season and blocked 76 shots. He also had 77 offensive rebounds and 140 defensive ones.

As I said, Gafford is a great player. I think he is having a fantastic season at both ends. I’m not in any way disappointed with his play this season. I don’t believe it is a major criticism or inaccurate to say that he is not yet a great scorer at this point in his career, though. He’s a good scorer, but he’s not as skilled or versatile as, say, Portis was as a soph. If Gafford were a 74% FT like Portis, he might be a great scorer even he can’t step away from the basket with as much effectiveness. He’s taking 65% of his shots at the rim, as opposed 41% for Portis. That makes him not quite the offensive anchor that Portis was. He needs more help. However, he’s much better at the other end than Portis, and I think he has plenty of unrealized potential on offense. I’m a big Dan Gafford fan.

I wouldn’t call Joe a great score yet either for the same reason. He hasn’t shown the all-court versatility that those superlatives would imply to me. I’m still pleased as punch with his play as a frosh.

I find it odd that we have the assist leader and struggle offensively, youth can make you scratch your head. Growing pains are severe at this time and conference play is around the corner which doesn’t bode well for our team. MA has to find a way to flip the light on for some guys soon or turn the light off because the party will be over, tough row to hoe ahead for these young fellows. Will have to play big in conference tournament to get to dance is my thoughts at this point as it may take that long to grow. WPS

Gafford’s low post game has improved. He’s actually not bad on the block in terms of post moves. His struggles and probably the reason for all the turnovers is not handling the double team. He struggles to react quickly and find the open man. Instead he tries to force a shot and often turns it over trying to split the double team.

Yep, again

Gafford will continue to improve. He’s good with his right-hand moves. He’s better every time out with his left hand, although it’s far from a strength. He reminds me of Sidney Moncrief early in his career. Sidney had several weaknesses, but worked to improve every one of them. He just got better and better. I think Gafford is like that. Only problem is that we won’t see the fourth-year Gafford like we saw the fourth-year Moncrief. I bet where Gafford is in two more years is incredible, but it will be in the NBA, not at Arkansas when all of that comes together. Here is what I keep hearing about Gafford, he is a worker.

I think some see him run the floor and they think, “He’s really fast.” He is. But what I see is that he’s willing to work really hard. When you work that hard, you will make mistakes because of fatigue. It’s just going to happen.

But I’m going to try my best to enjoy Gafford the rest of this season and not be too hard on him. Because he’s trying as hard as he can to be a great player. I give him props for that.

Gafford has a lot of desire and intensity, plus he is a really good athlete for a big guy. He has so much room to improve and get better. He will mature in the NBA, not at Arkansas, unfortunately. Daniel is getting better and playing well this season…he has certainly gotten better since last year.

I am not really worried about the losses. We are going to have quite a few more losses. Our roster is out of balance with way too many freshmen and not a quality bench. We are short on talent in the front court. When we go to war in the SEC, our front court woes and short bench will become even more pronounced.

If Coach can continue to recruit like he has the past couple of seasons, we will be pretty danged good…even if Gafford goes to the NBA after this season, which he will. If we had Khalil Garland and the kid who transferred to DePaul…we would be really good right now.

We have players who, when left wide open, love to take the 3, even if they have a terrible percentage doing it. Players need to take the high percentage shot or get it to a scorer who has the ability to make the shot. Harris is much better driving & Gabe is much better using his talent on defense and rebounding. The youngsters coming off the bench haven’t figured all of this out yet, and want to take the shot. Most were the high scorer on their team in high school. They also need to learn to understand where the high percentage shot is with the players on the court.

Agreed

Seems like I remember reading they Gafford didn’t start playing basketball until late junior high or something in that range and if that’s true he has a tremendous upside because of the room to grow. If it’s true he will more than likely do most of the growing in the NBA I’m sorry to say. WPS

Looked at the splits in the wins and losses. As expected, the big difference is on offense. We defend better in wins, not surprisingly, but we still hold opponents under 1.0 ppp in our losses. The O, by contrast, drops off a cliff from 1.13 ppp in wins to 0.96 ppp in losses.

The big difference on O is what we do inside. The 2FG% and number of deuces drops significantly as we get a ton more of our shots blocked in losses. We actually make more treys in losses despite a lower percentage because we shoot more. Correlating with the lack of inside scoring is a big drop in made FTs from 21 per win to 10 per loss as we shoot less and convert at a lower percentage.

The numbers seem to say that the bigger teams are severly affecting our ability to penetrate and/or score inside. We then become more arc-centric. The lack of a high post threat, the inability of the guards to get to the line, and the lack of a consistent midrange threat means the D can concentrate on defending the rim and the arc. We haven’t done anything in-between to go where the defense ain’t or punish them for aggressively closing out on the arc.

Besides the conclusive stats you have presented, a key stat is we are 2-3 in close games. That is a typical stat for a young inexperienced team that typically loses close games. Our 2-3 might even be better than typical. With last year’s experienced squad, that would be easily 4-1 or 5-0. Or maybe games even don’t get that close. An experienced team just seems to make the right play or hit a key shot at the right time.

What’s frightening is that we have lost to all three teams that we have played that are in the top 50 in the nation in block percentage. Our only win over a team that blocks any shots at all is Indiana, and we only scored 0.96 ppp against them at home.

What’s more, the SEC has 11 teams (including Arkansas) in the top 55 in block percentage. It’s a small sample size, but we’ve got to figure out how to score against teams that protect the rim well. In our wins opponents have blocked our shots at a rate of 1 per 68 possessions, as opposed to 1 per 12 possessions in losses. That’s the biggest difference of any stat between wins and losses.