The Razorbacks have rolled to a relatively easy 6-0 start to their season. Their best win according to the KenPom Rankings came against Cincinnati (76th) in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Classis held in Kansas City. Hog fans were hoping to be tested by the 23rd ranked Fighting Illini of Illinois, but they lost to Cincinnati in the opening round of the tournament.
Aside from the Bearcats, Arkansas has only played one other team in the Top 100 KenPom rankings – Kansas State (79th) in the first round of the HOF Classis – followed closely by Northern Iowa who is currently ranked 116th.
Despite starting the season on a roll, there have been a few common themes that are starting to come to light – both good and bad – that should be monitored. How many of those themes, however, are cause for concern? How many should the Hogs be confident about moving forward?
For the sake of this article, I’ll be using a Confidence/Concern meter that ranges from 10-1 – 10 being the most confident about a category becoming/continuing to be a strong suit for the Hogs; 1 being the most concerned about a category becoming/continuing to be an issue for the Hogs.
The Hogs opened their season by hitting 29 of their 72 3-point attempts (40.3%) through the first three games of the season, including a very impressive 13-27 in their matchup against Gardner-Webb. Since then, however, Arkansas has made only 9 of their last 56 3-point attempts (16.1%) in their last three games, two of which came at a neutral location.
Shooting sub-20% from beyond the 3-point line is not sustainable for any team, especially not one with the depth and versatility of this Razorback roster. However, this poor stretch could be indicative of more shooting slumps to come. In other words, there’s little chance that the current 3-point miss rate holds true, but it could potentially mean a lower season shooting percentage than Hog fans are hoping for.
Confidence/Concern Level: 3.5
On the flip side of the 3-point coin, Arkansas allowed their opponents to shoot a ridiculous combined 43.4% from beyond the arc in their first three games at Bud Walton Arena. In each of these games, the Hogs showed an unacceptable amount of defensive intensity for stretches, but their opponents continually hit difficult shots with Razorback defenders in good position.
The adjustments and continued focus on this weak point have appeared to pay off in the Hogs’ next three games. They have held their opponents to only 18-73 3-point shooting in that stretch, good for only 24.7% combined. Two of these three opponents also have a KenPom ranking currently inside the Top 80.
Again, this low shooting percentage is unsustainable from a defensive standpoint, but the attention to detail when defending the 3-point line is apparent, leading me to believe this is not a true area of concern for the Hogs moving forward.
Confidence/Concern Level: 8.5
Early-season turnovers are a given for any team trying to merge so many faces onto the same court. It’s normal and not typically not concerning, especially if the team can continually lower their turnovers as they gain more experience playing together.
That being said, the Hogs are not yet moving in the right direction in this category. They averaged only 9.7 turnovers per game (TPG) through their first three contests, but have seen this average rise to 12.7 TPG over their last three, including a 15-turnover game against an average Penn team.
It’s still early in the season, so there’s no reason to panic over this downward trend. But it’s also worth noting that the Hogs’ primary facilitators – JD Notae, Devo Davis, and Jaylin Williams – are combining to average 6.7 turnovers per game. Neither of the two guards is considered true point guards, but both have done a passable job of running the offense so far this season, while Williams’ passing from the center position has been exceptional.
Until someone establishes themselves as a true floor general and combines good facilitating with fewer turnovers, this theme could be an unpleasantly common one for Hog fans.
Confidence/Concern Level: 2.5
Free Throw Shooting
This is an unusual stat in the sense that it is not typically noticed until it becomes a problem. The Hogs so far this season have been more or less average from the charity stripe, hitting roughly 72% of their attempts.
The trend they are on, however, is encouraging. In Games 1-3 this season, the Hogs got to the free-throw line an average of 18 times per game and knocked down their attempts at a 70.4% success rate. This is not particularly good, but it’s not necessarily a cause for concern either.
Over the last three contests, the Hogs have bumped both their attempts and averages up a notable amount – jumping up to 27.3 attempts per game while hitting them at a 73.2% rate. This rate alone would land them somewhere around 90th in the country. Again, not making this a strong point of the team, but also not raising too many red flags just yet.
It’s also worth noting that some Razorbacks that may or may not receive consistent playing time later in the season have contributed to the subpar free-throw shooting. If you remove free throw attempts from anyone who played less than 10 minutes in a game, the Razorbacks’ FT% jumps up to over 74% which would land them somewhere around 80th in the country.
None of those numbers sound good on paper yet, but one solid stretch of free-throw shooting can catapult the Hogs into the Top 50-60 in the country – a more acceptable ranking.
Confidence/Concern Level: 4
The Hogs have multiple tenacious and athletic rebounders on the roster, many of which joining the team for the first time this season. Five Hogs are currently averaging at least 4.2 rebounds per game (RPG), led by returning big man Jaylin Williams (8.3) and grad-transfer Au’Diese Toney (7.3). Toney’s rebounding average is even more impressive when you factor in that nearly half (21 out of 44) of his rebounds are offensive.
The Hog’s athleticism is on full display when guards like JD Notae and Devo Davis are also among the team rebounding leaders with 4.7 and 4.2 RPG respectively.
Though their ability to rebound was never in question from the start of the season, their numbers have already shown improvement over the course of the young season. They have gone from averaging 35 RPG in their first three contests to pulling down over 40 RPG in their most recent three, a welcome trend to say the least.
Confidence/Concern Level: 9.5
Main image credit: