State of the Hogs: Halfcourt Offense

Texas-Pan American is the foe Friday night. Western Illinois comes to town Sunday night.

In reality, Arkansas will be playing itself more than either one of those nonconference have nots this weekend. Stan Heath said as much this week.

Obviously, you never want to underestimate the opposition, but he's more concerned with what his team does than what the opposition brings in these two final tuneups before Southeastern Conference begins Jan. 7 at Mississippi State.

So what is it that he wants to see more of starting tonight against UT-Pan Am?

Better rebounding for starters. He sees no reason his team shouldn't be plus five in that category. I'm with him on that one.

There's one theory that I do buy into; when you force as many turnovers as these Hogs do, the other team gets fewer shots. Consequently, there are fewer misses and there are fewer defensive rebounds.

The other crucial area to clean up would be the movement in the halfcourt offense. The Hogs still stand around way too much in their new motion offense.

"We make cuts, but we don't make multiple cuts," Heath explained. "We might make the first cut and even a second cut, but you have to keep cutting."

I saw that emphasized at the end of a recent workout, just before the Hogs headed to Dallas where they beat Texas Tech. The Hogs were in a drawn-out scrimmage and several key players were bent over holding their shorts.

You've seen the pose. It's that "I'm beat" stance. Assistant Dan Hipsher, the man charged with installing the motion offense, had seen it before, too. Obviously, he didn't like it and wanted it fixed.

"OK, no more shots go up until Ronnie Brewer makes at least two cuts," Hipsher shouted.

Brewer got the message. He quickly slashed across the lane to the opposite corner, shouting, "One!!!" Then, after just a brief pause, Brewer made another burst to the opposite wing, shouting, "Two!!!"

Brewer is the Hog most likely to be over worked in a game. He is so valuable to this team that he is going to play him more minutes than any one else.

That means there will be stretches when he feels fatigue and is doubled over holding the bottom of his pants.

That's only half of it. He's a marked man. Brewer must be prepared to work harder and harder each night as SEC defenses gear up to stop the league's preseason player of the year. Texas Tech made it tough for Brewer to get shots and that's only the beginning.

The thing Brewer can do to help his cause is simple, according to Hipsher. Set more screens. Make more cuts. That's the two things Hipsher has emphasized to Brewer, and to Jonathon Modica, too, since the first day the new assistant stepped on campus.

So that's what I will look for against UT-Pan Am. I figure the Hogs should be able to dominate on the boards just because of their size advantage over UT-PA. Hence, the importance of screens and cuts will be more important in my book this weekend.

How many times can Brewer and the rest of the Hogs' perimeter players cut in a single possession? Or will they make one really good cut and then rest the remainder of that possession?

I'm going to be looking for those multiple cuts that Heath spoke about to the media after the Hogs returned from the Christmas break.

That may not seem important as the Hogs whip up on UT-PA and Western Illinois, but those multiple cuts will become huge when the Hogs start playing SEC teams with solid defense and equal talent.

I like this Arkansas team. It is talented and seems to be focused on getting better. Many of the problems that plagued it last year have been cleaned up.

The chemistry seems to be a little better, although I'm not sure there has been enough adversity just yet to know about that for sure.

The guard play is much improved. Dontell Jefferson and Eric Ferguson are both playing like tough-minded seniors on both ends of the court. The quartet of Darian Townes, Steven Hill, Charles Thomas and Vincent Hunter appear to be ready to stand up to the SEC's inside wars.

I just want to see if the halfcourt offense can get a little more movement. I figure the transition buckets that have feuled the Hogs' current seven-game winning streak will dry up in SEC play and the motion offense will have to produce.

The Hogs can produce in halfcourt situations if key players dig down deep to cut, cut, cut and cut again inside of a single 35-second possession.

These two games ought to be fun. There ought to be a party atmosphere in Bud Walton Arena since this is a Holiday weekend.

I'm sorry, but I'm going to be a party pooper. I'm going to be looking for effort, not style points on breakaway dunks.

Move, move, move. Cut, cut, cut. Screen, screen, screen. That's what I'll be watching for tonight.

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