SEC Tournament Preview
Vanderbilt has the draw that can take the Commodores to Sunday afternoon. Arkansas won't be playing in Bud Walton Arena. Kentucky won't be playing in Rupp Arena, and it won't have Nerlens Noel. Missouri won't be playing in Columbia, Mo., and Ole Miss is a fragile flower of a team right now. These schools - Arkansas, Kentucky, Mizzou, and Mississippi - are in the bottom half of the SEC Tournament bracket along with Vanderbilt. The Commodores certainly have a puncher's chance at making the SEC final and creating some bracket chaos. At the very least, this tournament will be seen as something of a success if VU can beat Arkansas and give Kentucky a 40-minute fight to the wire.
Neutral-court basketball is always interesting, because one never knows how various teams will respond to the environment. In this specific college basketball season, however, the fascination with neutral-court performance will be greater than ever before. Yes, Arkansas and then Mizzou (should Vandy meet the Tigers in Saturday's semifinals) won't be playing home games in this event, but they won't be playing true road games either. The SEC Tournament will be one extended five-day basketball laboratory, and we'll see what kind of competitive cocktail Vanderbilt can serve to the opposition in the coming days.
John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus offered a very blunt assessment of the 2012-2013 Arkansas basketball team on Twitter this past Monday. He simply said that at home, Arkansas plays like Louisville relative to the rest of the Big East, i.e., like a championship team. On the road, Gasaway said, the Razorbacks play as well as Duquesne does. One cannot be more schizophrenic than that, and in a college basketball season when so many teams have been defined by split personalities at home and on the road, that's saying something.
This is not an original line of analysis, but originality isn't needed when Arkansas is the topic of focus. After a season of wildly divergent home and road splits, everyone in college basketball is wondering how Arkansas will respond to a neutral-court environment. Good Arkansas will beat Vanderbilt, and Bad Arkansas will get thumped by VU. It's up to coach Kevin Stallings to do what he can to make Bad Arkansas show up for most of this game.
ARKANSAS EXTENDED STAT PACK
Field goal shooting percentage: 43.5. National ranking: 168. Southeastern Conference ranking: 6.
Two-point field goal shooting percentage: 49.9. National ranking: 77. SEC ranking: 4.
Three-point shooting percentage: 30.2. National: 313. SEC: 13.
Effective field goal shooting percentage (threes mixed with twos as a measure of efficiency): 48.4 percent. National: 196. SEC: 7.
Free throw shooting percentage: 67.7. National: 223. SEC: 10.
True shooting percentage (threes, twos, and free throws in the same pot as a measure of efficiency): 52.1 percent. National: 201. SEC: 9.
Possessions per 40 minutes: 71.7. National: 24. SEC: 2.
Points scored per possession: 1.02. National: 99. SEC: 5.
Points allowed per possession: 0.947. National: 88. SEC: 7.
Turnovers per game: 11.4. National: 47. SEC: 2.
Assists per game: 14.9. National: 40. SEC: 2.
Field goal percentage defense: 43.3. National: 182. SEC: 12.
Two-point field goal percentage defense: 47. National: 154. SEC: 10.
Three-point field goal percentage defense: 35.6. National: 258. SEC: 14.
Rebounds per game: 31.6. National: 167. SEC: 9.
Rebounding percentage: 48.8. National: 257. SEC: 13.
Blocked shots per game: 4.9. National: 31. SEC: 3.
Keys To The Game
1) Hammer the boards. Arkansas isn't a good rebounding team. If Vanderbilt can play lunch-pail basketball and make the Hogs a one-and-done team at the offensive end of the floor, the Dores have a good shot at winning this game.
2) Force Arkansas to win this game from the three-point arc. Arkansas uses a style of play in which three-point shooting is important. Yet, the Hogs have no pure shooters on their team, the reason why this program has not yet been able to thrive under Mike Anderson, a disciple of Nolan Richardson. The old Arkansas teams of the 1990s buried opponents with the three-point shot, but this team suffers precisely because it can't shoot or defend the three. Arkansas wants to get easy baskets in transition and off turnovers. If Vanderbilt denies those cheap points to the Razorbacks and packs in the paint to stop dribble penetration, the Hogs will have to win this game with the long ball. This specific UA team is not equipped to play that way.
Keys To The Tournament
1) Value the ball. If Vanderbilt doesn't give up many turnovers and can gain a fair share of 50-50s, it will improve its odds to a considerable extent. SEC basketball is not elegant basketball, so the teams that can add possessions at this tournament are the teams that are likely to flourish.
2) Free throws, free throws, free throws. As an extension of the point above, teams in the SEC don't shoot well. Getting to the charity stripe therefore becomes an urgent priority, especially in the midst of scoring droughts and even more particularly at crunch time. More takes and more makes will be huge for VU and every other (non-Florida) team in this tournament.
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