Analyzing Arkansas' blowout loss at Houston

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Saturday, December 2, 2017
Houston's Corey Davis Jr. (5) takes a shot over the outstretched arms of Arkansas' Dustin Thomas (13) during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 in Houston. (Wilf Thorne/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Photo by Associated Press
Houston's Corey Davis Jr. (5) takes a shot over the outstretched arms of Arkansas' Dustin Thomas (13) during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 in Houston. (Wilf Thorne/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Five takeaways from Arkansas' blowout loss to Houston.

Don't panic

This was an ugly performance, no doubt. Much worse than the 19-point loss to North Carolina.

But it is one game in a long season. Arkansas is 5-2 and has 24 games left in the regular season. There are always going to be duds over the course of a lengthy season. The Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt and Missouri losses from last year fall into that category.

Houston is a good team and could wind up making the NCAA Tournament. Devin Davis was great and poured in 28 points. Corey Davis Jr. added 17.

That said, the Razorbacks played terrible and looked unengaged from the start when they fell behind 11-0. Houston was the aggressor. Shots aren't going to fall every night, but there are some evident deficiencies that have emerged early in the season and Saturday was exhibit A for many of them.

Mike Anderson will have plenty to pull from when he goes to the tape of this game. In the long run, this could serve as a wake-up call of sorts after a good trip to Portland a week prior may have led to an overconfident team. By itself, this game shouldn't be cause for undue panic.

If the Hogs don't fix what ailed them, then it becomes concerning. There was plenty that ailed them Saturday.

Offensive blues

North Carolina and Houston have provided a pretty good blueprint for how to defend Arkansas.

Both teams were physical and aggressive on the perimeter, contesting everything tightly. As a result, as the game slowed down the Razorbacks often reverted to isolation basketball Saturday, overdribbling and not generating meaningful movement in the halfcourt.

It led to an ugly 34.5 percent shooting performance against the Cougars. Seniors Jaylen Barford (13 points on 3 of 11 shooting) and Daryl Macon (10 on 3 of 10) were held in check by solid defense. Often, those two and fellow senior Anton Beard chose to play one-on-one rather than move, screen and play without the basketball. Contested shots, which they're capable of making and have made at a high clip early this year, didn't fall.

At times, it felt like the guards tried to answer Houston's physicality by going right at them, playing into the Cougars' hands.

Lights-out Cougars

Houston hit 10 of 21 from 3-point range, including a 7 of 12 performance in the first half as it built a 44-29 lead.

Davis made his living with mid-range jumpers, but Davis Jr. knocked down five 3-pointers and Armoni Brooks added three more.

Arkansas had some coverage busts that led to open looks from deep, but a lot of the 3-pointers came in transition or early clock settings, scramble situations that are hard to guard. Arkansas' bad offense provided Houston plenty of opportunities to push the pace and seek out early looks. The Cougars also hit a number of contested 3s. They had a great night on offense.

Gafford struggles

For the third time in four games, Daniel Gafford played less than 20 minutes.

It's not like Anderson doesn't want the freshman center out there. But Gafford hasn't been able to stay on the court.

Foul trouble has been his issue and it was again Saturday in the first half when he picked up two quick ones in just six minutes, earning a seat back on the bench. He went down with an apparent shoulder injury midway through the second half that limited his playing time, but did return later in the game.

When he was on the court, he was largely ineffective for the first time in his young college career, finishing with five points on 1 of 4 shooting and six rebounds. No one plays great every game, so the lack of production isn't a huge issue, but the Hogs desperately need Gafford to be able to stay on the floor.

Senior Trey Thompson is a heady player who brings a lot to the table, but he didn't play well Saturday and can't impact the game like Gafford does. Arkansas needs Gafford to be able to play big minutes.

Thomas spark

For the first time this year, Anderson switched up his starting group, opening the second half with senior Dustin Thomas in place of sophomore Adrio Bailey at the 4.

Thomas was a bright spot at times for the Razorbacks, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds in a season-high 28 minutes. Bailey entered the game shooting 60.6 percent and ranked fourth in the SEC in blocks, but played just 11 minutes and has now played less than Thomas in the four games since the senior came back from a suspension.

Thomas' work on the offensive glass has been impressive since his return. He's been aggressive at times on offense. He has been a poor shooter in his college career, but is the best of the bigs on this roster and knocked down a few mid-range jumpers in this game. He can struggle one-on-one on defense at times, but generally makes good rotations.

It will be interesting to see how Anderson handles Thomas and Bailey's playing time moving forward, but he has favored the senior the last four games.

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