Analyzing Arkansas' blowout win over Colorado State

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Daniel Gafford motions to the crowd in Arkansas 92-66 win over Colorado State Tuesday Dec. 5, 2017 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Daniel Gafford motions to the crowd in Arkansas 92-66 win over Colorado State Tuesday Dec. 5, 2017 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

— Five takeaways from Arkansas’ 92-66 win over Colorado State.

Winning the possession game

Mike Anderson loves possessions. He was a happy man Tuesday.

Arkansas ranks 23rd in the nation in pace, averaging an impressive 74.6 possessions per game. Against Colorado State, the Hogs had 74. But more than just the raw number, it was the kind of possessions they got.

Arkansas outscored the Rams 27-6 in points off turnovers, 16-7 on fast-break points and had numerous other scoring opportunities in semi-transition or early offense situations after getting stops.

The Razorbacks averaged just 13 seconds per possession, an uber-fast rate that would rank near the top of the nation for the season. The pace helped Arkansas bounce back from a 91-65 loss at Houston, a game in which the Hogs struggled mightily in the halfcourt.

They were zippier in their halfcourt motion Tuesday, but getting stops and getting out and running played a big role, too.

C.J. stepping up

Sophomore guard C.J. Jones only played 10 minutes and scored just two points in Arkansas’ 92-83 win over Oklahoma in the opening game of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Since, he’s averaged 15.3 points in 22.5 minutes, blossoming as a needed floor-spacer and source of instant offense.

He scored a career-high 19 against Connecticut and Colorado State during the stretch. In it, he’s shooting 13 of 27 from 3-point range, a great percentage and a healthy number of attempts.

The 6-foot-5 Birmingham, Ala., native was a part of a bench unit that outscored CSU 47-17 and turned the flow of the game when they entered with the Rams up 13-4, scoring 12 straight as part of a game-changing 26-3 run.

He was at the center of it, knocking down shots and using his length to be a productive part of a stingy, athletic defense comprised mostly of young bench guys paired with a senior guard or two. He won’t be in the running for SEC Defensive Player of the Year anytime soon, but his improvement on that end has made him more playable.

So has his ability to flat-out shoot the basketball. The Razorbacks were plus-35 with him on the floor Tuesday.

He makes Arkansas extremely tough to guard when he shares the court with two of the senior guards.

Gafford shines minus fouls

For the first time in five games, Daniel Gafford wasn’t mired in early foul trouble.

It made a huge difference.

He checked in as part of the young bench group that changed the game. More than anyone else, he swung the flow of the game, getting a block on his first defensive possession and drawing a foul while going for a rebound on his first offensive possession.

He finished with 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks in 16 minutes. Arkansas was plus-27 with him on the court. The Hogs won by 26.

CSU fronts the post, a strategy Arkansas took advantage of time and time again to lob it over the top for easy looks, mostly to Gafford. The weakside help wasn’t there and he generally made the Rams pay.

He had three dunks, one of which was a one-handed breakaway jam after a steal in the second half. With a clear runway, he could’ve easily gotten more creative, evidenced by the shows he puts on in warmups.

That’s nitpicking at its finest and the only complaint from an otherwise impressive performance.

Thomas starts

Anderson switched up the starting lineup for the first time this year, inserting senior forward Dustin Thomas in place of sophomore Adrio Bailey.

The starters were effective in Arkansas’ first six games, posting a massive plus-31.8 net rating, but struggled mightily at Houston as the Cougars jumped out to the early 11-0 lead and never looked back.

Anderson isn’t afraid to mix his starting lineups up until he finds a group he likes. Tuesday’s new lineup probably won’t be the last change.

Arkansas got off to another bad start, falling behind 10-0 early, the result of missed shots, iffy defense and shoddy defensive rebounding. But the Hogs came back and Thomas played well, finishing with six points, two rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes.

He airballed his first jumper, a baseline mid-ranger, but later hit two long 2-pointers. After struggling with his shot his first three college seasons, the fifth-year senior has hit 4 of 5 jumpers inside the arc the last two games.

It’s a big development if it continues. Anderson has preached about the need to unclog the lane for the senior guards. Thomas won’t shoot 80 percent on jumpers, defenses will generally cede him that shot and he doesn’t appear comfortable stretching his range past the 3-point line, but he is the best shooter of Arkansas’ bigs.

Bailey only played nine minutes, recording just an assist and a foul, but he was part of the strong defensive second unit and finished a plus-13. His dip in playing time is somewhat understandable given Anderson's desire to test out other players, but at the same time, he was ranked fourth in the SEC in shot blocking going into the Houston game.

Arlando Cook didn’t score and went 0 of 3 from the floor in his season debut, but had four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 15 minutes. He made a few effort plays, which are his niche.

Tracking the rotation at the 4 will be interesting moving forward with three guys in the mix.

Hall hits

Freshman wing Darious Hall only hit nine 3-pointers as a senior in high school and didn’t make his first college three until the Connecticut game.

But he hit 2 of 4 from range Tuesday while playing 18 minutes, a high mark in his young career. He finished with a career-best eight points and had three rebounds and two turnovers.

He has been aggressive early on in the season, evidenced by a sizable turnover rate, but mostly in trying to attack off the dribble. Tuesday, he didn’t hesitate to shoot when the ball was swung his way.

That’s the most important takeaway, but the shots going down are no doubt big for him. The staff was happy with his shooting form when he arrived on campus, feeling he just needed reps and confidence to turn into a passable perimeter shooter.

If he can be that, he then opens up driving lanes and becomes more playable, a legitimate and sorely needed fifth guard capable of playing real, significant rotation minutes. His physical tools and defensive instincts already make him a plus on that end of the court.

He won’t play 18 minutes every night, but being able to have him for at least 12 to 15 would go a long way toward relieving some of the stress put on the trio of senior guards early in the year.

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