5 Observations from Arkansas' 84-78 loss to Mississippi State

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Mississippi State's Lamar Peters surveys the floor while being guarded by Arkansas' Daryl Macon in the Bulldogs' 84-78 win in Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017.
Photo by Anthony Reyes
Mississippi State's Lamar Peters surveys the floor while being guarded by Arkansas' Daryl Macon in the Bulldogs' 84-78 win in Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017.

— Five observations, with video, from Arkansas’ 84-78 loss to Mississippi State.

— Hogs don’t defend 3, Weatherspoon

Mississippi State takes a lot of 3-pointers. That sentence should be enough to give any Arkansas fan cause for concern.

Entering the game, 38.9 percent of the Bulldogs’ shots came from behind the arc, a rate that ranked third in the SEC behind Vanderbilt and Auburn. Tuesday, 26 of their 55 shots came from 3-point range. They hit 12 and put on an offensive clinic.

Some of it boiled down to Quinndary Weatherspoon just being the best player on the court. The Bulldogs’ sophomore guard hit 6 of 7 3-pointers and scored a game-high 25. He entered the night averaging 17.7, so it’s not like the outburst came out of nowhere. But he was feeling it in Bud Walton.

Range. That’s a shot Arkansas will live with.

But the Bulldogs spent most of the night breaking down every defensive scheme the Razorbacks threw out there and generating an array of open looks. Tuesday was just the latest example of the Hogs’ issues defending against pick-and-roll heavy teams.

Arkansas likes to switch, a tactic that can leave Moses Kingsley, the team’s best rim protector and rebounder, checking a guard 25 feet from the basket.

Even if Weatherspoon missed, Barford is boxed out underneath the hoop on the switch.

Switching bigs onto guards hasn’t produced ideal results for much of the year, but the Razorbacks don’t show any sign of retiring the look. Anderson believes in varying his defenses in an attempt to keep opposing offenses off balance. Mississippi State scored on every look the Hogs threw at them Tuesday.

Arkansas likes to spring random traps on occasion. It’s a risk-reward proposal.

Here, Beard traps Bulldog big Aric Holman. The trap doesn’t force a turnover and Holman wisely whips the ball to Beard’s man, Lamar Peters, who is wide open for one of his four 3s.

Peters just so happened to enter the game making 46 percent of his 3s, second in the SEC. Not the smartest guy to leave open.

This trap manifests out of a matchup zone. Peters is again left open as a result and the Bulldogs make the Hogs pay for the gamble by getting him the ball for an open look.

The Hogs simply aren’t connected on this possession. There’s miscommunication between Arlando Cook and Jaylen Barford about whether or not they’re going to switch. Both freeze for a split-second, enough time to give I.J. Ready a crevice. He gets into the lane, draws help and kicks to the wide-open Peters on the wing.

A defense has to play as a collective, on a string, if it is going to switch. Here, Hannahs is a step too slow switching onto Weatherspoon and the pindown screen frees him up for another 3. He hit four of his six 3-pointers off this simple action.

Arkansas went to its 2-3 zone for stretches, but the Bulldogs did a good job moving the floor to create open looks on the weakside for shooters. It’s also harder to rebound out of a zone, which was an issue (more on that later).

Obviously it's impossible to trade 2s for 3s and survive. The difference of the extra point is massive against volume-shooting 3-point teams, a reality that has served as the driving force behind the NBA as a whole and some college teams trending toward 3-happy offenses. Arkansas is on the other end of the spectrum. The Razorbacks attempt 3s on just 27 percent of their shots, a number which ranks dead last in the SEC and 333rd out of 351 teams in the nation.

The Razorbacks took 21 on Tuesday, five more than they’ve attempted in any of their other SEC games. But Mississippi State outscored Arkansas 36-21 from beyond the arc as it carved up the Razorback defense. It was the difference in the game.

— MSU guards wreak havoc

Some of the 3-point defense issues highlighted above stemmed from Arkansas’ inability to contain Mississippi State’s dribble penetration.

That issue also allowed the Bulldogs to set up easy baskets in the paint after beating Arkansas guards off the bounce. The Bulldogs are one of the youngest teams in the nation, but that youth had no trouble blowing past Arkansas defenders. Peters, in particular, created issues with his ability to penetrate, combining a quick first step with a nifty handle to split defenders on pick-and-rolls or just blow by defenders.

That’s an NBA move.

Mike Anderson suggested his guards need to do a better job of adjusting during the game and giving opposing guards some room if they know they can’t hang with them off the dribble. That was an issue most of the night, whether it was Peters or Ready, a Little Rock native and the Bulldogs’ lone senior.

Ready sets up that and-1 by beating Manny Watkins off the dribble and forcing Kingsley to help.

Applying full-court pressure essentially provided a runway for Mississippi State's guards to show off their speed and zoom into the frontcourt, creating transition-like opportunities. Here, Ready beats Hannahs and forces the defense to help, leading to a basket.

Peters was such a nuisance that the Hogs blitzed him on this pick-and-roll late in the half. The freshman kept his composure, fed the big and Mississippi State took advantage of the 4-on-3 power play for an easy dunk.

Arkansas’ perimeter defense has been an issue against guards with quickness, which the Hogs are encountering with more frequency in SEC play. It’s tough to play solid defense when you’re in scramble mode trying to fix mistakes on the fly after an opposing guard gets into the lane. That’s what’s happening far too often.

— Rebounding an issue, again

Holman revealed an interesting nugget postgame: “Beginning of the game (coach Ben Howland) was telling us they don't box out very good, so we focused on that."

Hard to argue with Howland’s assessment. Mississippi State entered the game ranked No. 13 in the SEC in rebounding margin at minus-0.6 and last offensive rebounding with 8.9 per game, but the Bulldogs beat Arkansas up on the glass.

They outrebounded Arkansas 41-29, thanks in large part to their 15 offensive rebounds. No one boxes out here for Arkansas. Everyone simply jumps for the rebound and Mississippi State’s athleticism earns it two points.

Both teams scored 14 second-chance points, so while Arkansas' inability to clean the defensive glass consistently is a clear issue, it’s not like it was the main culprit in the loss. But grabbing offensive rebounds allowed Mississippi State to extend possessions and make it tougher for Arkansas to rally.

The Bulldogs entered the night ranked 217th in the nation in adjusted pace, averaging 68.5 offensive possessions per game (about three less than Arkansas, a sizable gap). Their average possession lasted 17.2 seconds, middle-of-the-pack nationally and two seconds longer than Arkansas’, again, a hefty margin.

Tuesday, Mississippi State’s average possessions ran 20 seconds. The Bulldogs operated at a deliberate pace and the offensive rebounds allowed them to milk the clock even more, giving Arkansas a much smaller margin for error in its comeback attempt.

Hannahs hit a 3 to cut it to 62-59 with 8:21 left. The Bulldogs snare two offensive rebounds to extend their possession and finally score to extend the lead to five with 7:12 left, effectively using up an eighth of the remaining time in the game on one possession.

Arkansas is allowing 15 offensive rebounds per game in SEC play, a startling number that hasn’t dipped lower than 14 against any of its four opponents.

Moses Kingsley, easily the Razorbacks’ best rebounder, had just four rebounds in 29 minutes. Anderson hinted that he might use the Kingsley-Trey Thompson pairing more after it was successful against Kentucky in its first extended run this year, but he didn’t go to it Tuesday. It’s not like Thompson was great on the glass either, but he played well in his limited time and the lineup gives Arkansas its most bulk and best chance to clear defensive boards.

SEC opponents are grabbing 38.5 percent of their misses against the Razorbacks, a rate that ranks 13th in the SEC and is nearly nine percentage points higher than the Division I average.

It’s tough to win games if a team doesn’t get stops. It’s even tougher when said team can’t rebound on the stops it gets.

— Hannahs breaks out of slump

Hey, a positive observation.

Dusty Hannahs came off the bench for the first time in five games, but still had a rough first half. He misfired on a pair of 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes, his sixth and seventh consecutive misses as he dropped to 4 of 17 from beyond the arc in SEC play. But he hit his first three 3s of the second half, part of an encouraging 17-point effort for the senior.

He was able to get free as a result of some nice offense.

This isn’t quite an elevator screen, but it has the same effect as Watkins and Thompson combine to spring Hannahs for an open look.

Here, Thomas sets a nice little screen on Weatherspoon, who’s stuck in the paint while Hannahs is chilling in the corner. Trey Thompson recognizes the opening immediately.

Arkansas ran Hannahs off a lot of pindowns and he has a good feel for knowing when to pop out to the wing for a 3 and when to curl off the screen and attack the basket.

His shot quality Tuesday was good. The 17 points were the most he’d scored in exactly a month after also scoring 17 in a Dec. 10 win over North Florida. Maybe this game gets him going.

— Kingsley provides lift on offense

Kingsley didn’t rebound well, but had his best offensive performance of the year, finishing with a season-high 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting.

How he got his points should be an encouraging sign for the Hogs.

His jumper was working. He hit a 3-pointer for the second straight game and knocked down a long 2-point jumper (should’ve taken the extra step back and let it fly from 3).

The Razorbacks have gone away from force-feeding him in the post on a regular basis the last few games, a wise move considering his struggles with his back to the basket. But he finished one Tuesday post-up with maybe his best offensive move of the season.

Great move. Quick and confident.

Of his seven baskets, four were assisted and another came off a steal. The Razorbacks did a better job setting him up. Here, Macon drives, draws the defense and dishes to Kingsley.

That’s a play Arkansas’ guards, with the exception of Anton Beard, haven’t been making.

Arkansas actually hit the roll man on a few ball screens! It is possible.

Nice back screen by Arlando Cook.

If the Hogs start doing this on a consistent basis, the threat of Kingsley's roll will begin to have a lot of gravity, sucking in the defense and opening up the floor for teammates. That wasn’t the only time the Hogs hit the roller. They did it several times early in the game.

Arkansas has used more ball screens than normal this year, but the guards too often neuter the action by ignoring the big who rolls or pops. Perhaps Tuesday signals a bit of a change in that regard.

Offense wasn’t the issue. Arkansas posted a decent 109.9 offensive rating. That should be good enough to win most games. Obviously it wasn’t Tuesday. Mississippi State's offensive rating was 118.3, the second straight game the Hogs have been blitzed on defense after Kentucky posted a 131.1.

Stray Thoughts

— Arkansas only had nine turnovers, but it felt like a lot more because most of them were of the live-ball variety. Mississippi State had eight steals, including five by Ready. The Hogs were fortunate Mississippi State only scored six points off turnovers.

— Beard's line (11 points, 2 assists in 26 minutes) won't wow anyone, but he is very clearly the best penetrator and distributor on the team, the only real point guard on the roster. The shot quality with him in the game is markedly better. Wonder if he will ever be moved back into the the starting lineup and given the keys to the team.

— Speaking of starting lineup changes, will Dustin Thomas be re-inserted? Anderson started Cook, but went with Thomas to start the second half and Cook only played two minutes after halftime. The starting lineups with Cook have been outscored a combined 63-44 in 24:36 the last three games. Thomas tends to play better alongside Kingsley, while Cook and Thompson had established a nice rapport in the second unit. Cook only played 11 minutes Tuesday and the Hogs were minus-6 with him on the floor. Thomas had 8 points and 7 rebounds (4 offensive) in 26 minutes. He needs to do a better job on the defensive glass.

— Macon has been Arkansas’ best player at times, but only had 8 points on 3 of 7 shooting and Anderson was critical of his defense after the game. Will be interesting to see how he responds moving forward.

— C.J. Jones got his first meaningful SEC playing time and went scoreless in seven first-half minutes. The Razorbacks were plus-7 with him on the floor, but he badly missed his only shot, airmailing a 3-pointer over the rim. Anderson subbed him out 26 seconds later at the next stoppage in play. It was his first in-game shot attempt since Dec. 22. Tough to have a rhythm without having had many recent game reps, especially as a freshman.

— Beard is typically really good at finishing in the paint despite his size, but got a pair of his shots thrown back with force.

— Arkansas made just 15 of 23 free throws (65.2 percent) after entering the night shooting 77.7 percent from the line. Thomas split all four of his trips to the line, including three big misses in the second half.

— Wasn’t really anywhere to put this above, but I enjoyed this split-cut action that leads to a Beard and-1 layup. Beard and Jones effectively screen for each other and Mississippi State is late on the switch, creating an opening for Thompson to thread a pass. Golden State uses this action a ton.

Thompson had a team-best three assists in 10 minutes. Arkansas was plus-5 with him on the court, the best +/- of any big on the team.

— Bad home loss to a young, inexperienced Mississippi State team that entered the night with the No. 178 RPI. The scary thing for Arkansas: the Bulldogs looked like the better team. They were more athletic, more fundamentally sound and shot the ball well on good looks. The loss basically cancels out the win at Tennessee. Arkansas likely needs to get 11-12 SEC wins to get into the NCAA Tournament. At 1-3, the Hogs are looking at needing to win 10 of their final 14 to get to 11. Not a lot of room for error.


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