The analytics behind Arkansas' win over Tennessee

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Monday, January 1, 2018
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford celebrates in front of Tennessee forward Kyle Alexander after the Razorbacks score during the first overtime period of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford celebrates in front of Tennessee forward Kyle Alexander after the Razorbacks score during the first overtime period of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

Everyone was eager to find out how Daniel Gafford would fare in his first Southeastern Conference action Saturday.

I’m sure he was chomping at the bit, too, and looking to further prove himself against a big of comparable size in Tennessee’s Kyle Alexander (6-11, 220).

After a couple of ‘Welcome to the SEC’ moments early that included two blocked/altered shots and one instance in which he had a defensive rebound ripped away, he found his footing.

I’m sure at some point Saturday you found yourself thinking Arkansas was a completely different team without Gafford on the floor. You were right. But how different, exactly?

First, let’s take a look at the offense. At one point in the second half, Arkansas was averaging .993 points per possession against the Vols defense. Not great. But the late scoring surge – 34 points in the final 8:53 — boosted that number to 1.13 by game’s end.

So, with Gafford on the floor, Arkansas averaged 1.36 PPP in 59 offensive trips, according to HoopLens. That’s a phenomenal number regardless of the opponent. In the 25 possessions he wasn’t on the floor: .60 PPP. That is a +.76 PPP differential just being on the floor.

Arkansas’ offense struggled mightily without the freshman this weekend. That goes back to the Razorbacks getting just five points from their bench, Trey Thompson being a net-negative in 13 minutes, Adrio Bailey recording only a block in his five minutes and C.J. Jones’ shooting struggles continuing (his one bucket of the day was nice, though).

The offense flowed and the ball moved with purpose in Gafford’s run. Guards looked to him quite a bit on the block late, and he delivered more often than not. I was really impressed with the post-positioning, where he caught entry passes and that he didn’t allow defenders to force him too far away from the basket on his touches.

Most of those situations went: catch, shot over the left shoulder, bucket. Gafford didn’t make things too complicated. Once he gets the ball to a high point before the shot, rarely is anyone able to contest.

Arkansas also shot the ball very well in his 33 minutes. Extremely well, actually. The Hogs were better than 61 percent inside the 3-point line, and even better outside of it — 63.6 percent. The figures dip to a still-solid 60 percent and a woeful 11.1 percent, respectively, without him.

The Razorbacks defense was just as bad without Gafford.

Tennessee scored at a 1.33 PPP clip and shot nearly 70 percent inside the arc in 27 possessions he wasn’t in the lineup. Basically, and Rick Barnes spoke about it after the game, the Vols got what they wanted in the halfcourt quite a bit. Arkansas was pretty bad stopping dribble penetration Saturday and it led to some really easy scores.

With Gafford roaming the lane, Tennessee made just 1 of 3 two-point looks on average. Mike Anderson will take that any day.

Tennessee shot 44 percent (11-of-25) from 3 in the loss, and 47.1 percent with Gafford out there. Admiral Schofield was the No. 1 culprit, knocking down a career-high four 3s. He hadn't made more than two in a game this season before Saturday, but he came out firing.

The Vols scored just a point per trip in Gafford's 57 defensive possessions.

Daryl Macon, Jaylen Barford, Daniel Gafford lineup

There's no debate Arkansas was at its best on both ends with these three guys on the floor at the same time.

Macon, named SEC Player of the Week for a second time this season and third time in his career, scored a career-high 33 points against Tennessee. Thirteen came in overtime. He was a menace in the extra period.

Barford was really good as well, adding 21 of a career-best 28 in the second half and overtime. He and Daryl became the first Arkansas players to score 28 or more in the same game since Arkansas joined the SEC.

You throw in Gafford's 15 points and Arkansas averaged an elite 1.42 points per possession in their 53 trips together. In 31 possessions all three weren't in the lineup that figure plummeted to .65 PPP. Pretty dramatic decline.

Vols miss Grant Williams

We all saw just what kind of a talent Grant Williams was Saturday when he blocked a C.J. Jones 3-point attempt and put Adrio Bailey on a poster after a steal on consecutive defensive possessions midway through the first half.

Williams was one of four Vols to foul out Saturday. He picked up his fifth foul with 2:10 left in regulation and was forced to watch as Arkansas' offense went nuclear.

The Razorbacks averaged .93 PPP with Williams in the Tennessee lineup (59 possessions). When he was off the floor or unavailable, Arkansas' offense soared to a stunning 1.60 PPP in 25 trips.

Only a sophomore, Williams entered the game averaging team highs in scoring (15.4) and rebounding (6.6). He also uses his explosiveness to block shots as a 6-7 forward. Williams was second in blocks with 18, trailing only the 6-11 Alexander.

Arkansas shot 73.3 percent and 66.7 percent from 3 without Williams on the floor.

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