By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas is looking to avoid hard luck in its second Hardwood Classic matchup when the storied Indiana Hoosiers of the Big 10 roll into Fayetteville on Sunday.
Tip-off against Indiana — 3-0 and looking to stay undefeated after an impressive 96-73 home win Wednesday over No. 24 Marquette — is set for 2:30 p.m. CT at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, a game that will be televised nationally by ESPN. Arkansas (1-1) has not started a season worse than 2-1 in Mike Anderson’s first seven campaigns as head coach.
“Indiana is a really good basketball team,” Anderson said Thursday during his press conference. “Got a chance to watch tape and watched them last night. They took it to a Marquette team that was ranked. I said earlier I thought Indiana was one of the better teams in the country. Archie, Coach Miller, has got a chance to get in there and get some good talent. Young talent along with a guy like (senior forward Juwan) Morgan. I think Morgan is kind of the leader of that group, They are very talented. They’ve got really good guard play.
“The Langford kid (6-6 freshman guard Romeo Langford) is highly touted coming out and a big get for them. You look at their team they have a transfer in there, a big kid (6-10 senior Evan Fitzner) that transferred from Mount St. Mary’s. I think he shot maybe four threes last night. So it’s a team that has versatile parts. It sets up for a great game here at Bud Walton Arena. Our fans get a chance to witness a Big Ten team coming in and I’m sure it’s something our guys are looking forward to.”
As of Thursday, less than 500 tickets remained available for fans to purchase. Bud Walton Arena’s listed seating capacity is 19,200.
Akansas suffered a hard-fought, 73-71 overtime loss at the hands of Texas last Friday in the season-opener in El Paso, TX, and followed that up with an 81-58 win over California-Davis on Monday in the Hogs’ home-opener and the first of four Hardwood Classic games to be played at BWA. Sophomore center and preseason All SEC 1st Team pick Daniel Gafford leads the Hogs with 16.0 points (61.1% field goals), 8.0 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks per game. The 6-11 El Dorado native also leads the Hogs in turnovers (6.0) while shooting only 55.6% (10-of-18) from the free throw line.
“With my turnovers, all I’ve got to do is take care of the ball more,” Gafford said Thursday. “Since I’m getting double-teamed more than I was last year I have to have patience on passing out of the double-team or dribbling out of the double-team. If I take care of the ball more then we get more points.”
The Hogs so far have gotten solid contributions from starting guards Mason Jones (16.0 points and 7.0 rebounds), Isaiah Joe (15.5 points, 53.8% shooting from 3), and Jalen Harris (6.5 points, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.0 turnovers), as well as starting junior forward Adrio Bailey, whose 14.0 points includes a career-high 20 points and his first career 3-pointer in the win over UC Davis.
Combined through two games, the Razorbacks have struggled with free throw shooting (only 61.5%, including 54.2% against Texas and 42.9% in the first half against UC Davis), assists and turnovers (22 assists compared to 33 turnovers), scoring in transition (only 6 fast-break points from 38 opposition turnovers), and bench production (only 16 bench points in 107 minutes as Arkansas’s starters have accounted for 136 points and 318 minutes). Conversely, Arkansas has been solid overall defensively, mixing in a 2-3 matchup zone with its man-to-man halfcourt defense while limiting Texas to 31.3% field goal shooting (including 19.2% in the second half) and UC Davis to 32.1% field goal shooting (including 25.0% in the second half). Arkansas also has an edge in points in the paint and points off turnovers after two games.
Indiana is averaging 93.3 points per game with an average margin of victory of 38.7 points. The Hoosiers have made 58.6% of their shot attempts, including a blistering-hot 70.6% inside the 3-point arc. Like Arkansas, Indiana has had its troubles at the free throw line (61.3%). Defensively, Indiana has been good in field-goal efficiency, holding teams to 33.3% shooting (including 18.6% from 3) while forcing 19.7 turnovers per game.
Langford, projected to be selected in the 2019 NBA Draft lottery according to several mock drafts, leads the team in scoring (17.7 points) and finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks in Indiana’s blowout win over Marquette. Fitzner (12.0 points, 4.0 rebounds), Morgan (12.0 points, 9.0 rebounds), and Justin Smith (11.3 points, 4.3 rebounds) go 6-10, 6-8, and 6-7, and they offer a combination of skills — face-up, perimeter-shooting, and handling — that create matchup problems. Freshman guard Rob Phinisee (6-1) is averaging 10.0 points and 4.7 assists.
“They rebounded the basketball well,” Anderson said of what he saw while watching Indiana defeat Marquette on Wednesday. “They share the basketball. They’ve got balance in scoring. Their guards rebound. They keep the floor spread so they’ve got guys who can attack. You look at Langford, he was getting to the basket quite a bit and to the free throw line. And they just made shots. They kept Marquette at a distance. They are athletic, one of the tougher teams. So we’ve got our hands full with them coming in.”
Anderson said he expects Indiana to be aggressive on the offensive glass, and for both teams to push the basketball.
“I know Archie’s teams, they are going to shoot it and go get it,” Anderson said. “They are going to hang their hats on defense and they are really going to try to get the offensive rebound. So we have to do a good job of finishing on defense by rebounding the basketball. I think the game will get up and down the floor. They are averaging 93 points a game. So they are not holding the basketball and we’re not going to hold it either.”
Arkansas and Indiana have met twice before on a basketball court, splitting the two games — the Hoosiers won in December 1949, and the Hogs won in March 2008 during the second round of the NCAA tournament in Raleigh, N.C. Second-year Indiana coach Archie Miller is no stranger to Arkansas and Bud Walton Arena. Miller brought his Dayton Flyers to Fayetteville in December 2014 in a game the Razorbacks won, 69-55. The following season (December 2015), Miller’s Flyers hosted the Hogs and won in overtime, 85-81.
Between Arkansas and Indiana, the programs have combined for: 6 national championships (Indiana 5, Arkansas 1) … 2 national runners-up (Indiana 1, Arkansas 1) … 14 Final Fours (Indiana 8, Arkansas 6) … 21 Elite Eights (Indiana 11, Arkansas 10) … 33 Sweet 16s (Indiana 22, Arkansas 11) … 71 NCAA tournament appearances (Indiana 39, Arkansas 32) … 46 regular-season conference championships (Indiana 22, Arkansas 24).
“It’s a real big game because the biggest game is the next game we play, and that’s Sunday and that’s against Indiana,” Gafford said. “We’re going to come out and be ready to play and be ready to feed off all the energy from all the fans that’s going to be out, because nine times out of 10 the game’s going to be sold out. We can’t be nothing but ready for it.”
Gafford added that playing a name program like Texas in the opener can be helpful as the Hogs get ready to face another quality team in Indiana so early in the season.
“I believe it will because when we played Texas there were some things that we didn’t do too good, but it was some things we also did great,” he said. “If we do the same things again that was great and fix the things we didn’t do as well and have them both in the same category, it’s going to be a great day for us.”
Following the Indiana game, Arkansas will play the final two Hardwood Classic matchups at BWA next week — Montana State on Wednesday, Nov. 21, and Texas-Arlington on Friday, Nov. 23. Arkansas plays a total of eight more in-state games (seven at home in Fayetteville, one in North Little Rock) in the months of November and December, including Western Kentucky at BWA on Dec. 8 and Georgia Tech at BWA on Dec. 19. The Razorbacks play only once more outside the state of Arkansas — at Colorado State on Dec. 5 — before opening up SEC play at Texas A&M on Jan. 5, 2019.
5 Things on My Pre-Game Radar for Arkansas-Indiana:
1) Free throw shooting and turnovers … if this is beginning to sound like a broken record, so be it until the Hogs show significant improvement … 61.5% overall from the foul line is not going to cut it, but was a 21-of-27 effort (77.8%) in the second half against UC Davis an anomoly or a turning point? Too soon to think the latter might be true after a shaky preseason followed by 3 consecutive dismal halves against the Longhorns and Aggies … encouraging, though, that Gafford and Bailey went from a combined 4-of-11 against Texas to a combined 15-of-20 against UC Davis … as far as the turnovers, 33 in two games is not a complete fail but so many have been unforced, and coupled with a low output in assists to this point (only 22 in two games) the miscues seem more glaring … most of the individual giveaways have been a result of Gafford (12 total turnovers) struggling to play through defensive double-teams … can the Hogs clean things up at the free throw line (Indiana opponents are averaging 19 attempts per game) and take care of the basketball (Indiana is forcing nearly 20 turnovers per game)? They’ll have to have a chance to win this game.
2) Defense … Arkansas kept both Texas and UC Davis in the low 30’s in field-goal percentage, but here comes Indiana and it’s shiny 58.6% shooting, including a brilliant and blinding 70.6% on 2-point shots … the Hogs have done a good job of changing defenses while limiting deep penetration, closing fast on ball movememnt, staying in front of shooters on the perimeter, crashing passing lanes and getting deflections, and Gafford has been disruptive by altering shots when he’s not blocking them … though the Hogs have only 6 fast-break points off of 38 opposition turnovers, they have been winning the points-off-turnovers battles (26-8 advantage against UC Davis) … the Hoosiers will put size and skill on the floor, and they are averaging an impressive 93.3 points and 20.0 assists per game, which suggests good spacing and ball movement, so the Razorbacks will have to be on-point defensively … can Arkansas slow the Hoosiers down?
3) Bench … completely out of the norm for an Arkansas second unit to average only 8.0 points while being outscored 42-16 and playing only 53.5 minutes per game … the Hogs are still operating with a 9-deep rotation, and top reserves Gabe Osabuohien, Desi Sills, Keyshwn Embery-Simpson, and Reggie Chaney have simply been out of sync and often in a hurry once they check into the game … Osabuohien makes energy plays (takes charges, crashes the glass, gets defelctions, etc.) but he’s been overly aggressive offensively with several ill-advised drives and off-balance shots … Chaney has appeared rushed on offense, which has led to turnovers including offensive fouls, but he appears to have the size, strength, quickness, and talent to help Arkansas around the basket at both ends of the floor … given the Hoosiers have been excellent in offensive pace and efficiency while 10 players are averaging at least 12.5 minutes per game, the Razorbacks are going to need production and meaningful impact from their bench in support of the starters … will they get it?
4) Gafford must get better against double-teams for Arkansas’s offense to maximize its potential while shaving down the turnovers … another broken-record moment for obvious issues still facing the 6-11 El Dorado native … the 12 turnovers — 6 in each game — have mostly been a result of poor management when defenses spring double-teams on him … against Texas, Gafford appeared to react slowly while not moving the ball to teammates … against UC Davis, Gafford made some good passes but was often playing too fast which disrupted timing and still led to turnovers … several things here: a) Gafford has not done a good job of catching a pass and immediately turning to face the defender and the basket to see where the help is coming from (if he did it would allow him to make better-placed, timely passes, or smarter moves away from the double-teams; b) most of the double-teams have come from behind Gafford on his high side, which means if he’s not going to face-up but still expects to beat the double with a move, he needs to be decisive and drop-step or spin baseline-side — too often he’s tried to beat the double going to the middle of the paint toward the help before it gets set, but that too has resulted in awkward spacing and turnovers; c) don’t think, just pass out quickly to the nearest teammate in line of sight and reset — that makes the defense work harder while the ball moves, and a reset to re-establish low-block position makes the second interior pass more adventageous for Gafford to finish … will Gafford make necessary adjustments in time for Indiana?
5) is Reggie Chaney ready to break out? After a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds) in Arkansas’s first exhibition game against Tusculum, it appeared Chaney was ready to be a productive reserve on a team short on depth … but foul problems and mistakes have limited his minutes since, although his per-minute production still reflects a player who will be a key piece in Arkansas’s rotation … Anderson has said Chaney will have to step up for this team to accomplish goals, and no better time to do that than against an Indiana team that likely will be ranked if it exits Fayetteville with a 4-0 record … will the 6-8 freshman forward give Arkansas a shot in the arm off the bench to help the Hogs defend and rebound at one end while finishing around the basket at the other? He may have to if Arkansas is to come out with a 2-game winning streak.
Pro Hogs report (through games played Wednesday, Nov. 14)
Bobby Portis (6-11 forward, Chicago Bulls, 4th NBA season): Portis, a 1st-round pick in 2015, is out likely another 3 more weeks with a moderate strain to his right knee suffered in late October against Charlotte. Prior to injury, Portis started all of the Bulls’ first four games and averaged a double-double — 10.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks in 28.3 minutes. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds in the Bulls’ season-opening road loss against Philadelphia.
Patrick Beverley (6-1 point guard, Los Angeles Clippers, 6th NBA season): Beverley has started all 13 games for the 8-5 Clippers, averaging 6.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. Beverley had a season-high 21 points (7-of-11 field goals including 5-of-8 from 3, plus 2-of-2 free throws) to go with 5 rebounds and 3 assists in L.A.’s 128-126 win over Milwaukee on Saturday, Nov. 10.
Daryl Macon (6-3 combo guard, Dallas Mavericks / Texas Legends, undrafted free-agent NBA / G-League rookie): Macon has started all 4 games for the Texas Legends, averaging 37.2 minutes, a team-high 23.8 points (45.7% field goals, 35.7% from 3, 91.3% free throws), 4.0 assists, and 2.0 rebounds. Macon had a career-best 35 points in the season-opener. Macon was on the Mavs’ active roster for 4 of their first 5 regular-season games, and he made his NBA debut playing 1 minute while recording no stats against Toronto in October. Macon signed a 2-way contract with Dallas is August, which means he can be part of the Mavs’ roster and play in the NBA for up to 45 days during the regular season while alternating as a player in the G-League.
Jaylen Barford (6-3 combo guard, Greensboro Swarm, G-League rookie): Barford was on the Charlotte Hornets’ preseason roster, and is currently on the roster of the Hornets’ G-League affiliate team, the Greensboro Swarm. He has played in 3 games, averaging 18.3 minutes, 10.0 points (42.4% field goals, including 22.2% from 3), 2.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.0 assists in a reserve role.
Dusty Hannahs (6-3 shooting guard, Memphis Hustle, 2nd G-League season ): Hannahs has played in 5 games, averaging 21.9 minutes, 7.4 points (41.0 field goals, including 35.7% from 3), 1.4 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in a reserve role.
Michael Qualls (6-5 shooting guard, Wisconsin Herd, 2nd G-League season): Qualls has played in 4 games, averaging 13.1 minutes, 5.8 points (31.3% feld goals, 12.5% from 3, 80.0% free throws), 4.8 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 1.0 assists, and 1.0 steals in a reseerve