|Who: No. 19 Michigan (15-4, 5-2 B10) at Arkansas (13-5, 2-2 SEC)|
|Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, AR|
|When: 2 p.m. ET, Saturday, January 21st, 2012|
|TV: CBS / Free Stream|
|Radio: MGoBlue, WWJ 950AM, WTKA 1050, Sirius 85, XM 85|
It’s back to the road for Michigan as the Wolverines open a six game stretch that will feature five games away from home. First up is a non-conference game sandwiched in the middle of Big Ten play as Michigan travels 900 miles to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Michigan will leave the trudging pace of the Big Ten back in the Midwest and face the nation’s third fastest major conference team, the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas averages 72.5 possessions per game, 14th fastest in Division I, which is over nine possessions (15%) more than Michigan’s 63.3 (314th) possessions per game. The Wolverines have played just one game as fast as the Razorbacks’ season average and the Razorbacks’ slowest game of the season would be Michigan’s fourth fastest game of the season.
Under new head coach Mike Anderson, Arkansas is one of the youngest Division I basketball teams in the nation. The Razorback rotation, which features nine players averaging between 16 and 28 minutes per game, is made up of four freshmen, two sophomores, a junior and two seniors. Returning leading scorer and rebounder Marshawn Powell was lost to a season ending knee surgery after just two games. The Razorbacks have yet to win away from home this season, with five losses at road or neutral sites, but are undefeated on their home floor. Only the last two wins, against Mississippi State and LSU, have been over KenPom top 100 teams while the other 11 wins were against opponents with an average KenPom ranking of 238.
Arkansas might be young and play fast but the Razorbacks don’t lack discipline with the basketball. Arkansas turns the ball over on just 18 percent of its possessions, and an SEC best 16.3% of its possessions in league play. On the year, the Razorbacks have been pretty average shooting the ball while making just 47.7% of their twos and 34.7% of their threes for a 49% effective field goal percentage. The three point shooting has improved in conference play while the two point shooting has dipped, although I’d be remiss not to mention that one of Arkansas’ four league games was against Kentucky and Anthony Davis, who has blocked more shots than most Division I teams this season.
Where Arkansas has run into trouble this season is on the backboard where the Razorbacks are the worst rebounding team in the SEC on both ends of the floor. In SEC games, Arkansas is rebounding just 23.8% of its missed shots while allowing opponents to reel in 38.5% of their misses. Michigan isn’t equipped to dominate teams on the glass, and will likely be cautious crashing the offensive glass due to Arkansas’ transition game, but it will be important for the Wolverines to control the defensive glass and come up with a few timely second chances.
Mike Anderson was a long time assistant to former Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson and has vowed to return Richardson’s “forty minutes of hell” philosophy to the Arkansas program. His defense backs it up. Arkansas forces turnovers on just under a quarter of their opponents’ possessions and has stolen the ball on a league best 13% of its opponents’ possessions in SEC play. Aggressive ball pressure defense and full court press is the name of the game and this is a challenge unlike anything that Michigan will see in the Big Ten. The aggressive style of defense has led to some foul issues and easy baskets in conference play. SEC teams have a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 41.5% versus Arkansas and are making 54.3% of their two point shots.
Given its aggressive style of play, it makes sense that Arkansas features a deep rotation. Freshman guard B.J. Young is the Razorbacks’ leading scorer, averaging 14.7 points per game in 23 minutes off the bench. Young is not only a very good three point shooter, 28-of-67 for 41.8%; he also makes 56.3% of his two point attempts. The only other double-digit scorer in the lineup is sophomore guard Mardracus Wade. Wade is the best pickpocket on the Arkansas roster and lethally efficient when he shoots the ball, making 37-of-75 threes (49.3%) on the season, but he uses fewer possessions than any of his less efficient teammates.
Arkansas is expecting its first sellout since March 1st, 2009, which was 52 home games ago versus Georgia, with just 900 tickets remaining as of yesterday morning. Bud Walton Arena has a capacity of 19,368 fans.
Penn State’s upset over Illinois last night puts Michigan alone in first place at 5-2. Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State and Purdue are all tied for second, a half game behind at 4-2.
This solid X’s and O’s picture page style breakdown of Arkansas’ full court press from Rush the Court should serve as some requisite pre-game reading material.
Razorback quarterback Brandon Mitchell recently joined the basketball team but is not expected to play on Saturday.
You can watch Mike Anderson’s pre-game press conference here at ArkansasRazorbacks.com.