Hoop Hogs show off the stock after No. 10 Arkansas’ 18-point win over North Dakota State in Monday’s season opener
By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE – The 10th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks opened their 2022-23 regular season on Monday with an impressive 76-58 home win over unranked North Dakota State at Bud Walton Arena, and our post-game analysis brings us to a Hoop Hogs stock watch it’s rosier than a week ago as we assess the phases of the game where the team as a whole showed improvement, remained static or perhaps regressed from the work they put in performed during the pre-season.
Player rotations and chemistry on the pitch: Stock up.
While Hogs leading scorer and first-year guard Nick Smith, Jr. resisted (right knee management, precautionary measure), Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman opted for a new five starting lineup (compared to six preseason games) of freshman goaltender Anthony. Black, junior guard Devo Davis, junior wing Ricky Council IV and senior forwards Kamani Johnson and Makhi Mitchell while working at two reserves, sophomore forward Trevon Brazile and freshman forward Jordan Walsh, off from the bench for a rotation in the Top 7.
All but Johnson of this group played at least 18 minutes with Davis, Council, Brazile and Black each playing over 30 minutes.
Council (22 points, a game high), Brazile (21 points including three successful triples plus 12 rebounds for a double-double) and Davis (18 points) accounted for just over 80% of the Hogs’ score while combining for a boxscore plus -52 in 107 collective minutes.
Black provided the kind of stat sheet stuffing performances he is known for – 3 points, 7 rebounds, 3 team assists, 3 team steals, 1 block, 2 turnovers as a lead manager and a boxscore plus-14 in 30 minutes.
Mitchell’s numbers were similar to those he faced against Texas in an exhibition game on Oct. 29 — 8 points (4 of 5 goals), 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in 20 minutes.
That Musselman cooked up an effective rotation in a short time due to Smith’s absence was a victory in itself.
From a team chemistry perspective, the Hogs were mostly healthy on both ends of the floor (more stats later) as they shared and moved the basketball, defended well with good communication all helping in training and playing with the strength of their team in attack. the paint and the rim while minimizing the attempts at distance shooting.
Blue collar basketball and defense. Stock up.
That doesn’t get much better for blue collar workers than the plus-20 in the paint (44-24) to go with 23 free throw attempts while drawing 16 fouls, and while the plus-5 in rebounding ( 40-35) was not an unbalanced advantage, it was nevertheless a blue collar victory.
The Hogs’ 11 interceptions as part of NDSU’s forcing 14 turnovers often came from one-on-one physical defensive play as Arkansas defenders came in and challenged Bison ball handlers, providing more examples of effort and results for lunch.
The Razorbacks were stingy on guard shots as they limited the Bison to 19-of-56 (33.9%), including 5-of-21-of-3 (23.8%).
Arkansas did a solid job managing NDSU’s screen play while channeling drives to keep the Bison from hitting clean finishing angles.
It was quite a contrast to the Hogs’ soft performance against Texas just over a week ago when the Longhorns were shooting basketball while winning most of the hard-fought games.
Three point shots and turnovers. Stock up.
That 4-of-10 Arkansas effort from 3 (40%) was an overall improvement over the rest of their combined efficiency in the preseason is a win, but also keeping the volume of attempts that low while playing to the strength of the team driving to the basket was both savvy and ultra-efficient.
The Razorbacks made 24 of their 28 total field goals from inside the arc – most of them came on quick hits into the paint for finishes to the edge or near the edge – so that they hit almost 60% of their shots in the second half. Again, they had 20+ points in the paint (44-24) with 47 of their 57 total shot attempts from inside the arc.
With Smith duly noted as the team’s top three-point shooting threat, it was Brazile (6-10 stretch-4?) who stepped up to make 3 of 6 from range while the Board hit 1 on 2 beyond the arc.
When it comes to basketball, the Hogs’ 11 turnovers were about half of their preseason average of 20+ giveaways.
Davis (5), Black (2) and Brazile (2) had several turnovers, and as Musselman pointed out in his postgame press conference, most of them were “self-inflicted.” .
Still, Musselman’s stated revenue-per-game goal for his team is to be 9 or less, so two out of the count was easily an improvement over the six-game standout.
Factor in Arkansas’ plus-9 advantage in rotation points (20-11), and the battle to value basketball has favored the Hogs significantly.
Foul and transition violation. Stock down. The Hogs committed 19 fouls that led to 23 free throws for the Bison, and any time a smaller, slower, less athletic team can match Arkansas’ volume of free throw attempts, that’s a problem.
It looks like the kind of roster that will give Musselman his best quick-break team in four seasons at Arkansas, but the Hogs only managed 9 points in transition while giving up 10 points in the NDSU run.
These are likely outliers, but nonetheless Arkansas was expected to be superior in both categories (FTA and fast-breaking offense) on Monday, but failed to perform on the court.
Photos by John D. James…