Get your necks loose and your lungs ready.
The Arkansas Razorbacks (12-6, 3-2) bring their end-to-end, gasping-for-breath style to Colonial Life Arena Saturday to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks (11-7, 1-4 SEC). After a narrow loss to Missouri Tuesday, the Gamecocks will look to stop their cycle of late-game heartbreak, and seal a second SEC win.
They're already off to a good start: Arkansas has yet to win a road game, losing all five by an average of 12.8 points.
Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Razorbacks collide in Columbia (1:00 p.m. EST airtime, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):
The Tug-Of-War: A basketball game has various states of equilibrium. If a team struggles in one area, it can compensate in another. If a player pursues one stat too vigorously, it could leave him underperforming in another.
South Carolina hangs his hat on relentless offensive rebounding. Despite its small stature, the Gamecocks rank 3rd in the nation in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (42.2%).
Arkansas, led by second-year coach Mike Anderson, excels in the open floor. According to Synergy - and Luke Winn's excellent SI Power Rankings -- Arkansas ranks 8th nationally, getting transition baskets on 21% of its possessions.
It begs the question: will the threat of a fast break affect South Carolina's ability to offensive-rebound? Might they sacrifice sending some players to the rim, so they can cover themselves for potential runouts?
Lakeem Jackson (left) on the boards vs. Arkansas last year. Get ready for a showdown between Carolina's offensive rebounding and Arkansas' transition offense.
Frank Martin has been down this road before, when his Kansas State teams battled Anderson's squads at Missouri.
"If our guys go to the glass, then Arkansas is going to have to stay in there and rebound, and not be able to leak out," he explained on "Carolina Calls."
"In the past, the battles between Mike's teams and my teams have been who's going to be better at what they try to do. We try to rebound. They try to turn you over. The games where we haven't turned it over and out-rebounded them, we've had success. You either run everyone back or you got to go rebound. I like to go rebound," he said.
That tug-of-war - South Carolina's offensive rebounding versus Arkansas' quick-trigger transition - could decide a winner Saturday. Freshman Michael Carrera, the Gamecocks' highest-percentage offensive rebounder, will need to bounce back after managing just one offensive rebound against Missouri.
"Hell" To Pay: Anderson, a longtime Nolan Richardson assistant, has rekindled his boss' famed, frenetic "40 Minutes of Hell" style. Using a blistering full-court press, the Razorbacks have forced 17.8 turnovers per game in league play, most in the SEC. Junior Mardracus Wade is Arkansas' top turnover merchant (1.8 steals/game).
Arkansas' press isn't technical, or tactical, or loaded with principles. It's meant to be simple, and chaotic, and panic-striking. See ball, swarm ball, steal ball.
But Arkansas has another impressive stat. Usually teams that play a fast-paced, trapping style get reckless with the ball themselves. Yet Arkansas also ranks 8th nationally in Turnover % Offense, throwing it away on just 16% of possessions. According to kenpom.com, they're the only team in the top 25 in both TO% Defense (i.e., forcing turnovers) and TO% Offense (avoiding them).
Arkansas - Turnover Percentage (% of Possessions Ending in a TO)
Offense: 16.1% (8th)
Defense 24.8% (14th)
Valuing possessions will be key Saturday. No "jailbreaks," as Martin called Missouri's runouts. Fortunately, Carolina has improved dramatically in keeping the basketball, as the numbers below show:
South Carolina Turnover Margin
Non-conference: -3.6 (14th SEC)
Conference: +2.6 (4th SEC)
Man to Stop: Arkansas guard B.J. Young. He may rank third in the SEC in scoring (16.9 ppg), but no team's offense flows through a single player more than Young. A crafty, long-armed, 6'3" sophomore, Young leads the SEC, and ranks 46th nationally, in Possession Percentage (29.9%). Also called Usage Rate, it's the percentage of a team's possessions that ends with a player a.) making a shot; b.) missing a shot that isn't rebounded by the offense; or c.) committing a turnover while that player is on the floor.
Arkansas runs very few ball screens compared to South Carolina's other SEC opponents, preferring an offense based around constant moving, cutting, and passing. They like to spread the floor, and get perimeter defenders leaning and off-balance to set up driving opportunities. Few players thrive in those conditions better than Young, who torched the Gamecocks for 27 points in a 76-65 win last year.
B.J. Young (photo courtesy: WholeHogSports.com)
In terms of height, ball-screen usage, and driving habits, Young's game compares favorably to Vanderbilt's Kedren Johnson, whom the Gamecocks - Bruce Ellington in particular -- held scoreless from the field last Saturday. Young is a more athletic, souped-up version of Johnson. Can Carolina experience the same success?
And Another Thing.... Don't forget about 6'7," 240-pound junior Marshawn Powell, either. A true inside-out threat, Powell has career averages of 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game against South Carolina. He missed all of last season with an ACL injury. Powell ranks second behind Young in scoring (15.4 ppg) and leads the Hogs in rebounds (5.4 rpg).
Kicking Glass: Rebounding is a port of entry in Frank Martin's system. Don't contribute on the boards? Don't expect to last long. Against Missouri's towering front line, both 5'8" Bruce Ellington and 5'11" Brenton Williams chipped in with career highs in rebounds.
If it feels like we've called out career highs often, you'd be right. South Carolina's five returning backcourt players have set career highs in rebounds 8 different times this year:
Player Previous Career High New Career High '12-13
Brian Richardson 5 vs. USC-Upstate 8 vs. Elon, 8 vs. Miss. State
Brenton Williams 4 vs. Florida 5 vs. Missouri
Bruce Ellington 8 vs. W. Kentucky 9 vs. Missouri
Damien Leonard 4 vs. Tennessee 5 vs. PC, 8 vs. SC St., 9 vs. Auburn
Eric Smith 3, 10 times 4 vs. S.C. State
The Redemption of Brenton: Junior Brenton Williams looked adrift. Through two SEC games, the Gamecocks' leading scorer had posted a grand total of 2 points. Turnovers and timidity had limited him to 12 minutes, and reduced the Kissimmee, Fla., native to a shadow of his former self.
But Martin doesn't believe in abandoning a player. Nobody goes into his doghouse - "I didn't have a dog growing up." Every game - and more importantly, the practices in between - represents a new chance to earn playing time.
Williams has made the most of his new chance. Since his slow start, Williams has scored 16 points in the last three games, steadying a backcourt in which Ellington has struggled to find his touch (23% FG in SEC play).
Brenton Williams (right) has scored 16 points in three straight games.
"He's playing aggressive again. He got un-aggressive all of a sudden," Martin said. "You can't succeed as a player if you're tentative out there."
Martin also credits a better understanding defensively with sharpening Williams' play on offense.
"The more attention to detail you pay to what we do defensively, the more patience I got with you offensively," he said.
With Arkansas ranking second in the SEC in scoring (79.6 ppg), Williams' scoring may be required Saturday.
Free & Easy: The frontcourt trio of Lakeem Jackson, R.J. Slawson, and Laimonas Chatkevicius has enjoyed a free-throw shooting renaissance:
Player Started Since
Lakeem Jackson 7-29 (24.1%) 7-13 (53.8%)
R.J. Slawson 16-25 (64.0%) 13-16 (81.3%)
Laimonas Chatkevicius 2-6 (33.3%) 8-8 (100.0%)
And Finally... Chatkevicius and freshman Mindaugas Kacinas brought their own cheering sections to Missouri. Kacinas' host family at his high school, Word of Life Traditional School, made the five-hour trek from Wichita, Kan., to watch him play. So did neighbors of Chatkevicius' host family - the Klaipeda, Lithuania, native spent two summers playing AAU ball for a team based in Kansas.
Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pre-game coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. See you at Colonial Life Arena. -AD--