Butler vs. Arkansas: What 2 watch 4
The Butler men’s basketball program probably felt secure Sunday afternoon as it pertained to the Bulldogs earning a bid into the upcoming NCAA Tournament. However, when a team finishes 9-9 in its league and 1-7 against nationally-ranked teams, until it hears its name called in the selection process, it is never positive as to what its fate is.
The Bulldogs (20-13) will open the tournament against Arkansas (23-11) at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit Friday at 3:10 p.m. (truTV).
Butler has made the “Big Dance” in 10 of the past 12 seasons and has won 10 of its last 11 opening round games. If that streak is going to reach 11 victories, the Bulldogs will have to play well against a very formidable Razorback squad.
Here is a scouting report for the upcoming game:
WHAT BUTLER NEEDS TO DO
• Take (and make) 3-point shots
Arkansas allows its opponents to take, on average, 24 3-point shots each game at a 42.8 percent success rate. The Bulldogs will get looks from long range, but they need to make them.
Over the past four games, Butler has connected on just 29 percent of its 3-point shots. That has to be better against the Razorbacks.
“Our rule is,” first-year Bulldog coach LaVall Jordan has said of 3-point shots this season, “if you are going to take them, you have to make them.”
• Drive and draw
The Bulldogs were a very strong free throw shooting team this season (second in the Big East in percentage made), but not in their frequency (seventh in the league).
The Razorbacks tend to foul with some degree of regularity (in particular, freshman center Daniel Gafford), so penetrating the lane and getting Arkansas in foul trouble would certainly help Butler’s cause.
“All year long, we’ve been getting them prepared,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said of his two freshmen in the rotation. “The beauty of it is, those guys played. They played meaningful minutes. It wasn’t like it was just mop-up time.”
• Reckless rebounding
As athletic as Arkansas is, it is not a particularly good rebounding team. The Razorbacks have been outrebounded by one board per game this season on average.
In addition, Arkansas’ opponents nearly have grabbed as many offensive boards (832) as the Razorbacks have (836).
Butler is a solid team on the glass, but it will have to take that up a notch to survive and advance from Friday.
• Guard the stars
Arkansas relies heavily on 6-foot-3 senior guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. The All-SEC players are averaging nearly 35 points per game and both can drive it to the rim and also shoot from afar (43 percent shooters).
They are the only two players in the SEC to rank among the top 10 in 3-point shooting, field goal percentage and points per game.
More than likely, Butler defenders Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott will start on the two Razorbacks, unless Jordan goes with a match-up scheme and starts Paul Jorgensen in place of McDermott. That would allow freshman guard Aaron Thompson to defend either Barford or Macon, with Jorgensen on 6-foot point guard Anton Beard, who is a bad match-up for McDermott.
In any match-up, controlling these two players is key to a Butler win.
WHAT ARKANSAS WANTS TO DO
• Launch a lot
The Razorbacks have made 142 more 3-pointers than their opponents this season and they are doing so at a high rate.
The 40.1 percent rate that Arkansas has hit on this season is the second best in the SEC in 25 years.
Barford and Macon have hit 85 and 84 long shots, respectively, while Beard (38 makes) and C.J. Jones (42 makes in just 506 minutes) will also take them.
• Going deep
Anderson had a 10-man rotation going until he recently kicked reserve forward Dustin Thomas off of the team, but the Razorbacks will still utilize nine guys.
Gafford will be rested for Trey Thompson, while Arlando Cook will get a little time along the baseline and Jones and Darious Hall are wings that come off of the bench.
“Our team is built for this time of the year,” Anderson said Sunday evening.
• Apply pressure
There was a five-game stretch in February in which the Razorbacks got their hands on at least 40 balls each night for deflections.
This is a team that will jump passing lanes and try to use its defensive pressure to create offensive opportunities.
• Jump on you
In a 10-game stretch that lasted into the recent SEC Tournament, Arkansas held a double-digit lead in nine of those games.
This a team that wants to go on momentum-feeding runs courtesy of its defensive pressure to demoralize an opponent.
• Go to Gafford
The 6-foot-11 freshman post has evolved into a presence at both ends of the court.
He has more dunks (72) than six other SEC teams combined and defensively, he has blocked 73 shots.
“Daniel got to the point,” Anderson said, “where I had to start him.”
In the eight games leading into the SEC Tournament championship game last weekend, Gafford was the Razorbacks’ leading scorer three different times.
He is no longer a freshman.
“People are really going to try and push him around,” Anderson said of Gafford. “Daniel got pushed around a little bit this year. Now it’s time for him to start pushing back and using his athletic ability and using his length.”
• Make it close
The Razorbacks are the antithesis of the Bulldogs in that, they are good in close games and they are really good against the best teams.
Butler has won four of its seven games decided by five or fewer points this season, while Arkansas is 11-1 in its last 12 games decided by one possession.
As well, the Razorbacks have been incredibly impressive against nationally-ranked squads in winning five of six such games this season, while Butler is just 1-7.
Arkansas also has four wins over NCAA Tournament teams in its last seven outings.
The Razorbacks are one of three NCAA teams that have six seniors on their roster and that experience has shown.
“I’m looking forward to seeing us continue to play some of our better basketball,” Anderson said. “Everybody is 0-0 and you win or go home.”
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