In five short hours, Kentucky will put their four game win streak on the line when they march into Bud Walton Arena to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks. The home of the Hogs has been a house of horrors for John Calipari in his first two visits as Kentucky’s head man. Not only did the 2011 Final Four squad lose in Bud Walton to an Arkansas squad that finished with thirteen losses on the year, but the Nerlens-less Cats from last year were pummeled in Fayetteville by a 13-point margin. While the 2011 loss to John Pelphrey’s Hogs occurred for a number of reasons, blame for last year’s loss to Mike Anderson’s team can be attributed to one factor alone – Kentucky’s eighteen turnovers.
It’s no secret that Mike Anderson wants his team to force turnovers. In fact, since 2002 when he began coaching at UAB, his teams have been ranked within the national top-10 in defensive turnover percentage nine times. This season is no different from the historical trend as the Razorbacks are ranked 6th nationally in turnover percentage. Obviously, this style of defense can wreak havoc on the opposing offense, but it’s also instrumental in setting up easy transition buckets on the offensive end of the floor. The numbers back this up as well. As indicated by the table below, when Arkansas forces a steal and decides to shoot in transition (within ten seconds of the possession), a shot attempt at the rim will occur nearly 75% of the time – a recipe for efficiency as evidenced by their 71% field goal percentage at the rim in transition.
While forcing turnovers to get easy offensive run-outs is the Mike Anderson way, there’s another, more overlooked way to get even more offensive opportunities – defensive rebounding. In terms of defensive rebounding, the Hogs are only pulling down 65.8% of available boards – good for 271st nationally. This won’t strike fear into an offensive rebounding juggernaut like Kentucky, but there is some cause for concern here. This low ranking is mainly due to the fact that Anderson has most of his players release to the other end of the floor for an easy run-out while the big men battle for boards. Obviously, because of this, the Hogs aren’t pulling down too many defensive boards, but they are getting easy offensive opportunities when they do pull one down. As the table below indicates, when Arkansas pulls down a defensive board and decides to shoot in transition (within ten seconds of the possession), 41% of their attempts come at the rim with 56% accuracy. The combination of transition shots after rebounds and turnovers combine for 28.4% of Arkansas’ total field goal attempts – good for 33rd nationally.
Naturally, field goal percentage at the rim after rebounds isn’t as high as its steal counterpart due to the sheer number of defenders already back on the other end of the floor, but they’re still getting easy buckets as a result. When you pair these percentages with Kentucky’s shaky transition defense (75.9 FG% allowed at the rim after a steal and 74.2 FG% allowed at the rim after a rebound), you have a recipe for easy buckets on offense.
As for tonight, I don’t anticipate Arkansas having too many run-outs after defensive rebounds as Kentucky is an absolute titan on the offensive glass. However, I do anticipate the Hogs to get a number of easy points after steals as the Cats struggle in that offensive category – as evidenced by our 183rd ranking in offensive turnover percentage. In order to minimize the risk, Julius Randle must look to pass when double and triple teamed in the post. Additionally, passes from James Young and the Harrison twins cannot be lazy or telegraphed as the Arkansas guards and wings will feast upon the opportunity. If these problems persist, it’ll be difficult to come out victorious tonight. However, if Kentucky can limit Arkansas’ transition opportunities by cutting out turnovers, there’s a very real opportunity for a marque road victory in one of college basketball’s most underrated venues.