The Butler Bulldogs are back in the NCAA Tournament. Again.
The ‘Dawgs have made the field for the fourth consecutive season. In this stretch, Butler has won at least one NCAA Tournament game, a run that dates back to 2010. The last time they didn’t win a game, it was 2009. Butler played the LSU Tigers that year, and Marcus Thornton and the Fighting Tigers knocked off the then-Horizon League Champion ‘Dawgs in Greensboro.
Fittingly, Butler’s latest opponent is also from the SEC. The Arkansas Razorbacks are the 7 seed in the East Regional, where the Bulldogs also reside. They are in a pod of teams who will play in Detroit, Michigan on Friday, which also includes the Purdue Boilermakers and Cal State Fullerton Titans.
If BU is to defeat Arkansas, and Purdue is to handle their business, then an all-Indiana Round of 32 matchup is in the cards. And it will be a rematch of the 2017 Crossroads Classic, a game that the Boilermakers won 82-67. Before we can talk about that though, BU has to get through Arkansas. Let’s take a look at the Hogs:
|Records||23-11 (10-8 SEC; Finished 6th); Lost in SEC Tournament Semifinals|
|Leading Scorers||Jaylen Barford (18.0 PPG); Daryl Macon (16.9 PPG); Daniel Gafford (11.9 PPG)|
|Leading Assist Man||Daryl Macon (3.9 APG)|
|Leading Rebounder||Daniel Gafford (6.2 RPG)|
|Adj. Efficiencies||117.3 (Off.) | 101.7 (Def.)|
|Team eFG%||54.2% (Off.) | 50.2% (Def.)|
|Team 2PT%||51.4% (Off.) | 48.0% (Def.)|
|Team 3PT%||40.1% (Off.) | 35.5% (Def.)|
The Arkansas Razorbacks made the NCAA Tournament for the third time in Mike Anderson’s tenure. Anderson led them to their fourth 20-win season, as the Hogs went 23-11 with a 10-8 mark in SEC play. They made a run all the way to the SEC Tournament Semifinals, defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks and Florida Gators along the way. Ultimately, they fell to the SEC’s co-regular season champions, the Tennessee Volunteers to finish out their stay in St. Louis.
This year’s Arkansas team has thrived on offense. They rank in the Top 20 in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, with a mark of 117.3. They are in the Top 40 in points per game, as they rank 38th with a mark of 81.1. Arkansas also takes great care of the basketball. Their Turnover% is just a meager 15.3 percent, which ranks 17th in the nation.
Now, all that being said, some of their stats are a tad bit skewed. You will notice that their 3-point FG% is a gaudy 40.1 percent. That ranks 11th in the country. The truth is, however, that Arkansas doesn’t take many 3-pointers. Their 3-point rate (3PA/FGA) is just 32 percent. That ranks 303rd in the country. They have just 663 3-point attempts on the year, which hashes out to 19.5 attempts per game. For comparison’s sake, Butler has 759, which averages out to 23. So it’s true that they make them count, but their sharpshooting shouldn’t strike too much fear, as it isn’t a supreme focal point of their game.
52.2 percent of their points this year have come inside the perimeter, and that’s where Butler should map out their plan. The Hogs have plenty of big bodies down low, but none more impactful than freshman Daniel Gafford. At 6-foot-11, 234 lbs., Gafford has an NBA frame and it’s no secret that he’s a projected first rounder this coming summer, if not a late lotto pick. Gafford averaged nearly 12 points per game this year (11.9) and 6.2 rebounds. He made 61.8 percent of his 2-point tries, the best on the team. At 6-foot-11, that should come as no surprise. He dominated against Florida in the SEC Tournament, putting up a line of 16 and 12. He hit a season-high 25 points back in November against the Fresno State Bulldogs, and had 15 points or more 13 times.
It’s crazy when a probable first round pick is the third-leading scorer on a team, but that’s what happened this year. Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford led the charge for the Razorbacks in the 2017-18 season. The duo of seniors were both terrific, as they each averaged over 16 points. Barford led the way with 18 points per game and Macon wasn’t far behind with 16.9. Both of them accounted for a majority of the 3-point attempts the team took, and both shot over 42 percent from long range. The two guards will likely play a vital role in Arkansas’ offensive gameplan against Butler come Friday.
As far as role players go, Anton Beard could be a pesky one. The 6-foot senior was fourth on the team in scoring, just falling shy of double figures, as he averaged 9.6 points per game this season. He was also a threat to assist, as he fell behind Macon for the team lead, with 3.1 assists per game. He doesn’t get as much attention as Macon and Barford, but Beard has proven to be a quality player in the backcourt.
Now... we’ve talked about offense, so, what about defense? Well... this is kind of awkward. Arkansas doesn’t rate particularly well defensively. They’ve given up 75.5 points per game this year, which puts them 260th in the country. Their Adjusted Defensive Efficiency is below the average, but still ranks 104th in the nation. The biggest sieve is their perimeter defense. They’ve given up a mark of 35.5 percent from long range, and teams don’t shy away from it. Teams have attempted 24.1 3-pointers per game against them this year, 818 total. That last mark ranks 323rd in the nation, and their 3-point rate of 41.5 percent ranks 301st. This could provide some issues, as Butler takes a good deal of 3-pointers (as we mentioned) and also shoots 35.6 percent from deep as a team.
This should prove to be a pretty stirring 7-10 matchup. Arkansas, like Butler, has a strong veteran presence. If both offenses click, this could be a very fun game in The Motor City.