With Butler’s first-round NCAA Tournament matchup looming, Eric Harris of Arkansas Fight, SB Nation’s Arkansas blog, was nice enough to answer some of our questions!
Big East Coast Bias: According to KenPom, Arkansas has one of the best offenses in the nation, and two of the best three-point shooters in the nation in Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. It’s also the highest-rated offense Mike Anderson has ever coached. What has been the biggest key to the Razorbacks’ success?
Eric Harris: The two guys you named are the keys. They’ll bring the ball up, they take turns of letting the offense flow through them, and they are incredible tough shot makers. Don’t ever challenge Jaylen Barford to a game of horse. Because you will lose. He will take, and make, some of the most audacious shots this tournament will see. He’s done that all year and somehow raised his 3-point FG% from 27% last year to 44% this year while doing it. Macon loves to cross guys up and pull up off the dribble, but both also have the ability to drive and finish inside.
Then there’s Daniel Gafford, who is going in the first round of a lot of NBA mock drafts, and he loooooooves to dunk (he has 74 dunks on the year). Those three are the guys who run the offense and will account for about 2/3rds of the Hogs’ points. If you force the other players to take the bulk of the shots, Arkansas will struggle.
BECB: Butler’s Kelan Martin scored 20+ points in 19 of his 33 games this year, and has recorded double-figures in 31 of 33. It looks like Arkansas’ bigs are either freshmen (like All-SEC Freshman Daniel Gafford) or upperclassmen who don’t see the court that much. What’s the plan to slow down a strong interior scorer like Martin?
EH: Gafford could draw the assignment and has been an elite shot blocker (T-1st in the SEC in total blocks) but he has had a hard time staying out of foul trouble. How long he can stay on the court will be a huge part of this game. Outside of that, the other post spot has been players filling the void left by Dustin Thomas’ who was a starter and was dismissed from the team right before the conference tournament. If Martin isn’t guarded by Gafford, he’ll see some combination of Trey Thompson, Adrio Bailey, or Gabe Osabuohien.
BECB: Other than the guys already mentioned, who is a player Butler fans should keep their eye on?
EH: Anton Beard is the third senior guard who will start for the Hogs. He doesn’t put up big numbers but he will quietly do things that have a positive impact on the game. A perfect example of that was the SEC Tournament opener against South Carolina. He didn’t hit a field goal but finished with seven points, five assists, four rebounds, and three steals. He’s undersized but is a very tough defender and won’t back down to a challenge.
BECB: In a game which will likely be close, does Arkansas’ 67.8% free throw percentage (301st in the nation) worry you more than it normally would?
EH: It completely depends on who ends up at the line. Guys like Gafford, Darious Hall, and Adrio Bailey have all struggled at the line this year, but Macon is one of the most clutch free throw shooters I’ve seen. This season he is 36/37 from the free throw line in the final minute of games this year (and 66/71 in his career). Arkansas has also made a habit of finding a way to find a way in close games. They’ve gone 9-1 in games decided by one possession in the last two years.
BECB: Finally, who wins and why?
EH: It’s definitely going to be a nail biter. Kelan Martin scares me to death and I think the Hogs will have a really hard time slowing him down. But I’m going to put my Razorback homer glasses on and say the Hogs pull out a close one. According to KenPom, Butler has had a hard time guarding the three point line, and that’s been Arkansas’ strength this year. I’ll say Macon and Barford break a couple ankles and combine for over 40, which will out duel Martin’s big game. What’s March Madness without a little homer-ism?