Arkansas athletics/courtesy photo
Arkansas forward Dustin Thomas and the Razorbacks have lost two straight.

This is why Arkansas basketball is struggling right now to start SEC play

Eric Bolin

SEC Country reporter Eric W. Bolin will candidly answer your Arkansas Razorbacks sports queries each weekday in our Mailbag Question of the Day. Join the conversation by sending your questions via Twitter to @SECCountryHogs or by email to Eric at ericwbolin@gmail.com.

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Arkansas basketball is in a dry spell right now. The last two games have been losses: on the road at Mississippi State and on the road at Auburn. Neither were terribly attractive games for the Razorbacks, either.

The losses have been a cause for concern among some of the more likely-to-be-concerned-anyway crowd. That Arkansas played poorly makes the issue, for some, even worse. And to take it back even farther, frankly, the Razorbacks looked bad even in their SEC opener against Tennessee, too. That game was a win, but only barely. It required overtime, a Tennessee collapse in regulation and some home-cooking calls in the final minutes.

No, Arkansas has not been playing great basketball yet in SEC play. Mike Anderson’s team has the worst scoring defense in the league (86.3 points per game), second-worst free throw percentage (.609) and second-worst opponent field goal percentage (.463). Arkansas is being outrebounded, has given up the fourth-most 3-pointers and is giving the ball away more often than it is taking it from opponents.

There’s data to back up what most of us can see with our eyes. The question David asks, though, is: Why? A couple of things stand out.

First, road games. That isn’t an excuse. It’s a reason. All the Anderson haters despise hearing facts. So, here’s to them. Fact: It’s hard to win on the road in college basketball. Harder, still, to win on the road against good teams. Mississippi State is a good team. Auburn is a very good team. Something in the human psyche makes playing in an unfamiliar gym more difficult than playing in a familiar one.

That’s every team, though. Specifically, Arkansas has not looked like Arkansas lately and it has had little to do with the environs. As mentioned, the Razorbacks weren’t exactly stunning at Bud Walton Arena against Tennessee, either.

Two on-court things are clear. The first one everyone talks about, but they talk about it for the wrong reasons.

Some people think Anderson doesn’t have an offense. These are people who have no idea what they’re talking about. Anderson may not run a lot of set plays, but he most definitely has an offense. It’s a Motion offense. It’s one of the most simple in basketball; also one of the most complex.

A good Motion offense requires … wait for it … motion. When Arkansas stands around on offense, things stagnate. Anderson can’t get on the court and physically move his players. They have to listen and execute. It’s on them to perform what they have been taught. It’s the same exact issue they had last year, it’s the same exact reason it’s struggling and yet here we are again. Here we are again with the players and here we are again with a certain segment of Razorbacks Nation missing that.

A guard-heavy team like Arkansas should not, in theory, struggle to move. The Razorbacks do because they are athletic. How is that a negative? Athletes can beat inferior ones to the rim. The “isolation” mentality takes over. The idea of “I can take over this game, I can get us back in this” takes over. It’s not purposeful that anyone cuts his teammates out of the loop. But the Motion offense isn’t built to suit such a style. It’s why you have, on occasion, seen it happen. Jaylen Barford has had some of his best individual stat games with that mentality.

It works up to a certain point. A good team will figure out eventually and put a stop to it. That’s why Arkansas slogs more often than not when it gets down by too many points. It isn’t a panic, per se. Something else isn’t clicking mentally. That usually only serves to dig the hole deeper.

The trick to fixing it is simple. Don’t get down by too many points. That’s easier said than done, of course, but this is an Arkansas team loaded with talent. Tighten up on shooters defensively just a bit more, get more into middle of the pack when it comes to opponents’ field goal percentage, and suddenly, these Razorbacks will get to winning again.

In the words of Bret Bielema: “They’re close.”