As the calendar turns over from 2020 to 2021, the SEC basketball landscape is constantly ebbing and flowing with each passing gameday. Each team is learning more about themselves with each passing game, from optimal rotations to finding team leaders and everything in between. With two months remaining in the season, there are plenty of things that each team needs to figure out if they are to have success heading into the postseason.
Here is one key question that Alabama and Arkansas need to answer if they are to have relative success throughout the rest of conference play.
Note: all stats and information are relevant to the games played on 1/9/21.
Alabama: Will the offense generate a level of consistency from three-point range?
The story of Alabama’s season so far has been the improvement on the defensive side of the ball, but with the exception of a few games, the offense has shown marginal signs of regression from last season’s offensive blitzkrieg that saw the Tide set several scoring and shooting records. While the turnover rate and offensive rebounding rates have improved in the four factors that calculate KenPom’s offensive efficiency statistic, their three-point shooting percentage has seen a 3% dip from last season (32.2% in 2020-21, 211th in NCAA, 8th in SEC). Applying last season’s percentage to this season’s total three-point shots so far would add around nine more three-point makes across the season, which could have affected a game or two if those makes came in the games where the Tide struggled from behind the line and lost (Western Kentucky (7-26) and Clemson (3-22), for example). The first three SEC games were encouraging on this front, including a 10-20 performance against Tennessee and an 8-20 performance against Florida, but the primary offensive success has come from getting to the rim as the primary action. The emergence of Josh Primo (who had an excellent game against Auburn offensively with 22 points), Jahvon Quinerly, Keon Ellis and John Petty Jr. has raised the floor and ceiling of Alabama’s shooting, but the team still has not strung together multiple games of dynamite three-point shooting like they would at times last season. The defense of Alabama has improved leaps and bounds and provides an artificially high floor but finding consistency in three-point shooting will raise the ceiling of this team back into the stratosphere of the SEC that seems to be as wide open as it has been in years.
Arkansas: Can the Razorbacks prove they belong in the upper tier of the conference?
Arkansas had one of the more impressive victories in the non-conference slate, scoring an 80-point victory over SWAC bottom feeders Mississippi Valley State to open the season. This victory was impressive for the obvious reason of a high scoring margin but underscoring that victory along with the rest of Arkansas’ non-conference slate was the lack of a strong schedule. The Razorbacks played zero KenPom top 100 teams in their first nine games, and through their first ten games their best win was a road victory at Auburn to open SEC play, which was good enough for 244th in the country in strength of schedule per KenPom. The Razorbacks have been promptly beaten by Missouri at home and by Tennessee on the road, calling into question how good the Razorbacks truly are. SEC play is not for the faint of heart, and that bears itself out in the Razorbacks’ remaining schedule, with eight top 50 KenPom teams still remaining on the schedule including a date with Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State in the middle of the remaining conference schedule. Losing Justin Smith to injury will make their quest to prove themselves that much tougher, as the forward is out with an ankle injury for an extended period of time. The Razorbacks have the potential to be one of the best teams in the SEC this season, but they need to go out and actually prove it against a good team, and their next opportunity to do so comes this week when they travel to Baton Rouge to take on LSU.
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