Quick note: apologies to all STP readers for the “By the Numbers” segment being absent all of college basketball season. I’m not trying to make excuses, but work has been extremely busy and my dad is fighting stage four cancer (he is going to win but I would still appreciate your prayers!). I’ve got time this lovely Saturday following a first round win, so let’s look at what the numbers say about Texas Tech-Arkansas and a few other tidbits.
Perhaps most importantly, Vegas has this pegged as a close matchup and lists Tech as a slight, 1-point favorite. It seems rare for a 6 seed to be favored over a 3 seed, but it was apparent even before the first round that the Red Raiders were earning an abnormal amount of respect from the odds makers.
Per BPI, Texas Tech is the No. 8 team in the country with a score of 14.7 (expected margin of victory over an average team on a neutral court). Arkansas is 12th nationally with a BPI of 13.6. Head-to-head, BPI gives Texas Tech a 53% chance to win and favors the Red Raiders by 0.7 points. It currently ranks as the top matchup quality for all of Sunday’s slate. You didn’t need a fancy computer to tell you that this should be a great game!
Another source that has the Hogs and Red Raiders neck and neck is KenPom. Texas Tech is No. 16 nationally while Arkansas is right behind at No. 17. The teams are extremely comparable in both offensive and defensive efficiency but drastically diverge in tempo and luck. Texas Tech averages eight fewer possessions per 40 minutes than Arkansas. The difference amounts to Texas Tech being ranked 317th nationally in tempo while Arkansas is in the top 20 nationally. KenPom also measures luck. Arkansas has been fairly lucky (ranked 54th nationally) while Tech can’t catch a break, coming in at 323rd nationally.
Bart Torvik’s rankings are interesting because he doesn’t adjust for tempo. T-Rank has Texas Tech as the 13th best team in the country with Arkansas at No. 24. From what I can tell, this is the largest gap between the two teams of any analytics system, and could speak to the importance of tempo given the wide disparity KenPom highlights above.
Erik Haslam’s system has Tech beating Arkansas on a neutral court, 71-70.
Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight gives Texas Tech a 51% chance to beat Arkansas.
Sagarin Ratings has Arkansas as the 14th best team in the country, with Tech not far behind at 18th. They’ll have a game projection posted on their site on Sunday.
Common Opponents and Past History
For an out of conference team, Arkansas actually has a fair amount of experience against common opponents with Texas Tech this year. I’m not a huge believer in the transitive property when it comes to college athletics, and there’s certainly a difference between games played in November vs. games played in March. Still, these results may offer some sort of insight.
- Abilene Christian (14 seed in the NCAA Tournament): Texas Tech beat them 51-44 in December, and Arkansas beat them 85-72 in December. I don’t remember why the offense sputtered so badly for Tech that day, but I do know that’s one of the games McCullar missed for whatever that’s worth.
- LSU (8 seed in the NCAA Tournament): Texas Tech beat them in Baton Rouge, 76-71 on January 30. Arkansas has played LSU three times; two regular season matchups plus a showdown in the SEC tournament. Arkansas lost in Baton Rouge 76-92 in January, won in Fayetteville 83-75 in February, and lost 71-78 in March.
- Oklahoma State (4 seed in the NCAA Tournament): Texas Tech dropped its pair of games against Oklahoma State, both in overtime. On January 30, Arkansas fell 77-81 against the Pokes in Stillwater. The Hogs are 10-1 since that loss, their only slip up coming at the hands of LSU. So they’ve been playing winning basketball down the stretch.
Other notable games
- Arkansas beat North Texas 69-54 in November. Like I said, huge difference between November and March basketball, but I found this interesting since North Texas knocked off Purdue last night as a 13 seed.
- Arkansas beat UT-Arlington 72-60 in early December. Former Chris Beard assistant Chris Ogden is the head coach at UTA, so I wonder if he’ll have any insight he can share with Beard before tip-off tomorrow.
- Arkansas beat Oral Roberts 87-76 in December. Again, just found this interesting given ORU’s upset as a 15 seed yesterday.
History against Eric Musselman
This won’t be the first time Chris beard faces off against Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman. During the 2017-2018 season, a Top 25 ranked Nevada squad rolled into Lubbock and took it to overtime before ultimately falling to the Red Raiders. Musselman’s Wolfpack were a Sweet 16 team that year and won 29 games, including a 12-3 mark on the road.
The consensus seems clear; the two teams are evenly matched and just about every analytical source expects a near toss-up of a game. The only aspect where there appears to be some daylight is the respective tempo each team tends to play at. I’d look for that to be the defining factor – which team plays its style and imposes it on the other team? If it’s a fast game, advantage: Hogs. If it’s a slower game played in the half court, advantage: Texas Tech.
Then again, this is March Madness, so how predictable can it really be?