When it comes to playing up-tempo basketball, few Southeastern Conference teams can match the up-and-down, fast-break offensive style Arkansas and LSU use.
If you snooze on defense against the Razorbacks or Tigers, you usually lose.
Not only do they put up a lot of field-goal attempts, especially this season with the shortened shot clock, they make a lot of them.
Arkansas and LSU rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the SEC in scoring at 84.4 and 83.2 points per game, with LSU coming in second in field-goal accuracy at 47.5 percent and Arkansas just a shade behind at 47.3 percent.
They’re the only teams in the SEC averaging more than 80 points per game this season.
Given those facts, the scoreboard operator in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center could be very busy when Arkansas (9-7, 3-1) visits LSU (10-6, 3-1) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Arkansas has topped the 90-point mark five times, which includes hitting the century mark once. LSU has scored 100-plus points twice — with a season-high of 119 against North Florida — and has had at least 90 points in six outings.
Since it’s what they do, there won’t be any change in strategy.
“We’re an up-tempo team … that’s the style we like to play,” coach Johnny Jones said. “We aren’t going to tempo it down because of another team. We have to make sure we defend the other team that way.
“We feel like we have a good enough bench to do that. Our players thrive in that type of system. We look forward to it, but we aren’t going to tempo it down because another team likes to do what we do.”
In other words, the team that does what it does best will win.
“We have to make sure we execute at a high level, playing the way that we play,” Jones said. “They are a team that creates opportunities (with their defense), so they can run. We’ll be doing the same.”
To be sure, both teams have enough horses to do it.
Five of Arkansas coach Mike Anderson’s top scorers are guards who combine for 55.5 points per game, which accounts for 65.8 percent of the team’s offensive output. That group is led by Anthlon Bell (17.0) and Dusty Hannahs (16.5).
Jones counters that with a capable six-guard rotation of Keith Hornsby, Tim Quarterman, Antonio Blakeney, Josh Gray, Jalyn Patterson and Brandon Sampson. They get 54.5 points per game, with Hornsby (14.9) and Quarterman (11.6) leading the way.
“They like to run,” said Hornsby, who last season buried a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the deep corner to upset Arkansas 81-78 on March 7 in Bud Walton Arena. “Last year, we switched up our defense a good bit. We played a lot of zone in the second half; the first half it was mainly man. This year, they’ve been shooting the ball ridiculously well — especially since conference play started — so we have to focus on their shooters.”
Offensively, LSU also will have to effectively solve Arkansas’ fabled half-court and full-court press, which it did in last season’s matchup.
“They’re going to force you to do some things you don’t normally do,” Jones said. “If you’re worried so much about structure, you’re going to get hurt.”
While Hornsby said it should be a fun game for the guards because it’ll be a fast-paced game, Ben Simmons is looking forward to it as well. The 6-foot-10 forward is a big part of the Tigers’ up-tempo attack when he takes the ball off the glass and heads upcourt.
“I love pushing the ball, because it’s kind of hard to stop me once I’m pushing it like that,” Simmons said. “With the size and speed I have, it allows guys to get open and hit the 3-ball.”
But even though it’s expected to be a high-scoring affair, the game won’t be all about the guards and Simmons.
Like Simmons, Arkansas’ 6-10 forward Moses Kingsley is among the league leaders with 17.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He also tops the SEC with 3.6 blocks per game, which helps start the fast break.
The job of trying to slow him should fall to 6-9 forward Craig Victor, who has been a solid defender down low since becoming eligible Dec. 16.
“I take pride in my defense. ... I don’t slack off any game when it comes to defense,” Victor said. “I’ll guard him the same way I guard anybody else. As a team, if we do the right things and stay true to our principles, we’ll be fine.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.