Photo by Joshua McCoy / Ole Miss Athletics
The sun shines brighter, the air breaths easier, and the people of Arkansas are kinder and nicer when the Razorbacks are winning.
It’s a known fact. Well, at least a grand hypothesis, anyway.
And the basketball Hogs are winning this year at an unexpected rate under first-year coach Eric Musselman. The Razorbacks are 13-2 overall and 2-1 in SEC play going into tonight’s 7:30 p.m. game with Vanderbilt at Walton Arena that will be televised by the SEC Network.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: vs. Vanderbilt
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network
Current Record: 13-2 (SEC 2-1)
Jan. 18 – Kentucky
Jan. 22 – at Mississippi State
Jan. 25 – TCU
Jan. 29 – South Carolina
Feb. 4 – Auburn
Feb. 8 – at Missouri
Feb. 11 – at Tennessee
Feb. 15 – Mississippi State
Feb. 18 – at Florida
Feb. 22 – Missouri
Feb. 26 – Tennessee
Feb. 29 – at Georgia
March 4 – LSU
March 7 – at Texas A&M
Musselman and the play of his Razorbacks this season have brought Hog basketball fans out of hibernation, and it’s a wonderful thing to experience.
There is a buzz around Northwest Arkansas about the basketball Hogs that we haven’t felt in a number of years. Even in recent trips to the eastern part of the state, it was great to hear and have conversations about hoops and the possibilities for this season.
There is an energy and enthusiasm being generated by how hard the Razorbacks play and how well they execute under the tutelage of Musselman and his staff. If there is anything Arkansas fans love almost as much as winning, it’s seeing their Hogs compete, work, and hustle at a high level.
And that’s what Hog fans get every time they attend a game or tune into a Razorback game on the TV or radio.
This Razorback team has impressed me since their first game with their energy, effort, and tenacity. While this team is talented, they win as much on their effort as by their talent.
What magnifies and channels that effort is their execution. Almost on a game-to-game situation Musselman asks them to perform a new technique or strategy that gives his Razorbacks a chance to win, and they go out and execute it like they’ve been doing it all their lives.
It’s wonderful to see a team so well prepared that it can make in-game adjustments with such fluidity just nine months into a coach’s tenure.
Case in point were the defensive adjustments Musselman made last Saturday when his Hogs were trailing Ole Miss by 11 points with around 6 minutes to play at Oxford, Miss.
Up to that point Rebel guard Breein Tyree had eaten the Hogs’ lunch, and when I say that I mean he was like a fat man at a buffet taking whatever he wanted and saving some for later.
At that point Musselman made two adjustments. He had Jimmy Whitt face-guard Tyree to deny him the ball, and he had quick and pesky Desi Sills shadow or bring a double team on the ball. The defensive moves flummoxed Ole Miss enough that the Hogs got the stops they needed to help erase the lead.
Now, sharpshooter Isaiah Joe, who scored 34, also stunned the Rebels with a dazzling display of 3-point shooting that helped the Hogs come up with a 4-point trip and a 5-point trip that helped wipe away the Rebel advantage.
The marriage of Musselman’s adjustments with the Hogs’ execution turned what looked like was going to be a loss into a much-needed victory, particularly after the 79-77 loss to LSU last Wednesday where the Tigers used their physicality to pound the Hogs on the glass.
Certainly that is a credit to Musselman and his staff, but it is also a credit to the players who bought into his system so thoroughly that they are willing to work their tails off physically and possibly even more importantly mentally to make this season one to remember and not just another rebuilding year.
Going into this season, I and many others were wondering how this smallish Razorback team would manage to win 13 games this entire season, not by the midpoint of January.
However, Musselman has instilled so much confidence in his players that they are willing to trust him and his staff and by doing so the Razorbacks have maximized their strengths and made supposed weaknesses — lack of size and depth — into a team strength.
While media and fans were wondering how the Razorbacks would match up with opponents, the Razorback coaching staff turned the tables, forcing opponents to figure out how to match up with the Hogs.
It’s been great fun to watch that cat-and-mouse game, particularly since the Razorbacks have come out on top in most instances.
Vanderbilt is 8-7 on the season, are 0-2 in the SEC and will be without two starter Clevon Brown and leading scorer Aaron Nesmith, who was averaging 23 points a game. The Commodores are wounded, but Musselman warns that their condition makes them dangerous.
“They played Auburn great the other night on the road,” he said. “We have to get ready to figure out how to play Vandy. It’s plain and simple.”
Vanderbilt did give the No. 4 Tigers a scare at Auburn before eventually falling, 83-79, last week, and no doubt Jerry Stackhouse’s squad plans to battle the Razorbacks just as hard.
Tonight is no time for the Razorbacks to get complacent because as well as the Hogs have played this year, they have to bust their tails to win against every opponent.
Like all Hog fans across the state, I’m excited for tonight’s game. With a team as fun to watch as this year’s version of the Razorbacks, you just can’t help yourself.