It’s somewhat amazing that it’s taken until the latter half of January for Eric Musselman’s first Razorback basketball team to get its first true taste of adversity, but here it is.
The Hogs have gone from being on the cusp of the Top 25 to being mired in the middle of the SEC pack after losing their last two games to Mississippi State, 77-70, on Wednesday and Kentucky, 73-66, last Saturday.
The Razorbacks have tumbled to 14-4 on the season and 3-3 in SEC play, which has them tied for seventh with Mississippi State and Texas A&M.
LSU leads the league at 6-0. Kentucky is second at 5-1. Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama are 4-2 and tied for third.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: vs. TCU
When: 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
Current Record: 14-4 (SEC 3-3)
Jan. 29 – South Carolina
Feb. 1 – at Alabama
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
Obviously there is a lot of basketball left to play, and with one game or less separating seven teams that are either third or fourth in the race, nothing has been decided yet.
However, the Razorbacks’ size disadvantage has become more and more evident each game in SEC play. Teams are getting a handle on limiting sharp-shooting Isaiah Joe’s good looks at 3-pointers, and on staying in front of scorer Mason Jones.
Opponents have given up more to Jimmy Whitt Jr.’s mid-range game, but they had rather him score 2 than give up 3s to Joe and Jones.
While Reggie Chaney has also picked up some scoring slack inside of late, it has not been enough to make up for the struggles Jones and particularly Joe have dealt with.
Without a true low-post game to rely on, the Razorbacks have had a difficult time forcing defenders to back off from defending the 3-point line.
Unfortunately, the Razorbacks aren’t going to develop a low-post threat overnight. There just isn’t one eligible to play this season.
Defensively, the longer, bigger front-court talent of the better SEC teams have stretched the smallish Hogs thin.
Against the Bulldogs Wednesday, the Razorbacks backed off the pressure on the 3-point line to help inside and also tempt Mississippi State into taking bad shots, but the Bulldogs hit too many of them and 6-11 beast Reggie Perry was just too much for the Hogs inside.
The Razorbacks did a solid job of hanging around, but Arkansas never truly threatened the Bulldogs.
So what will Musselman and the Razorbacks to do? Arkansas’ schedule isn’t going to get any easier.
The only thing they can really do is continue to fight and play with the heart and passion they have all season.
Will that be enough to get them in the NCAA Tournament?
We will just have to watch and see.
The worst thing is the SEC isn’t rated that highly in the NCAA NET rankings or the various power ratings. The SEC could receive as few as four or five bids to the NCAA Tournament.
Every game for the Hogs is crucial if the SEC remains as tightly contested through nine spots as it is right now.
The Razorbacks step out of SEC play to compete in the Big 12/SEC Challenge at 3 p.m. Saturday against TCU, their old Southwest Conference opponent, in Walton Arena. The game will be televised by ESPN2, and while it’s not an SEC game, a win would only bolster the Hogs’ NCAA resume, while a loss would leave an ugly stain.
Franks adds SEC experience to UA quarterback room
Considering the play of graduate transfer quarterbacks Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel last season, one can somewhat understand some fans initially balking at bringing in another grad transfer quarterback.
In a perfect world, new head coach Sam Pittman and new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles would have a fully stocked quarterback room at the moment, and all the Razorbacks would really need would be to sign a talented freshman quarterback.
But we know the Razorback football program isn’t living in a perfect world or in a perfect situation on any level. The Hogs need help and nowhere more than in the quarterback room. We got to see John Stephen Jones, K.J. Jefferson, and Jack Lindsey start games last year, and while we saw varying degrees of promise from all three, none proved to be ready for prime time in the SEC.
That’s not the case with graduate transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks, who joined the Razorbacks a week ago after spending his first three years with the Florida Gators.
Franks has proven to be a solid performer for the Gators before suffering a season-ending ankle injury against Kentucky in the third game of the season last September.
He wasn’t perfect for the Gators. There is a reason why Florida coach Dan Mullen has opted to remain with Franks’ replacement Kyle Trask and that Franks moved on from Gainesville. But, as stated before, the Razorbacks need help, and the 6-6, 230-pound Franks can provide that. Here’s a highlight reel of his play at Florida:
Sure, it’s a highlight reel and doesn’t include his fouls-ups and mistakes, but even the most talented video editor couldn’t piece together a Razorback quarterback highlight reel from the last three seasons that’s even close to being that impressive.
Franks threw for 4,593 yards, 38 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 27 appearances for the Gators from 2017-19. He started 24 of those games. Those are very good numbers against SEC talent.
Franks greatly increases the experience and talent level of Arkansas’ quarterback room, and the Razorbacks offer him a fresh start for his final year or possibly final two years of collegiate play. Franks could petition the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility under its hardship rule because of his injury last fall.
To fully stock their quarterback cupboard, the Hogs need to sign a freshman quarterback during the late signing period which begins Feb. 5. No doubt Pittman and Briles are working to make that happen.
Diamond Hogs ranked 11th by “Baseball America”
My first reaction to “Baseball America” ranking Dave Van Horn’s Arkansas Razorback baseball team 11th is that it’s a little low.
Other polls have ranked the Hogs between fourth and ninth. Eleventh isn’t too far out of that range, but it’s out of the top 10, and there is no doubt that when you look back at the last few years, Van Horn has clearly been running a top-10 program, and while the Hogs did suffer losses to graduation from last year’s College World Series team, the Razorbacks do return a strong nucleus.
Sure, there are some questions about the Razorbacks’ pitching staff, but Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs should have those questions answered by the time SEC play rolls around.
However, being ranked a little lower than they should in the initial “Baseball America” poll has worked out well for the Hogs in the past, and it might do it again this year for a group of Razorbacks, who begin preseason practice Friday.
A team coached by Dave Van Horn usually doesn’t need outside motivation, but if it is served up on a sliver platter, why not take it?
The Hogs open their season on Friday, Feb. 14 — yes Valentine’s Day — at 3 p.m. with the first game of a three-game series at Baum Stadium.
Can you think of anything more romantic than snuggling up to your significant other at Baum Stadium in the chilly weather that the middle of February and the opening of the college baseball season always brings?