The Arkansas Razorbacks are on a roll, and Coach Eric Musselman wants to make sure his Hogs continue to gather momentum as the NCAA Tournament inches ever nearer.
At the moment, the No. 24 Razorbacks are in good shape to make the Field of 68 with an NCAA Net rating that matches their position in the AP Poll, but their SEC slate for the final two weeks of the regular season is challenging.
The Hogs travel deep into the heart of Texas this weekend for a 7:30 p.m. date with Texas A&M at College Station before entering what every Hog fan hopes will be Razorback Revenge Week as Alabama and LSU come to visit the Razorbacks at Walton Arena on Wednesday and Saturday.
The Crimson Tide and Bayou Bengals roughed the Razorbacks up in mid-January, posting 90-59 and 92-76 victories over Arkansas respectively.
Since then, though, the Razorbacks have found their equilibrium and improved greatly as a team. They’ve won seven of their last eight games with the only loss coming to Oklahoma State at Stillwater.
The Cowboys won 81-77 when Cade Cunningham stuck a 3-point jumper in the final 2 minutes of the game to put OSU up for good.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: at Texas A&M
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20
Where: College Station, TX
TV: SEC Network
Current Record: 17-5
Feb. 24 – Alabama (8 p.m. ESPN2/U)
Feb. 27 – LSU (1 p.m. ESPN/2)
March 2 – at South Carolina (5:30 p.m. SEC Network)
Since then, the Razorbacks have worked to make sure they were the team making the plays at the end of the game to secure victories.
So, even that loss has proven beneficial for Musselman’s Hogs who notched two huge road victories at Kentucky and at then-No. 10 Missouri last week before returning to Walton Arena to post a convincing 75-64 victory over a solid Florida team Tuesday night.
While the Gators aren’t the Top 25 team they usually are, beating Florida is significant for the Hogs. While Arkansas remains a proud program, Florida has owned the Razorbacks for the better part of two decades on the hardwood, and any victory over them should be appreciated.
However, the Hogs can’t afford to look back or to look past the Aggies. Arkansas has been the better team over the course of the season and should win, but the last thing the Arkansas needs going into next week is a road bump, knocking them off their stride.
Laying an egg in Aggieland could easily turn into a three-game losing streak with the likes of Alabama, Net-rated No. 8, and LSU, net-rated No. 27, on the horizon. But games like that are what makes competing in the SEC fun.
Taking care of the Aggies on Saturday sets up the best week of Razorback basketball in recent memory. It’s just too bad Covid-19 is still limiting crowd size.
Right now the Razorbacks are playing complementary basketball as most of Musselman’s roster has sunk into their rolls.
Grad-transfers Justin Smith and Jalen Tate are taking leadership roles, which is allowing freshmen like Devo Davis and Jaylin Williams to grow and improve game by game.
Fellow freshman Moses Moody is an old soul. His game is steady. Even on nights when he’s a bit off, he punishes opponents at the free-throw line like he did against Florida, sinking 6-of-7 freebies to finish with 14.
Guards Desi Sills and JD Notae will have their opportunities to not only contribute but also shine as the season wears on.
Some fans find only criticism for 7-3 sophomore Connor Vanover, but the big man is skillful and presents matchup issues for some opponents. His improved play has been important in the Hogs’ successful run over the last month.
It’s been fun watching Musselman and his staff develop this squad into a team that has shown some grit and toughness the last few weeks that wasn’t present back in mid-January.
I’m genuinely excited about the next week and am eagerly waiting to see the game plans Musselman and his staff will throw at Alabama and LSU.
But first, the Hogs need to take care of business in College Station like a maturing basketball team should do.