Arkansas senior forward Justin Smith and junior guard Desi Sills / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Better late than never is the motto for the No. 12 Arkansas Razorbacks’ final regular-season game at 4 p.m. Saturday when the Texas A&M Aggies visit Walton Arena.
Both of the Hogs’ regularly scheduled games with the Aggies on Feb. 6 and Feb. 20 were postponed due to Covid-19 issues within the A&M program, but only one will be made up since the SEC Tournament begins Wednesday in Nashville.
In all, the Aggies (8-8, 2-7 SEC) postponed nine games this season, including the entire month of February, before stepping back on the floor Wednesday for a 63-57 home loss to Mississippi State.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: vs. Texas A&M
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, March 6
TV: SEC Network
Current Record: 20-5
March 10-14 SEC Tournament
March 18-21 NCAA Tournament
In contrast, the Razorbacks have had relatively few problems with Covid-19 outside of the A&M postponements. The Hogs’ game with Tulsa was canceled in December because of Covid issues within the Golden Hurricane’s program.
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman did say that freshman forward Jaylin Williams will be out for Saturday’s game. Musselman did not comment on rumors that Williams, who also missed Tuesday’s game at South Carolina, is ill with the coronavirus.
Saturday’s game might seem a bit anticlimactic with the Razorbacks (20-5, 12-4 SEC) having already locked up the second seed in next week’s SEC Tournament, thanks to their 10-game SEC winning streak. The Razorbacks also went ahead and had their senior-night celebration following last Saturday’s 83-75 victory over LSU, which was their last regularly scheduled home game, as planned.
While the party was held last week, this will not only be the final home game for grad-transfers Justin Smith, Jalen Tate, and Vance Jackson Jr., but it will likely be the last home game for freshman Moses Moody, whom prognosticators are projecting as a lottery pick in this summer’s NBA Draft.
While there is a ton of basketball still to be played for this Razorback team, it is a little bit sad that Hog fans will be saying goodbye to the in-state play of those four players so soon.
We hardly got to know these guys, but it has been a pleasure to watch them and their teammates develop and grow into a very fine basketball team that still has a lot of business to take care of in tournament play.
But first things, first. The Hogs need to take care of the Aggies.
It would be a shame for the Razorbacks to slip up Saturday and let Texas A&M steal a victory.
No doubt Musselman is endeavoring to keep the Hogs’ minds on the moment, preaching to the Razorbacks that they need to “starve the distractions” as they seek to improve.
The Hogs have done an excellent job of doing that over the last month. After being clubbed 92-76 by LSU on Jan. 13 and then defeated 90-59 by Alabama on Jan. 16 to fall to 2-4 in SEC play, I was getting concerned about Arkansas’ chances of making the NIT much less the NCAA Tournament.
However, Musselman and his Hogs turned this season around and made an NCAA Tourney bid an election sure. Now, fans are talking about the Razorbacks possibly making a return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996.
Either as a fan or as a reporter, I’ve paid close attention to Razorback basketball since 1976, and I do not believe I can remember a team improving as much within a season as these Hogs have since January.
That’s a testament to the work of the players and the coaches, who have turned this season from misery to a delight for Arkansas fans.
There was never any doubt that this team was talented, but now the Razorbacks are playing better together than we’ve seen in a long while.
Mike Anderson’s 2015 squad with Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls was good, but they were unable to put together a run like these Hogs have over the last month and change.
I think you have to reach back to the 1998 and 1999 teams that featured Kareem Reid, Pat Bradley, Nick Davis (1998), Derek Hood to find a team as good and gritty as this one. This team might end up better than either of those two.
What I’ve enjoyed most this season is watching the leadership of Smith and Tate bond this team of transfers, grad-transfers, and freshmen together. They aren’t the only leaders on the squad, but it’s been great to see them take on those roles with only one year in the program.
The best basketball teams always have another gear to shift into for tournament time. I’m hoping this Hog team has it.
But, there I go hitching the cart before the horse. I can afford to look ahead, but the Hogs need to take care of the Aggies before turning their attention to March Madness.