The Arkansas Razorbacks’ ranking in the Associate Press Poll has been a lot like the December weather we face here in Northwest Arkansas — up and down and sometimes stormy.
Coach Eric Musselman’s Hogs started out at a respectable 17th in the nation and then shot up to No. 9 before falling to 12th and then halting for the moment at No. 24 after being bushwhacked by the Oklahoma Sooners, 88-66, last weekend in Tulsa.
The Hogs might have had more fans in the BOK Center than Oklahoma, but it was the Sooners who were serious about playing, bolting to a 13-0 lead and ultimately cruising to a 22-point victory.
Next up for the Razorbacks
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18
Where: Little Rock
TV: No TV
Next 5 games
Dec. 21 – Elon, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)
Dec. 29 – at Mississippi State, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Jan. 4 – Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Jan. 8 – at Texas A&M, 12 p.m. (SEC Network)
Jan. 12 – Missouri, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas made a game of it at times, pulling within 6 in the first half and 3 in the second, before the Sooners pile-drived the Hogs into the dirt.
No doubt that loss had to be tough on the Razorbacks’ egos, but it only lasted 40 minutes. The Hogs had to come home to face the wrath of Musselman as well as final exams for a whole week before playing again.
The Hogs will attempt to exorcise some demons Saturday night at 7 p.m. against Hofstra at Simmons Bank Arena in Arkansas’ only non-televised game of the season.
The Razorbacks host Elon at 6 p.m. Tuesday before taking a long eight-day break in play before traveling to Mississippi State on Dec. 29 to open SEC play.
The Hogs face the dubious task of opening on the road and finishing on the road in SEC play. The Hogs close out their SEC schedule at Tennessee on March 5.
That seems eons away right now, but it will whiz by faster than we can imagine. The SEC Tournament is in Tampa, Fla. this year, where the football Hogs will be bowling in the Outback Bowl in just over two weeks on Jan. 1. Maybe, both squads can leave their mark in Tampa?
If the Razorback basketball team is going to do it, they are going to have to improve mightily from the way they played against the Sooners.
Not to say the squad hasn’t done some good things this season, but their lackadaisical attitude toward defense, especially on the perimeter, is troubling. Their offensive game plan at times is unrecognizable.
Early on against Oklahoma, the Hogs looked to my admittedly novice eye like they were playing make-it, take-it in a P.E. class rather than competing in a major college basketball game.
As talented as last year’s Elite Eight Razorback squad was offensively, Justin Smith, Moses Moody, and Jalen Tate all played lockdown team defense, but team defensive concepts only work when everyone is executing their part of the plan. Not most of the time, but every single time down the court.
A player of Chris Lykes’ size has to almost be in his opponent’s sneakers to be an effective defender. He can’t get caught in no-man’s land as Musselman described it following the Oklahoma loss and be an effective defender. But that goes for Devo Davis and J.D. Notae as well the rest of the Hogs.
It will be interesting to see the improvements the Hogs make after a week’s worth of practice.
“Ten games in, everyone is still searching all across the country,” Musselman said. “You’re going to try things and tinker and try to find out what works best for the team with rotations, with everything. We had a long week, an extended period of time to look at some different things defensively, individually and so on.”
Musselman liked the work his Hogs have put in since the loss that dropped them to 9-1 on the season.
“We had good practices, actually great practices Monday through Wednesday. Today (Thursday) was not so good… Monday and Tuesday was hard. We changed up what we do. We ran a lot of 5-on-5 stuff, and the feedback from the players was that they loved it. From an energy standpoint, (Thursday) wasn’t up to what it was the rest of the week. The first three days of the week were phenomenal.
“From a coaching perspective, we were really pleased with that. We worked on ourselves Monday and Tuesday, and started working on Hofstra Wednesday. We did a lot of stuff. We’ve added some offensive wrinkles. With our defense, we are slightly tinkering with some things. We’ve also tried to get better at some holes that we’ve struggled with as a team.”
Musselman knows Hoftra’s coach Speedy Claxton well, after coaching him to his best pro season with the Golden State Warriors.
“His team plays with great spacing,” Musselman said. “His team runs a lot of NBA sets. No surprise there. They play with good pace. They shoot a ton of 3s. He gives his guys a ton of freedom…they are really, really good offensively.”