The annual confluence of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ three revenue sports is upon us this week.
Spring football drills begin for Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks on Thursday in the first of four practices to be held before Spring Break.
Eric Musselman’s Hoop Hogs enter play at 6 p.m. Thursday against Auburn in the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Dave Van Horn’s Diamond Hogs play host to Louisiana Tech in their final non-conference weekend series Friday through Sunday before opening SEC play on March 17.
As the character Penny Lane says in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film “Almost Famous” — “It’s all happening.”
Of primary importance is the basketball Razorbacks’ opening game in the SEC Tournament against the Auburn Tigers (20-11, 10-8 SEC) at 6 p.m. Thursday on the SEC Network.
It’s a tough draw for the Hogs (19-11, 8-10 SEC), who absorbed a 72-59 whipping at the paws of Bruce Pearl’s Tigers on Jan. 7 as part of the up-and-down ride the Razorbacks have had in SEC play.
Analytically, all the data points to the Razorbacks being in the NCAA Tournament when the field is announced on Sunday even if they drop Thursday’s game to Auburn.
For example, the Hogs’ NCAA Net ranking remains at No. 18 despite the fact the Hogs have lost their last three games, are 2-5 in their last seven games, and 5-5 in their last 10 games.
However, from the eye test, Arkansas did not look like an NCAA Tournament team in its 75-57 thumping at Tennessee last Tuesday or its 88-79 meltdown against Kentucky at Walton Arena last Saturday.
The Razorbacks’ party line from Musselman and everyone surrounding the program is that the Hogs already merit an NCAA Tournament bid as if an NCAA bid can be manifested by the power of positive thinking. Speak it into the universe, and it’ll happen.
My hope is that Musselman is absolutely right.
But with the Hogs’ current resume, I’m going to be a bit nervous until I hear Arkansas’ name called on Sunday no matter what the analytic say.
Remember, Texas A&M was left out of the NCAA’s field of 68 last year despite finishing in the SEC Tournament title game after its up-and-down season a year ago.
Again, analytics suggest that won’t happen to the Razorbacks. I’ve admittedly had an uncomfortable relationship with math all my life, but I digress.
Unless the Hogs pull off a near miracle — much like Nolan Richardson’s 2000 squad did when it won four games in four days to capture the school’s only SEC Tournament championship — the Razorbacks will go into Selection Sunday following a loss.
Could this group of Razorbacks turn it on like that 2000 squad did? Maybe?
This is a guard-oriented squad like the one that featured Joe Johnson, Teddy Gipson, T.J. Cleveland, and Brandon Dean, who played out of his mind to capture the SEC Tournament MVP.
I don’t think this Razorback squad shoots well enough to win four games in a row. I hope they prove me wrong.
Still going 2-1 in the SEC Tournament or even 1-1 would look a whole lot better to the NCAA Selection Committee than an 0-1 exit by the Hogs, especially if upsets in the minor conference tournaments continue to happen.
Remember conference-tournament winners receive the league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance. Upsets in those conferences will bump a squad(s) out of the tournament. Sometimes it’s the regular-season champ from that league, but sometimes its not.
Besides, it would also feel better to the Razorbacks to get off the schneid. No team wants to enter tournament play on a four-game losing streak. That’s where the Hogs would stand if they are unable to topple Auburn on Thursday.
Like Arkansas, Auburn will be playing to get their mojo back. The Tigers are 3-7 in their last 10 games, but enter the tournament coming off a 79-70 defeat of No. 12 Tennessee on their Senior Day last Saturday.
Thursday’s game should be a good one between two squads that really need a victory to solidify their NCAA Tournament stock.
The injury bug has bitten the Razorback baseball team just like it did the Hogs in football and basketball this school year.
The Diamond Hogs lost their second pitcher for the season with the news that Koty Franks will undergo surgery on his arm after leaving the Arkansas’ victory over Wright State in pain during the seventh inning.
Jaxon Wiggins, who has undergone Tommy John surgery after injuring his arm in preseason, is also out for the year.
Razorback closer Brady Tygart is also on the shelf after a sprain that will have him recovering for the next five to six weeks.
The injuries to the pitching staff has turned what looked like a strength for the Hogs into a question mark at the moment. With the SEC slate fast approaching, Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs are adjusting on the fly.
The No. 8 Razorbacks are 10-2 after topping Army, 7-5, Tuesday at Baum Stadium thanks to another big day by swatter Kendall Diggs, who belted a monster three-run homer to key the victory, despite Arkansas being outhit 12-8 by Army. The Hogs trailed 4-0 into the sixth inning until Jared Wagner smashed a home run to get the rally started.
Louisiana Tech, which swept Northwestern over the weekend, comes into Baum Stadium with an 8-4 record. The three-game series opens at 3 p.m. Friday, continues at 2 p.m. Saturday, and finishes at 1 p.m. Sunday.
The Razorbacks have a two-game midweek series with UNLV next Tuesday and Wednesday before playing host to Auburn, March 17-19 to open their SEC slate.
A new-look Razorback football squad will continue to fit the pieces together for the type of team they will be as spring practices commence Thursday.
Pittman’s Hogs will practice Thursday and Friday this week and Tuesday and Thursday next week before going on spring break the following week.
When the players return to campus on March 27, the Razorbacks will have 11 more practices before wrapping spring workouts on April 15 with a noon game/scrimmage in Razorback Stadium that will be open to the fans.
Pittman hired new offensive and defensive coordinators after the departures of Kendal Briles for a lateral move to TCU and Barry Odom to become the head coach at UNLV.
Travis Williams, Arkansas defensive coordinator, and his co-coordinator Marcus Woodson are retooling the defense along with returning defensive line coach Deke Adams and first-year secondary assistant Deron Williams.
Pittman revealed Tuesday the Hogs’ base defense will be a four-man front, but Williams’ coaching style specializes in bringing pressure aggressively from multiple sets. Fans tired of the somewhat vanilla defense Odom deployed should be excited to begin to see the puzzle come together under Williams’ and Woodson’s tutelage.
There will be some changes offensively as well with the return of Dan Enos to the Razorbacks’ fold. Enos was Arkansas’ offensive coordinator from 2015-17 under Bret Bielema, working with Pittman as offensive line coach for a very productive 2015 season.
Pittman said that Enos and returning starter K.J. Jefferson have already developed a strong working relationship, and that Jefferson was eager to embrace the pro-style concepts Enos and the rest of the offensive staff are introducing to the players. Jefferson is in striking distance of most Razorback quarterbacking records going into next season.
Pittman said the Razorbacks are in the midst of learning new terminology this spring on both sides of the ball as well as new concepts. He explained that he doesn’t want his coaches fumbling over their words in working with players so, it’s better for the players to adapt to the new nomenclature than the coaches to try to do it on the fly.
While Pittman did not go into details when addressing the exodus of coaches and players his program experienced following the conclusion of the regular season, he did mention that players expressed the need for more bonding between the coaches and players off the field. It would seem that is something the Razorbacks will focus upon as the program moves forward.
The Razorbacks still have room for at least 10 transfers to join the team after the signing of defensive back Jaheim Singletary earlier this week. He’s a former four-star defensive back with four years of eligibility remaining after playing in two games at Georgia last year. He will not report to the Razorbacks until summer.
That number of transfers Arkansas could take would increase if any current Razorbacks opt to transfer after spring drills.