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Nate Olson

Tough game against TCU Saturday comes at good time for Razorbacks

It’s amazing how a couple of losses can upset the apple cart.

Arkansas basketball was riding high, then came a home loss to Kentucky and a loss at Mississippi State. Now some fans are up in arms and even coach Eric Musselman seems frustrated.

Even when it appeared Arkansas was way better than its No. 11 predicted finish in the SEC, I knew a stretch like this was possible. It wouldn’t surprise me if Arkansas is routed on the road.

It is the nature of the beast of a shorthanded team playing in a tough conference.

It’s not an abomination to lose at Starkville. It’s certainly not shameful to lose to UK, who really outmatches Arkansas athletically across the board and is way deeper. Arkansas played admirably in both games.

However, the underlying fact is, the Hogs are small and shorthanded. That inevitably will catch up with them at points.

“I think they’ll be fine mentally,” Musselman told the media Thursday regarding his team. “But, when you lose two in a row, if it doesn’t hurt and you don’t agonize over it, then a third loss becomes a possibility.

“If you hate to lose and you’re a great competitor, then you’ll do every defensive assignment that’s necessary to win the next game.”

The adversity doesn’t mean they can’t finish in the upper echelon of the SEC or make a run in the NCAA Tournament. The odds are just greater, but they have beaten some odds already.

So, now Arkansas has to regroup Saturday against TCU (13-5, 4-2 Big 12) in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

On the surface this doesn’t look like an ideal opponent to play while dealing with a losing skid, but it could be exactly what the Hogs need.

First, the game is at Bud Walton Arena. The atmosphere was lit (as my kids would say) for the UK game. Expect another great crowd. That will give Arkansas a lift in what is a winnable game at home.

It is super important that this game is at home. The team needs a lift and the comforts at home.

“I think the atmosphere will be awesome,” Musselman said. “But, look, we’ve lost two in a row … The atmosphere at the home game with Kentucky – nobody in the country is going to be able to duplicate that. I think that was as good as any atmosphere you could possibly ask for.

“We lost a game on the road, we could have potentially won. Our team is playing really, really hard and our fans feel the passion our kids play with.

“Not only is it a sellout, but you not only sell the ticket, but they have to come. I think they will come to the game, and I think our student section will be great. I just came from a sorority, and they seemed fired up.

“They all said they are coming, so I think we will have a great student section. I know they aren’t going to line up early, but as long as they get there before tip-off, I am cool with that.”

The other interesting component of this game is it doesn’t matter in the SEC race. If Arkansas loses, it could continue to deteriorate its confidence, but it wouldn’t mean a lot in the grand scheme of things.

Other than a confidence boost, the game does offer another chance to boost the Hogs’ NCAA Tournament resume. TCU looks like a sure-fire tournament team, so that is probably the most important part of the game — another chance at a Power 5 win.

While TCU does not count in the SEC standings, they are an SEC-quality opponent. The Horned Frogs are led by Desmond Bane, who is a versatile scorer who has shifted positions in recent years.

The Hogs will have to contain him to win the game.

“He’s just improved so much as a player,” Musselman told the media Friday. “A few years ago, he played a lot of [power forward] for them, and then moved to small forward and now to off guard.

“He’s always been a really good three-point shooter, and he’s a good rebounder for his position. He improved his ball handling and has ability to be able to create his own shot. I think he’s a really good passer, too.”

Musselman hinted that he is going to tinker with the starting lineup after consulting his dog Swish on their “morning stroll” Saturday.

He said he will consider the moves then and is going to have “the marketing department ready with different graphics” with lineups that they distribute on social media before the game.

He may or may not experiment with the lineup if Arkansas was playing an SEC opponent, but the nature of this contest lends itself to that.

Arkansas hits the SEC slate again Wednesday night with a home game with South Carolina and is at Alabama a week from Saturday with a critical home game Tuesday, Feb. 4 with No. 16 Auburn.

A win against a quality TCU team would go a long way in sparking that stretch.

If not, the Hogs are still in good shape in the SEC with a home game against a beatable opponent.

Categories
Andy Hodges

Lack of offense, turnovers, doom Arkansas in surprising loss to Bulldogs

Arkansas wasn’t supposed to lose to Georgia on Thursday night at Bud Walton Arena, but the combination of a lot of things — all bad — led to a 64-55 loss.

“We tried to do a few different things,” Mike Neighbors said later. “It certainly appeared like we tried the same thing over and over and over expecting a different result. I think Einstein said is the definition of insanity.”

The Bulldogs turned the Hogs over 20 times, a season-high for the Razorbacks, while also holding Arkansas to just three 3-pointers, a season-low.

“Maybe the first time this year I’ve been disappointed,” Neighbors said.

There were some warning signs that he apparently didn’t realize (or know about) until it was too late to do anything about it.

Chelsea Dungee, who had 13 points and seven rebounds but also five of the team’s 20 turnovers, said later the team just had a lack of energy the last few days.

“That’s on me,” Neighbors said. “She’s not the only one that said it. That goes to the thing I can do better, which is have a better pulse. I’d like to tell you I had seen it, but I didn’t.

“I thought we had a quiet confidence about us. We were getting on that borderline of having a bit of swagger and maybe that’s what I was attributing it to.”

It wasn’t hard to tell Neighbors wasn’t real happy, although he did a pretty good job of masking it.

“There was no reason not to have any energy,” he said.

Then he started just listing the things he found out. Neighbors wasn’t using any of it as an excuse, but it did point to a lack of focus for this game.

“We just came off a day off and I found out just a minute ago nobody came in to do any extra shooting for the first time all year,” he said. “We had pre-practice on Tuesday, which I just found out nobody showed up for for the first time all year.

“As a result, for the first time this year we’re disappointed.”

This loss is going to stick with Neighbors, although he may have gotten some of it out in a rare post-game talk, which may have involved some straight talk.

The guess here is there may be a more focused team by Sunday.

“I will make sure those things don’t beat us before the game — and I’m not telling you that’s the reason — I’m telling you it’s the first time it’s happened,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve talked to them — win or lose, home or away — that I’ve ever talked to the team following the game.

“I’m going to leave a little more encouraged. I can tell you if I hadn’t talked to them, I would have been not much fun to be around the rest of the night or tomorrow until I saw them again.”

With Florida coming up in a home game Sunday, Neighbors can’t let this game turn what a lot of fans expected to be two wins into the opposite.

“We’ve gotta take care of one of these two home games,” he said. “You can’t let two homes to people you’re picked around slip by and not regret it.”

Redshirt freshman Erynn Barnum was the Hogs’ leading scorer, matching her career-high with 14 points, shooting 50 percent from the field (6-12) and from three (1-2).

Dungee was the only other Hog to reach double-figures.

Gabby Connally led the way for Georgia, going for a game-high 18 points.

Turning point

The Hogs had a seven-point lead with 3:13 to play in the third quarter after a lay-in from sophomore guard Rokia Doumbia. Barnum went on a solo 7-0 run in just over a minute of clock time early in the third period, but the spark didn’t last long.

Georgia rolled from them on, though, closing the game on a 28-12 run over the end of the third and throughout the fourth period. That run included a 19-2 spurt that put the game just out of reach.

 Hogs highlights

• Barnum matched her career-high in points, going for 14.

• Dungee scored in double-figures for the ninth straight time.

• Senior guard Alexis Tolefree led the Hogs on the glass, pulling down seven rebounds.

• Doumbia recorded three steals, a new career-high.

 The Razorbacks will host Florida in a game is set to tip at 2 p.m. and will be streamable on SECN+.

Information from Razorback Sports Communications is included in this story.

Categories
Andy Hodges

Franks will add numbers, experience to Hogs’ quarterback group

In a position room short on numbers and experience, Feleipe Franks’ announcement Monday afternoon via Instagram that he’s coming to Arkansas was interesting in a couple of areas.

Of course, nobody knows how it will play out, but you would think the Razorbacks are due to have one of these graduate transfer quarterbacks come in and actually grab the job and do something with it.

Last year there were a couple of those that appeared to have as little interest in winning games as they did being here.

Now it will be Franks’ turn after his visit to Fayetteville last weekend where “how genuine everybody is” made the difference.

That is a positive for new coach Sam Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. A lot of people had him as a lock to join the Les Miles’ experience at Kansas but the new Hogs’ coaches apparently made a pitch and were able to close the deal.

Franks completed 367 of 622 passes for 4,593 yards, 38 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his Florida career. Franks rushed 189 times for 438 yards and eight touchdowns.

He was injured against Kentucky this past fall. An ankle injury that required surgery ended his 2019 season. Before being injured against the Wildcats, Franks completed 12 of 17 passes for 174 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Franks will be the biggest player in the room right off the bat at 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds. More importantly, he’s the most experienced, particularly in the SEC.

Competing with him will be redshirt sophomore John Stephen Joes, redshirt freshman K.J. Jefferson and redshirt senior Jack Lindsey along with North Texas walk-on transfer Cade Pearson.

Categories
Andy Hodges

Briles may be looking for escapability at quarterback more than power

New offensive coordinator Kendal Briles has done a few interviews in his few weeks at Arkansas, but it’s clear he’s not looking for a quarterback to be an extra running back.

He hasn’t put it like this, but the interpretation of what he’s telling people in interviews he wants a quarterback that can escape and make something out of nothing.

He’s not looking for somebody to play running back.

A lot of people don’t really understand that. When freshman K.J. Jefferson finally got into a game against Mississippi State this past season, everyone was excited that he ran over a little ol’ safety who didn’t have an angle or momentum to do anything but get run over.

That’s not something a quarterback in the SEC West will be able to survive long doing.

“You do that too much in the SEC West, you’re going to beat him up,” Briles said in an interview that aired on Pig Trail Nation recently.

Jefferson found that out the hard way, getting knocked out in his first start against LSU the next week. Jack Lindsey also got dinged in the final game against Missouri.

A lot of quarterbacks don’t know HOW to run against big-time college players. A lot of them played in high school against opponents who weren’t as big or as athletic. Most never played after high school.

They could get away with running over the occasional opponent.

LSU’s Joe Burrow won a Heisman Trophy this past season not for his running ability but throwing the ball. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence will start next season as the leading candidate for the Heisman and that’s not for his legs.

Oh, nearly every winning quarterback has a few plays on film that have him running the ball for a big gain. Nearly all the time they either dodge people or step out of bounds.

It’s called a business decision.

For the last four years, the Hogs have had quarterbacks that somehow thought proving their toughness involved trying to run over people. Every one of them ended up missing action due to injuries, mostly concussions.

Let’s face it, things were bad enough trying to dodge pass rushers considering how the offensive line played too often. They made it worse by trying to run over defenders.

“I like a guy that’s mobile enough that he can extend plays,” Briles said in the interview on Pig Trail Nation. “I don’t necessarily want to run a guy.”

In other words, being able to escape trouble, make something out of nothing and get out of bounds.

Preferably after getting past the first down marker.

Categories
Andy Hodges

Calipari’s ejection works heavily in Kentucky’s favor, sinking Hogs

The only person that knows if John Calipari got himself tossed on purpose Saturday afternoon at Bud Walton Arena isn’t talking, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he did.

“The whole momentum changed after that in Kentucky’s favor … in every way, shape and form,” Eric Musselman said later. “We had the momentum during the dead ball, and after that, it completely changed.”

The Wildcats turned a three-point Arkansas lead with 8:19 to play into a 10-point lead four minutes later and held on the rest of the way for a 73-66 win.

With the game tied at 44 and most of the 19,200 in attendance smelling blood in the water, Calipari wandered too far onto the floor and get hit with a technical, which he then pushed into an ejection.

The guess here is none of that happened by accident. Calipari has been around the block before, his team was not exactly playing its best and needed a spark.

Apparently he didn’t tell anyone. A lot of coaches will alert his second-in-command to be ready when he’s planning on getting tossed. Kentucky associate coach Kenny Payne didn’t get that at all.

“Unfortunate,” he said later about Calipari’s ejection. “For me especially.”

Payne, who was part of Louisville’s 1986 national championship team, said later he didn’t think Calipari was trying to get thrown out.

“I seriously doubt it,” he said with a big grin. “I wish if he had done it on purpose he would have given me a heads-up.”

He simply told the players it was crunch time.

“It’s an execution game,” he said. “They last thing [Arkansas] is expecting us to do is rebound and push the ball up the court. Well, that’s what we did.”

He said Calipari gave him a big hug in the locker room after the win and congratulations. If they didn’t have it in their game plan to do that, Payne made a decision that may have completely changed the course of the game.

For all of their preparation work, Musselman may not have put in the plan. Dejected after the game, he sounded like he was expecting something different.

“Surprisingly, their post-ups didn’t really hurt us with our lack of size,” he said. “The rebounding did, for sure, but it wasn’t like they were just throwing it in the post and that was hurting us.”

The sold-out crowd was there for the tip and didn’t leave early. On the floor you could sense the momentum starting to swing to the Hogs with the crowd getting more amped up as the score tightened.

Then it slipped away when Calipari either made a shrewd coaching move … or just flat got lucky.

Musselman actually looked almost shocked later.

“This one hurts,” he said. “We had an incredible environment in the building. We don’t want to let our fans down and it’s hard to create that atmosphere and get that atmosphere back. The locker room’s hurting.”

Now he’s got a different challenge in that he can’t let Kentucky beat the Hogs twice in one week.

Arkansas has to go on the road to Mississippi State for a Wednesday night game.

“Right now we’re all hurting,” Musselman said. “We need a day to regroup. We’ve got to try to learn from a loss.”

Calipari made some coaching moves like shutting down Hogs’ guard Jimmy Whitt, Jr., who ended up with 14 points … all in the second half.

But the biggest move may have been getting thrown out, which wasn’t planned before the game, but might have been one of those in-game decisions.

It was one Musselman couldn’t counter.

Categories
Andy Hodges

Kentucky game big for Razorback fans and it’s really been awhile

Who: Arkansas Razorback (14-2, 3-1 SEC) vs. #10 Kentucky Wildcats (12-4, 3-1 SEC)
What: Razorbacks to play in SOLD-OUT Bud Walton Arena for the second time this season.
When: Saturday – Jan. 18 – 3:00 pm
Where: Fayetteville, Ark. – Nolan Richardson Court at Bud Walton Arena
• TV: ESPN (Bob Wischusen, Dick Vitale and Kris Budden)
CLICK HERE to Watch ESPN Online
Radio: ESPN Arkansas 95.3 in the River Valley, 96.3 in Hot Springs and 104.3 in Harrison-Mountain Home (Chuck Barrett and Matt Zimmerman)
CLICK HERE to listen on HitThatLine.com
Sirius/XM: XM Channel 381, Streaming Online on channel 371
Live Stats: www.Arkansas.StatBroadcast.com

You know Arkansas’ annual game with Kentucky is a big deal because the ESPN mother ship is coming to town with the top broadcasting crew and that includes a color commentator some thought retired years ago.

Assuming he doesn’t automatically end up somewhere in the ACC by accident.

Seriously, though, this is a big game for Eric Musselman in his first season mainly because, well, the Razorbacks and Wildcats are tied in the SEC standings.

Raise your hand if you saw that coming before the season. Forgive me, though, if I don’t wait around.

You can listen to the game on the radio with the TV sound muted at ESPN Arkansas 95.3 in the River Valley, 96.3 in Hot Springs and 104.3 in Harrison-Mountain Home.

Online, you can listen to the game here at HitThatLine.com.

Kentucky coach John Calipari has been on record as being impressed with Musselman’s hiring since October after congratulating Jerry Jones, which may have been the first he’d heard of the Hogs’ new basketball coach.

He’s done nothing since then to give Arkansas any bulletin board material.

“They play really hard. They play rough,” Calipari said Friday. “They aren’t big but that doesn’t seem to hurt them on either end of the court. They have specific roles of what guys are going to do, what kind of shots they’re going to take and they do it.”

Musselman probably just shrugged when he heard that.

“Every game has got its own identity and comes up with its own theme the minute the refs throw the ball up,” he said Thursday afternoon.

Not for the fans, who have always approached the games with Kentucky at a fever pitch, regardless of the record or rankings.

The SEC let the Razorbacks in back in 1992 to give a different color to the league’s basketball tournament. In other words, somebody who could pose a challenge to Kentucky that had a color other than blue.

Exactly why a league that prides itself on marketing has, more or less, dropped the ball on that. You’d think they would figure out a way for that game to be played twice a year.

This one is big at this point of the schedule. Which actually has Musselman starting to sound a little like Nick Saban in his pregame speech.

“You prepare the same way, then your level of play shouldn’t fluctuate like a yo-yo, either,” he said. “You should be ready to play every night as a player, and as a coaching staff, you should have great preparation.”

Tell me if you just read those words you come up with several coaches that could be saying it.

Kentucky leads the all-time series, 32-11, but Arkansas is 7-7 versus the Wildcats at home. The last time Arkansas defeated Kentucky was a season-sweep in 2014.

First, the Razorbacks upset then-No. 13 Kentucky, 87-85, in overtime, on Jan. 14 thanks to a Michael Qualls dunk at the buzzer. A month later (Feb. 27) at Rupp Arena, Arkansas once again pulled out an overtime win to defeat then-No. 17 Kentucky, 71-67.

30-30-30

• Jimmy Whitt Jr., scored a career-high 30 points versus Vanderbilt to become the third Razorback to score at least 30 points this season. Mason Jones (41 vs Tulsa and 32 vs Rice) Isaiah Joe (34 Ole Miss • 33 TX Southern) were the others.

• Arkansas also had three players score at least 30 last season, including Daniel Gafford (32 vs LSU) • Mason Jones (30 vs Florida 30 vs Miss State) • Isaiah Joe (34 vs FIU).

Second half surge

• Isaiah Joe averages 18.6 minutes in the second half and Jimmy Whitt Jr., averages 18.4. Mason Jones follows at 16.4, followed by Desi Sills (14.6), Adrio Bailey (11.8) and Jalen Harris (10.4).

• Despite the extended minutes, Arkansas puts up better numbers in the second half: 1st HALF: 35.0 ppg • 43.9 FG% • 29.2 3PT% * 65.9 FT% • 64 steals; 2nd HALF       39.1 ppg • 45.68 FG% • 33.9 3PT% * 82.5 FT% • 77 steals

Razorbacks among NCAA winningest teams; best start since …

• Arkansas’ .875 win percentage is 14th-T in the NCAA.

• Arkansas is 1 of 15 teams in the NCAA with two or fewer losses.

• Arkansas is 14-2 overall for the first time since 1997-98. The ’97-98 team lost game 17 to fall to 14-3.

• Arkansas is 3-1 in SEC play for the first time since 2015-16. Arkansas will be looking for its first 4-1 in SEC play since opening 9-1 in league play in 1997-98.

No. 24 in NCAA NET, No 9 in RPI

• Arkansas’ NCAA NET remained 24th after a 75-55 win vs Vanderbilt.

• Arkansas’ NET is 2nd-best among SEC schools behind Auburn (13). Others of note: LSU (26), Kentucky (35), Alabama (44). Florida (48), Georgia (55).

• Arkansas’ NET of 24 is better than 6 teams ranked in the AP top 25.

• Arkansas has an RPI of 9, better than 16 teams ranked in the AP top 25.

Mason Jones is THE TEAM LEADER

• Mason Jones leads the Razorbacks in: Scoring (18.1) • Rebounding (6.1) • Assists (54) • Steals (29)

• Jones is THE ONLY PLAYER IN THE SEC to rank among the top 20 in scoring (3rd) and Rebounding (15th and also rank among the top 11 in steals (4th), 3-pointers made (8th), defensive rebounds (7th) and FG% (11th).

Putting Arkansas 3-point defense … or Joe’s success … in perspective

• Arkansas leads the NCAA in 3-point field goal defense as opponents have shot below 29% from long range 14 times. Overall, opponents are a combined 63-of-281 from long range (28.8%).

• Arkansas opponents have made 64 3-pointers in 281 attempts.

• Sophomore Isaiah Joe has made 63 3-pointers in 176 attempts.

Arkansas has best trio in SEC

Arkansas is the only team in the SEC to feature:

• Two players in the league’s top 5 for scoring — Mason Jones (3rd / 18.1) • Isaiah Joe (4th / 17.8)

• Three players in the league’s top 20 for scoring — Jimmy Whitt Jr.  (13th / 14.8)

Isaiah Joe on Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Watch List

Arkansas sophomore Isaiah Joe was named to the 2020 Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award watch list, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced today.

Fans can vote for their favorite player HERE.

Information, notes from Razorback Sports Communications included in this story.

Categories
Nate Olson

History against Kentucky means little, but electric crowd might

Eric Musselman didn’t want to talk about past games with Kentucky this week, but Arkansas fans are going to turn back the clock Saturday.

“I don’t think Kentucky beating Arkansas or having any type of streak, in my opinion, doesn’t have any bearing at all,” Musselman told the media Wednesday. “That kind of sounds like a broken record, but every game comes up with its own theme and identity when the refs throw the ball up.”

Arkansas is winless in the past seven meetings with the No. 10-ranked Wildcats. That’s the part Musselman doesn’t have much to say about and why should he?

Nothing that has happened in those games has anything to do with him or this team. It doesn’t take a basketball guru to understand how impactful Musselman has been on this group, which has improved greatly since being under the tutelage of former coach Mike Anderson.

“We have played really competitive all year, and we just want to play with maximum effort,” Musselman said. “I told [the team] after the [Vanderbilt game Wednesday night] the only way we will be able to compete with Kentucky is if we bring our ‘A’ game. We can’t bring a ‘B+’ game and expect to compete.”

The past is the past, but what about a blast from the past?

Bud Walton Arena hasn’t been itself for quite some time. Once, one of the most feared arenas in college basketball the mediocrity of recent decades has removed some of the luster.

However, now with a team that is playing well and a coach who is a marketing whiz, this game atmosphere has a chance to be the most electric in 20 years. The game is sold out and at last check you couldn’t buy a ticket on broker sites for less than $100 and those were in the upper deck.

Musselman admits there is something different playing a traditional power such as Kentucky, and that he’s gotten many more ticket requests. He even has a group of friends from his youth from the San Diego area flying in for the occasion.

He’s already been impressed by home crowds. If Arkansas plays well, he is in for a real treat that he may never have witnessed before at a college venue. The Bud atmosphere has been that good.

“There’s just hype, you know. I am sure when the [New York] Yankees come to town in Major League Baseball, there is more outside noise,” Musselman said. “As a player, you should be ready to play every night. As a coach, I think if you bring great intensity every night …. I’m not going to coach any different whether it’s Vanderbilt or Kentucky.

You prepare the same way, and your level of play shouldn’t fluctuate like a yo-yo, either. You should be ready to play every night as a player and a coaching staff. You should have great preparation, and we have a game after the Kentucky game, too, that becomes important.”

However, the Wildcats won’t be intimidated. After a buzzer-beater loss at South Carolina, they will be determined. Their length and size could really hurt the undersized Hogs.

“Certainly, the teams we have had after a loss there’s a heightened awareness of what we didn’t do well and need to improve on,” Musselman said. “Many times losses grab your attention more than a win. Sometimes, when you win, you take some of the little things for granted.

“When you look at [Kentucky Coach John Calipari’s] record, he is pretty good after a loss. I can tell you that.

“They present a lot of problems with their defense, length and scoring ability,” Musselman said. “They are so well-coached, and I can go on and on.”

This is the biggest, most-anticipated game in the Musselman Era. It may be one of the more-anticipated in recent memory.

Anderson didn’t have many signature wins. The Hogs’ win at Indiana is already a good one and Kentucky would be monumental, both in his first season, with many more chances to go.

It could be a very historical day that paves the way for more of the past to become the future.

Categories
Andy Hodges

Whitt finds lots of points, Chaney finds playing time as Hogs roll past Vandy

On a night when Arkansas’ usual scorers weren’t, Jimmy Whitt, Jr., stepped up big and Reggie Chaney got out of the doghouse and paced a 75-55 win over Vanderbilt at Bud Walton Arena.

Whitt had a collegiate career-high 30 points while Chaney got 14 points. Chaney alone scored one point more than the Razorbacks’ usual scorers Isaiah Joe (12) and Mason Jones (1).

The Commodores came in pretty much ready to not let Joe and Jones have their usual big nights.

PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

“They did a great job of crowding Mason and crowding Isaiah, which allowed Reggie to get some looks around the rim,” Hogs coach Eric Musselman said later. “It certainly allowed Jimmy, as well.”

Whitt just thought getting his big number was, well, cool. Especially doing it where he started his career before transferring to SMU before returning this season as a graduate transfer.

“It was cooler that I did it here rather than anywhere else, being able to come in my last year and reach a milestone like that in front of the fans I started with, I think it hit me right there and that was the coolest part for me,” Whitt said.

Chaney simply hadn’t been playing well and saw his playing time virtually disappear after a horrible game at LSU that included a technical for slapping the ball that had clearly ticked off Musselman.

He had to play his way back into what is admittedly a small rotation of seven or eight players on a big night. Musselman clearly had questions about him.

“I knew I had to earn that trust back,” Chaney said later. “In practice I’ve been going really hard.

“He still believed in me tonight and played me, so I went in and I had to do what I had to do. Tonight I came in and gave my best hustle and earned a little bit of his trust back.”

Arkansas needed it.

PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

First half notes

• Chaney scored eight points off the bench with 7:10 to play in the first half. His season high coming into the game was six on two occasions He had only scored eight points the previous five games combined.

• Arkansas used a 12-3 run from 9:53 to 2:39 to go up nine, 29-20.

• Vandy’s Maxwell Evans answered with an old-fashioner 3-point play and a 3-point for the Commodores.

• Desi Sills got Arkansas back on track with a 3-pointer. The teams traded baskets and the Hogs lead by six, 34-28, at the break.

• Whitt scored 17 first-half points, including two dunks. He was also credited with his first 3-point attempt of the season, a desperation shot as the buzzer sounded to end the half.

• Chaney finished with eight points and Sills had seven with a team-best five rebounds.

PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

Second half notes

• The Commodores got within four, 37-33, with 17:24 in the second half. The Razorbacks answered with an 8-0 run — its largest run of the game — to take a 12-point lead. The Hogs led by double digits the final 16:10 of the game.

• Joe hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Whitt had a dunk for the run.

PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

Game notes

• Arkansas’ starting lineup was Whitt, Joe, Sills. Jones and Adrio Bailey for the 15th time this season.

• Arkansas won the tip. It was the ninth time in 16 games. Arkansas is 7-2 in such games.

• Bailey scored the first points of the game on two free throws at 19:17. Arkansas has scored first 11 times and is 9-2 in such games. It was the first time Bailey scored the team’s first points.

• Arkansas out-rebounded Vanderbilt 38-30. It was just the fourth time Arkansas has out-rebounded an opponent this season.

• Vanderbilt entered the game first in the SEC in 3-point percentage (.375) and second in the SEC in 3-pointers made (9.5). The Razorbacks held Vandy to just 5-of-20 (25%).

• Arkansas leads the NCAA in 3-point field goal percentage defense (22.8%).

PHOTO BY ANDY HODGES | HITTHATLINE.COM

• Vanderbilt had zero steals. They entered the game fifth in the SEC by averaging 7.6 steals per game. The last time an Arkansas opponent had zero steals was North Texas on Jan. 3, 2004.

• Arkansas tied a season high with 19 assists. They also had 19 in the season-opener against Rice.

• Arkansas shot a season-low 53.3% from the free throw line (8-of-15). The Razorbacks were 29th in the NCAA in free throw percentage entering the game.

• Arkansas is 3-1 in SEC play for the first time since 2015-16. Arkansas will be looking for its first 4-1 in SEC play since opening 9-1 in league play in 1997-98.

• Arkansas is 14-2 overall for the first time since 1997-98 as well. The ’97-98 team lost game 17 to fall to 14-3.

• All 12 Razorbacks saw game action.

Information, notes, from Razorback Sports Communications are included in this story.

Categories
Andy Hodges

Hogs looking at transfers, but could one here be developed?

With all this talk about Arkansas looking at potential transfer quarterbacks, you have to wonder how the guys already on the team feel about that.

It’s getting to the point where signing day is more of a starting point than a destination.

Especially with quarterbacks.

Joe Burrow just won a national title at Ohio State after transferring to LSU from Ohio State. Three of the quarterbacks in this year’s playoff games began their college careers somewhere else.

Which makes it reasonable that new Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles are at least expressing interest.

Former Houston quarterback D’Eriq King and Florida’s starting quarterback at the beginning of this past season are the latest names drawing interest. Feleipe Franks is reportedly visiting Fayetteville this weekend, which is a big one in the recruiting world.

King was recruited by Briles to the Cougars and is one of the more highly-regarded signal-callers in this year’s talent relocation. Hog fans are hoping that’s enough to maybe convince him to come to Arkansas.

As for Franks, he is considered to be leaning towards Kansas and Les Miles, who recruited him hard when he was at LSU. He’s also visiting Mississippi State where Mike Leach is now the coach.

We may get a clue how good Pittman and Briles are as recruiters early with the Hogs. Let’s face it, they’re selling blue sky and opportunity at this point.

After back-to-back 10-loss seasons there’s no foundation. With eight different players starting at quarterback over the last two seasons and five of those guys gone, well, there’s not exactly a returning superstar to replace.

The three on the roster now — Jack Lindsey, John Stephen Jones and K.J. Jefferson — haven’t had a lot of development at the collegiate level. That’s code for lack of coaching, by the way.

All three have positives and negatives.There are some that feel looking at possible graduate transfer quarterbacks is a knock on the ones already here.

No, it’s not. The view here is if they’re not winning to compete for a job, you wonder how they’ll compete for wins.

With classes started for the spring semester getting a grad transfer in for spring practice has got to happen sooner rather than later … and they are recruiting some high school quarterbacks.

But unless Pittman and Briles can land a solid transfer, the most interesting thing in spring practice may be how well the ones already here can be developed.

After all, Hog fans have no idea how that could work out based on recent history.

Categories
Nate Olson

MSU’s hiring Leach makes Pittman even more forgettable in critics’ eyes

If Arkansas’ hiring of Sam Pittman was vanilla, it became a little more so last week.

Mississippi State made one of the splashiest hires of the offseason by replacing Joe Moorhead with Washington State’s Mike Leach.

As you know (unless you live under a rock), Leach is popular among casual fans for his witty and unusual press conferences  that often go viral. He wins enough to be considered successful and has done it in such outposts as Lubbock, Texas and Pullman, Wash.

Now, he brings his shtick to Starkville, Miss, and the Bulldogs faithful couldn’t be more tickled.

It took about a second for fans and media alike to begin to drool over Leach and Lane Kiffin as interstate rivals. The buzz has also already begun for SEC Media Days in August.

There will be media turned away at Birmingham trying to get sound bites from Kiffin, Leach, LSU’s Ed Orgeron and Alabama’s Nick Saban. LSU could be defending national champions.

There will be questions about a Bama comeback, and Leach and Kiffin will be in rare form for sure, as they can rest easy with an 0-0 record.

Then, there’s Pittman.

The career offensive line coach will attract some attention being a new kid on the block and rising through the ranks, but even rookie Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz, a relative unknown, will get more publicity.

That is  fine with Pittman.

He doesn’t seem to be a guy who cares much about the spotlight. He’s a better speaker than you might think, and I know he commands attention in a living room, but he doesn’t crave the attention like Leach or Kiffin. He would be fine to stand in the corner, and let them flap their gums.

Leach’s bravado seems to give him more credibility. However, he was 6-6 at Wazzu this fall.

He’s 139-90, but he’s only won two division titles (one in the Big 12 and one in the Pac 12) and is 7-8 in bowl games. But there are some who would place him in the upper echelon of the SEC West elite that includes Alabama’s Nick Saban, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, who all have won national titles.

And don’t forget about Orgeron who could win his first Monday night.

Leach is a good coach, but as I told some Hogs fans when the Arkansas job was open, Leach is too offensive-minded for me.

His style isn’t set up to win big games, and I’d question how he would line up in the SEC West as this would be the toughest competition his faced as a head coach.

Those questions still abound for me, yet MSU is paying him $5 million. There’s no question most think he’s light years ahead of the ol’ offensive line coach from Oklahoma.

Heck, by most pundits Pittman is ranked last among SEC West coaches and near the bottom of the entire league, maybe only ahead of Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason.

The thing about Pittman is, no one knows what he will do.

There are many that think he is in over his head and his fall will come hard and swift. On the other hand, I think this exactly the kind of situation that Pittman can thrive in.

He seems to be a guy who likes his back against the wall. He’s risen through the ranks to become one of the great offensive line coaches in the country. His success has been a mix of hard work, faith and effective interpersonal communication.

No doubt, he will get this point across to his players that not many expect anything out of him or them. Talk is cheap.

Leach and Kiffin do a lot of talking. To assume they will take the SEC West by storm is a big stretch. They have a mountain to climb just like Pittman.  Trying to dethrone LSU, Alabama and Auburn is unlikely for everyone else.

The way to relevancy is with hard work on the recruiting trail and in the meeting room. Pittman made some noise by hiring a great staff with innovative Kendal Briles leading the offense and former Mizzou head coach Barry Odom heading up the defense.

You couldn’t hear that splash over the hype of Kiffin and now Leach.

That’s fine with Pittman. He’s ready to shock the critics who’s expectations dropped a bit more after Leach’s hiring.