Categories
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
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
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.

Categories
Nate Olson

Hogs win at Indiana significant on different levels & could set up big January

If Arkansas earns an NCAA Tournament berth this year, they might well point back to a Sunday night in Bloomington, Indiana.

The 71-64 win over the Hoosiers wrapped up the non-conference part before the league schedule was big for multiple reasons. They’ll play TCU later in January.

The Hogs trailed by as many as 11 points in the second half to the Hoosiers (11-2) in front of a packed house at venerable Assembly Hall. Just as Indiana was about to slam the door on Arkansas, the Razorbacks used a 19-3 run the final 7:49 to pick up first-year UA Coach Eric Musselman’s biggest win this season.

“It’s a real big win,” Hogs sophomore guard Isaiah Joe, who paced the Razorbacks with 24 points, told the media following the game. “To be able to bring this win back to Fayetteville, you have to cherish moments like these.”

The win has all kinds of significance.

First, the historical. The win marks the first time Arkansas has won a road game against a Big 10 opponent since the 1949-50 season when it won 65-53 win at Illinois and 75-50 win at Indiana.

The Hogs have been 0-7 since that time. The win also avenged a 63-60 loss to the Hoosiers at Bloomington in the NIT last season, former coach Mike Anderson’s final game at the helm.

A neat stat, sure, but really just a fun fact footnote.

Here’s the meat of this win. This win proves Arkansas CAN win SEC road games and WILL earn an NCA Tournament berth.

The impressive part was not only with winning, but how they won, coming back from a significant second-half deficit.

Arkansas hit 12 of 31 three-pointers and Mason Jones was clutch, hitting 3-balls on back-to-back possessions late in the game to fuel the win.

Arkansas was picked 11th in the preseason SEC poll. What Musselman has shown over the past 12 games is he has improved every player on the roster individually, and he can outcoach and out-prepare the opponent.

That’s what I figured when I predicted Arkansas would need a win or two in the SEC Tournament to get off the NCAA Tournament bubble.

That was bold at that point. Now, there is reason to think Musselman’s crew could be in the upper echelon of the conference.

Playing in front of nearly 15,000 fans at Assembly Hall will be tougher than most SEC venues. The crowd was really getting loud midway through the second half. It looked like IU was going to blow the game open.

“In the huddles, there wasn’t any panic,” Musselman told the media. “I probably got on the guys less tonight than I have all year. At halftime I got on them less. We were calmer in all of our huddles.

“I thought they were giving great effort. I thought if we just hung around and tried to get [other] guys on their roster to take shots instead of some of the guys that were hurting us that maybe the tide could change if we knocked down a few threes.”

And that will be the recipe to winning on the road in the SEC, too. Musselman gained this team’s trust early. The chemistry and bond is strong.

That’s remarkable with a first-year coach, but it probably goes back to his lengthy past of coaching in the NBA and other stops as to how to build that rapport. Whatever the case, the coach knows this team, and it has paid off so far.

The other reason the win is important is because of what it could mean on Selection Sunday. Indiana is primed for a good run in the rugged Big 10 and will have a good chance of a tournament berth.

That will help Arkansas in the committee’s eyes.

The Hogs’ nonconference schedule hasn’t been extremely tough, but they won two of the tougher games on the schedule — at Georgia Tech and Indiana.

The win couldn’t have come at a better time as Arkansas welcomes Texas A&M to a sold-out Bud Walton Arena for the SEC opener Saturday.

The Aggies are struggling under first-year coach Buzz Williams. Among the losses are a 62-51 loss to Harvard and a 65-42 blowout to Temple, and a 67-62 setback to Fairfield — all at the Orlando Invitational last month.

A&M has won back-to-back games with Texas Southern coming into College Station on Monday night, but Arkansas will be favored.

In the past, Arkansas has had trouble getting out of the gates of the SEC slate.

The A&M game should continue the momentum of the Indiana win, and then two good road tests against LSU and Ole Miss before returning home for Vanderbilt and Kentucky, respectively.

January sets up for a good start if the Hogs can play well at LSU and Ole Miss.

Categories
Nate Olson

Pittman a good choice, even without head-coaching experience

Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek was going to hear “boo birds” in whichever direction he turned to hire a new coach.

Many wanted the flashy Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic, but if he was being introduced today there would be a segment of the Arkansas fan base which would have harped on his “baggage” and warned of impending doom via improprieties of the NCAA or social in nature.

Arkansas native Eliah Drinkwitz, 36, at Appalachian State would’ve been criticized for his youth and inexperience. There wasn’t a coach listed who didn’t have warts.

When Springdale native and former Hog Butch Davis, 68, at Florida International was mentioned he was deemed too old by some.

There was no perfect candidate that was viable. Period.

So, Yurachek hired the guy who REALLY wanted to be here. He wasn’t motivated by money, or using the gig as a stepping stone. He wanted to be a head coach, and wanted that job to be in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

And that is why while hiring veteran offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who coached the offensive line for three years for the Hogs, is not a sexy hire but a great hire for this program.

And before you object, I know he has no head-coaching experience.

So what? Chad Morris had three years of head-coaching experience before he came to Arkansas and we all know how that worked out.

Pittman has worked for some great head coaches including Northern Illinois’ Joe Novak and Davis at North Carolina.

Pittman most recently worked under a former assistant with no previous head-coaching experience in Kirby Smart at Georgia.

He is also close friends with former NFL head coach Rex Ryan, who Pittman served with on the University of Cincinnati staff in 1995 along with John Harbaugh, who currently coaches the Baltimore Ravens.

The point is Pittman, 58, with 25 years of assistant coaching experience at the Division I level has seen how good coaches operate successful programs.

He’s taken notes, seen what works well and what doesn’t. He’s seen how head coaches manage assistant coaches and how staffs work together. All of that knowledge should be helpful as Pittman embarks on a dream job.

In that time Pittman developed a reputation as an excellent recruiter and one of the best offensive line coaches in the country.

Georgia was paying him around a million dollars to coach the offensive line. That’s how valuable that skill is.

You win and lose games in the trenches.

As Arkansas fans can attest from the three years he served as the o-line coach at Arkansas, Pittman recruits stellar linemen and develops them even more. That’s what Arkansas will have again.

The other factor with Pittman is he will hire outstanding coordinators with the contacts he has over his career. Randy Shannon and Charlie Strong, both who have ties to Arkansas and have been head coaches, have already been mentioned as defensive coordinator prospects.

If not one of those two, someone with that pedigree. Veteran guys who may have been a head coach like both of them have.

That ensures that Pittman has a brain trust around him which has made big in-game decisions and matched wits against some of the elite.

Some wonder how he will handle a 4th-and-2 play with the game on the line at an SEC venue or making halftime adjustments

We won’t know until it happens, but a good staff will help Pittman with the transition of being ‘the guy’ and making that call, and he will not be a lone when it comes to those decisions.

Hiring a first-time coach could be a risk, but no know more than a coach with baggage or one who has only been a head coach at a mid-major for one season.

Don’t be surprised if Pittman fares better than Drinnkwitz at Missouri and Kiffin at Ole Miss.

Categories
Nate Olson

Watching Razorbacks’ Little Rock game with Hall of Fame ‘super fan’

As soon as I started heading up the steps of section 34, I saw him.

He was sitting on the end of the row with a knit cap that looked like a Razorback with tusks and ear flaps. He was also wearing a Razorbacks leather coat and sweatshirt to evade the chill of the day along with the head gear.

It took him a moment to see me and my 10-year-old son, J.D., and me, but as we approached his row, he said, “I missed you,” and threw his arms around both of us almost like we were in a burrito.

Then, he pushed his mom and me together to make us hug. As we both stumbled forward by the force of his enthusiasm, we caught each other and politely embraced.

J.D. began asking if we would see Arkansas Super Fan Canaan Sandy and his mom, Ginger, weeks before the Missouri-Arkansas game at War Memorial Stadium.

J.D., 10, and Luke, 8, are big fans in their own right and are already realists. They knew Arkansas didn’t have much of a chance to beat Mizzou, but J.D. was more apt to attend if he could see his “friend.”

Like many media types, I got to know Canaan and Ginger from being around different events, the Little Rock Touchdown Club, the Landers Award and other high school and college games I covered.

I then introduced them to my boys at a couple of Hogs games. J.D. especially took to him and looks forward to rare meetings.

So, when we took our assigned seats at WMS, I texted Ginger to see where they were sitting. It was 30 minutes to kickoff, and we weren’t far from the North end zone, where they sat, so I told J.D. we could pop over and say “hi.”

After our warm greeting and discussions about the game, it wasn’t long and J.D. was asking if we could sit there. It was apparent Canaan wanted us to, so I obliged.

The sparse crowd nearly guaranteed no one would sit in those seats, so we stayed.

I noticed a couple of things immediately. Canaan is a very astute. He watches each play intently, cheers and he and Ginger discuss what went right/wrong on the play. He cheers more for players that he has gotten to know such as freshman receiver Treylon Burks.

On the first third down of Mizzou’s first possession, Canaan grabbed J.D. I from behind and pulled us up. He insisted we stand on those plays and other Razorback red zone situations.

He encouraged us and others to yell. J.D. ore than happy to oblige. Each time he grabbed JD, he was a bit surprised but smiled.

A semi-obnoxious Mizzou fan, which had half dozen beers in the time we saw him, started a friendly feud with Canaan before kickoff and took a few pictures.

Canaan was less tolerant of the Mizzou fan once he ran down the aisle and threw his hands forward signaling first downs and touchdowns.

“That’s why you don’t drink alcohol,” Ginger said to J.D. as he nodded.

Later Canaan said something in frustration to the guy, which Ginger didn’t approve of and said, “Be nice, Canaan.”

When the guy left, presumably to buy more beers, I waved at him in disgust. Canaan shook his head “no” and put his finger to his lips, as a warning so I wouldn’t get in trouble with Ginger.

J.D. wanted to get in on the act, so I told him if Arkansas scored again he could run up the aisle. When the Hogs took a 14-10 lead in the third quarter, he did and laid it on thick and earned applause from all of those around.

He got a high five and big smile from Canaan who was beside himself.

When the game pushed into the fourth quarter, and times were desperate for the Hogs, Canaan was not too disappointed or unrealistically optimistic.

He just cheered and called out encouragement to specific players who made a particular play.

I don’t think he got upset once, maybe booed once or twice on a questionable call. That takes a special person to sit though as many games as he does and watch your team stumbled to a 4-20 record.

I thought to myself I need to think of him when I get frustrated by my teams when I yell at the TV or scatter items about the living room. He doesn’t get frustrated; he just loves his team and gets ready for the next game.

The other thing that gives him clarity is he gets to know the players and coaches as people. He started attending Burks’ games at Warren High School as he was being recruited.

He’s made relationships with other players that way, too.

Former Hogs coach Bret Bielema took to him, and they remain friends. When you care about someone as a person it changes how you root for them. That’s the difference between Canaan and other fans.

J.D. had already noticed our proximity to the players exit ramp to the locker room and was plotting a strategy to get autographs by the third quarter.

He knew if Canaan accompanied him to the gate that separated fans from the players; some Hogs would stop and sign autographs. So with about five minutes left in the game, he invited Canaan to join us. He happily agreed, and the pair stationed themselves close to the gate.

Soon the likes of freshman receiver Trey Knox and former Pulaski Academy receiver John David  White were stopping to see Canaan and sign autographs for JD and a group other kids who had assembled.

Several of the players hugged Canaan, probably for the second time that day since he hugs many of them as they make their way to the stadium before the game.

I couldn’t help but smile as I saw both of them enjoy each other’s company as they got to see their heroes.

Meeting athletes is one of J.D.’s favorite pursuits. From former Cubs manager Joe Maddon, to the entire Iowa State basketball team to Sidney Moncrief and Darren McFadden, he’s got an impressive list.

Somehow I think he will manage to hook up with Canaan again for more pictures and autographs. It was a cool way to end the day.

I’ve been to hundreds of games. Some are etched in my memory forever and others have faded away.

I am not sure I would remember this meaningless game at the end of a hapless Arkansas season 20 years from now. Sure, I’ll display the picture we took as a family outside of War Memorial Stadium.

It’s always special to go together, so that may stick with me.

However, I will always remember this game as particularly awesome because I was the guest of a very special Hog fan and young man and his mom.

We saw first-hand what it means to be a true fan.

Categories
Nate Olson

Picking the Hogs to go bowling in 2019, plus other New Year’s notes

Most Arkansas fans were happy to see 2018 pass. The woes have been widely chronicled. But what does 2019 have in store?

I dust off my crystal ball and bring you seven Hogs predictions for 2019:

Hogs football wins six games, goes bowling

Most seasons that included a nonconference schedule as soft as Charmin toilet tissue, six wins would be the absolute minimum.

However, coming off a historically bad season, I’m not willing to give Arkansas more than two wins in the SEC.

The candidates would be the second game of the season at Ole Miss, and home tilts with Mississippi State and Missouri late in the season.

I wouldn’t say any of those three are gimmes. No game is really at this point. I would also add that if Arkansas doesn’t run the table against Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State and Western Kentucky, coach Chad Morris will be under intense scrutiny.

Likewise, if Arkansas goes winless in the SEC for a second straight year only needing two wins to be bowl eligible, that is likely to not sit well with boosters either.

The talent Morris is bringing to Fayetteville is exceptional and many of those players will play immediately.

They get the benefit of cutting their teeth against lesser competition, and I’m banking on them gaining a lot of confidence and picking up some SEC Ws and playing more competitively in losses.

Hogs baseball returns to the College World Series

At least one friend I know who covers all things Arkansas thought I was nuts mentioning this in last week’s column. However, I am going stick with it.

I understand the Hogs lose key pieces such as dominant pitcher Blaine Knight, but pitcher Isaiah Campbell is poised to have a great year, and if Hogs starters can get to the back end of the bullpen, it is filthy with closer Matt Cronin waiting to finish the ninth inning.

Heston Kjerstad, Dominic Fletcher and Casey Martin are as good of a middle of the lineup as you will see in college baseball and coach Dave Van Horn has talent to sprinkle in at other key spots.

The start may not be pretty, but I see Arkansas catching fire at the end of the season and playing on the road in the postseason to make a run to Omaha.

Hogs Basketball in the NIT

This is a hard one because the Hogs have been inconsistent in the preseason. They played a very light non-conference schedule and dropped home games to mediocre opponents Western Kentucky and Georgia Tech.

That inconsistency won’t work against a rugged Southeastern Conference slate that features several Top 25 opponents. Arkansas must finish at least 9-9 to have a shot at the Big Dance with a chance to pick up a win or two in the SEC Tournament.

Not something you’d necessarily bet your life savings on based on the schedule.

Still, the Hogs feature one of the best big men in the country in Daniel Gafford, have some of the best chemistry of any Mike Anderson team and play good, team defense. Currently, several inexperienced players are finding their way.

The key will be how quickly they can reach their maturity and if they dig too big of a hole in SEC play before they find their way. The most likely scenario finds them as one of the last four out on Selection Sunday.

Morris lands Top 10 recruiting class

Some of you don’t believe it, but I am very impressed with Morris’ recruiting effort this year.

He landed the program’s best class on paper after one of its worst seasons. He has a charisma about him, with future blueprints as the only thing to advertise. Recruits are buying it.

If Arkansas shows any kind of improvement this year, look for his 2020 class to be ranked in the Top 10 by most recruiting services.

Arkansas women qualify for postseason play

When Arkansas hired Mike Neighbors to succeed Jimmy Dykes as women’s basketball coach, they got it right. Most that follow the program aren’t banking on if he will turn around the lethargic program but when.

The Hogs improved his first year without a glut of talent.

Arkansas finished the nonconference schedule with an 11-3 mark with a couple of nice wins. The SEC slate is even more unforgiving than the men, though, as the Hogs found out in Thursday night in a 93-69 home loss to juggernaut Mississippi State.

Look for Neighbors’ team to continue to improve and battle though the conference season enough to win 20 games and a WNIT bid.

Former Hog Steve Atwater lands in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

This week the NFL announced the former Hogs and Denver Broncos safety was among 15 finalists competing for eight spots in this year’s class.

Atwater should have already been voted in.

His credentials are impressive: an eight-time Pro Bowler, including seven consecutive; Two-time First-team All-Pro, 1,125 career tackles; 1990s NFL 1990s All-Decade selection and two-time Super Bowl champion.

Atwater, who was a HOF finalist in 2016, was one of the hardest hitters in NFL history and greatest all-time safeties. He belongs in Canton.

Now.

No Nolan Richardson Court

Arkansas misses a golden opportunity to name the court at Bud Walton Arena after the former legendary Hall of Fame coach during the 25th anniversary of the 1994 National Championship team.

Fans seem to overwhelmingly support the idea, but the administration seems reluctant. When Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek was asked on statewide radio about the prospects, he seemed uncomfortable.

Someone doesn’t want it to happen, and that is a shame. Richardson’s feud with the school upon his firing is well-documented, but former athletics director Jeff Long did a good job mending fences between the two parties. Richardson is a fixture at games at BWA supporting his protégé Mike Anderson.

Many will be disappointed if the 25th anniversary celebration passes without properly honoring Richardson.