sg Speaks: The state of the Hogs

The Hogs are hurting. Badly. We’re 19 games into our 31-game regular season, and our record stands at a paltry 8-11. We have one SEC win in four attempts and zero wins over quality teams (unless you count Missouri State, who is now 14-5 and 4-4 in conference play). Unless a miracle run occurs over the last of our schedule and/or we run the table during the SEC tournament – we’re not going to have a post season.

Yes, our beloved Arkansas Razorbacks are hurting in many ways and our 8-11 record is the least of our concern. The Hogs have liabilities on the team, they’re forming bad habits and the fans are beginning to check out.

Some things that need fixing:

The Hogs are horrible in the rebounding department. Seriously bad. We’ve been out-rebounded in 13 of our 19 games. In 16 of our 19 games, the opposing team has pulled down 10+ offensive rebounds. Our leading rebounder is grabbing 6.7 boards a game. It’s not the 6-11 Mike Washington, he averages 5.9. No, it’s the 6-7 freshman, Marshawn Powell.

No offense
From what I can tell, our offense is a series of high screens that leads to a Rotnei Clarke shot, a drive to the basket or a pick’n roll. Other than that, there is no set offense. Much worse, when Courtney Fortson isn’t in the game, the offense becomes very anemic.

Shot selection
Do you cringe every time a Razorback other than Clarke or Powell shoot the ball? If you do, then you’re probably right in doing so. As of right now in the season, Clarke is shooting 49% (47% 3PT), Powell is at 51%, and Washington is at 50%. Here’s where it gets bad. The four players on the team responsible for bringing the ball down are shooting worse than 43% — Marcus Britt at 42%, Julysses Nobles at 39%, Stefan Welsh at 33%, and Courtney Fortson is leading the bunch at 32%. What’s worse, Fortson is averaging 17.2 shots per game, and only making 5.6 of them.

It’s no doubt that with Fortson back in the lineup we have our best chance of winning games. But he’s played in five games and is shooting at least 17 shots per contest. He’s dynamic and is able to draw attention away from other players. The problem is that he thinks he has to win the games himself and he’s not there yet. Honestly, the only people I want shooting the ball 17 times a game are Clarke and Powell. With Fortson running the point, it’s not happening and he’s going to need to start making better decisions with the ball. His 7.2 assists average is great. But he could easily be averaging 10+ a game if he dished it a little bit more and didn’t shoot his crazy circus layups.

No true big man
This concern dates back to last year when we all thought Washington was going to have a breakout year in the post. The kid is 6-11. The problem is that while being that tall, he’s more comfortable on the wing than he is down low. That’s why he’s the screen man at the top of the key on our offense. Washington can’t play with his back to the basket. When he does, there’s no strong move to the basket with the ball. Instead of squaring up and shooting over his defender, he tries running around them and ends up shooting a Dwayne Wade type lay-up.

On the other side of the ball, Washington isn’t quite the solid defender he should be, either. He leads the team in 3.2 fouls per game and his playing time this season is oft-plagued by the fact that he’s in foul trouble.

Delvon Johnson is our other “big” and I’m afraid he’s no more solid than Washington is. Add to that he’s a freshman and lacks experience.

Aside from the big man troubles mentioned above, our team defense isn’t something to write home about. Sure we get out-rebounded quite a bit, but we’re letting teams shoot at will. Right now we’re allowing teams to shoot 42% a game and 37.6% from 3PT range. In 15 of our 19 games, the opposing team has shot over 30% from 3PT and in most cases, that % is WELL over 30%.

At the end of the day, the Arkansas Razorbacks’ fan base wants more from our team. We were spoiled in the 90s with the success of Nolan Richardson and since his horrible exit, we’ve been trying to get back to that level of competition. The Stan Heath years were average, at best and now the Hogs faithful are starting to turn on coach John Pelphrey.

Pel was unproven before he came to Arkansas and wasn’t our first choice. I’m sure we all remember that Dana Altman had accepted the job and then went back to Creighton. What was it that Altman was fearing? Could it have been the roster of kids? The looming APR issues? Something worse?

We might never know for sure. But in the three seasons that Pelphrey has been here, he took Heath’s team to the NCAA tournament, started off last season 12-1 and then, well, not a whole lot more. There’s been turmoil, too. Over half of his recruiting class from last year left the team and we’re sitting here looking at a second rebuilding year in a row.

Athletic Director Jeff Long has said on multiple occasions that Pelphrey is our coach. On the bright side, he’s got a decent class coming in next year and the Arkansas high school class of 2011 is a jackpot waiting to happen.

Maybe Pel doesn’t have all of the right pieces in place. Who’s to say with a few more role players, we could actually run an offense, play some defense and be competitive in most games. Right now, it doesn’t seem possible that Pelphrey is capable of putting together a game plan or teaching our kids how to play fundamental basketball. When we’re rebuilding, those fundamental building blocks should be in place. From my view, they’re not.

Which brings us to the last thing that’s wrong with our team right now. Confidence. With how the season has gone, our kids are probably running very thin on confidence. And when you add in the grumbling of the fans and the low attendance at Bud Walton Arena, that confidence level takes a hit.

We’re probably not going to the NCAA tournament. We probably won’t even be invited to the NIT. Or SEC record will probably be lower than .500. Some fans already want a new coach. Other fans think that we should stop going to games to send the athletic department and boosters a message.

I say it’s time for fans to get over themselves.

I’m a Razorback fan through and through. I’ll be the first to say that I’m not happy with where our team is at right now. I want our team to compete and give me hope that something good will happen. And even though it’s not happening right now, I still believe that the team is moving in a positive direction.

So if you have tickets to games, please go and support the kids — we lured them here because we’re some of the best fans in the world. Sure, the Hogs might be in a lull right now, but they’re our team. And we Razorback fans are better than that. We might not be able to get them to rebound better or make better passes. But we can have their back and cheer them on. Who knows, maybe a little confidence can go a long way with our Hogs.

Go Hogs!