Hoop Hogs visit Wake Forest tonight

Moses Kingsley / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com

The Razorbacks basketball team face their first true road test of the season at 6 p.m. tonight (Dec. 4) when they face Wake Forest at Winston-Salem. The game is not televised, but will be streamed at watchespn.com.

The Hogs did drop two winnable games last week on a neutral floor in the NIT Tip-Off event in Brooklyn, but the crowd was ambivalent if hardly noticeable. That shouldn’t be the case when the Hogs face Danny Manning’s Demon Deacons at LJVM Coliseum. It’s an ACC venue, and basketball is king on campus even when most college sports fans are still in football mode.

Wake Forest (5-2) might be the best team the Hogs (3-3) have seen this season. Among the Demon Deacons five wins are close victories over Indiana, UCLA and Rutgers. Vanderbilt did roll over them, 86-84, in the Maui Classic, but the Commodores are expected to be one of the top teams in the SEC this season.

It’s good for Mike Anderson’s inexperienced squad to get a taste of play on the road before entering SEC play. Should the Hogs pull off a victory, it could prove to be a pivotal trip for the season, giving the Razorbacks a cornerstone of confidence to build upon early in the season.

However, this Razorback team does have a slim margin of error as Anderson pointed out before the season started. For the Hogs to defeat quality opponents this season, they have to not only play aggressive but also smart basketball, which isn’t always the easiest thing for inexperienced players to do when playing Anderson’s brand of basketball.

There is a devil-may-care aspect to Hog Ball that flies in the face of conventional basketball methodology. Applying pressure and contesting shots is part of the process of speeding the game up and forcing opponents to play at a faster pace than they are accustomed. However, key players like Anthlon Bell and Moses Kingsley have to learn not to chase every steal or blocked shot, particularly in crunch time. Both fouled out of a very winnable basketball game against Stanford last Friday in the NIT. Had either or both finished the game, in all likelihood, the Hogs would have brought home at least one victory from their Thanksgiving trip.

Likewise better shot selection and a more concentrated effort on the defensive glass would have given the Razorbacks a better shot against Georgia Tech in their first NIT contest. Maybe those lessons were learned in Brooklyn, and if so it should help the Razorbacks tonight.

There is a good bit to like about these Hogs, and it starts with Kingsley averaging a double-double with 10.2 rebounds a game and 16.7 points per game. LSU’s Ben Simmons is the only other SEC player averaging a double-double this season.

Junior guard Jabril Durham is averaging eight assists a game, which ranks fourth in the nation. He also has three of the six double-digit assist performance in the SEC this season.

Junior guard Dusty Hannahs leads the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage at 51.5 percent and in free-throw shooting average at 95.8 percent. He’s also fifth in the league in scoring average at 18.0 ppg.

Those are some real positives the Razorbacks can work with as they attempt to improve this season. Pulling out a victory on this trip to Winston-Salem would be a huge step for the squad.

Hog History

Yes, Wake Forest’s coach is THAT Danny Manning. He’s considered one of the best college basketball players ever to lace up his sneakers, leaving Kansas as its all-time leader in points and rebounds. The two-time All-American and Big Eight Player of the Decade was a one-man gang for Kansas in 1987-88 when he led a young bunch of Jayhawks to a national title, defeating Big Eight rival Oklahoma in the national title game.

However, when Manning and fellow Jayhawks weren’t enough to topple the Razorbacks when they visited Barnhill Arena on Dec. 6, 1986. The Razorbacks rolled over the No. 6 Jayhawks, 103-86, giving Arkansas fans their first true taste of what would be in store for them with Nolan Richardson as the program’s head coach.

Manning got his points and rebounds, scoring 26 and grabbing 17 boards, but the Razorbacks played perhaps their best game of the season in front of a raucous Barnhill Arena crowd. Sharp-shooting Tim Scott led the Hogs with 34 points, followed by 19 by freshman Ron Huery, 17 by guard Mike Ratliff and 10 by Andrew Lang.

It was the standout game of a tumultuous 19-14 season that ended in the second-round game of the NIT. Richardson missed several games as coach that season during the last days of his teen-aged daughter Yvonne’s life. She suffered from leukemia.