Durham sets the table for Razorback teammates

Jabril Durham / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com

The story of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 82-68 defeat of the Mississippi State Bulldogs last Saturday was the three-point marksman ship of Dusty Hannahs and Anthlon Bell.

The pair of sharpshooters combined to sink 13 of the Hogs 16 three-pointers in the game with Hannahs tallying eight to score a career high 26. Bell rang up five treys in his second consecutive 25-plus point performance.

However, the standout performer, for me, was Jabril Durham. The 6-1 guard from DeSoto, Texas got in on the three-point fun with two treys of his own, but he also packed his stat sheet with 10 assists, 6 steals and 10 points with only two turnovers with 29 minutes of playing time. Every coach in the country would happily take a stat line that from their point guard.

“To me, Jabril has taken command out there on the floor getting guys in the right place and right position, knowing where the shooters are,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said following the game. “Now he is starting to knock shots down as well, and he’s like the Energizer bunny on defense, he’s everywhere.”

Certainly, this has been a roller-coaster season with plenty of missed opportunities against a competitive schedule, but Durham’s development as a point guard has made it more than watchable for me. He plays the game the right way. When he’s on the floor, the offense has a rhyme and a reason, which is a necessity for any team, especially one that lacks star power.

The victory over the Bulldogs pulled the Hogs over .500 on the season and in SEC play at 8-7 and 2-1. Coupled with the 90-85 overtime victory over Vanderbilt last Tuesday, the Razorbacks made the most of their two-game home stand. For the Hogs to have a chance at a postseason berth, they must protect their home court. It will be difficult for the Razorbacks to go undefeated at home, but doing so might be their only chance of being above or at .500 going into the SEC Tournament.

The Hogs will have to be north of .500 to get a bid to the NIT. That means they’ll have to be at least one game over .500 going into the conference tournament to be considered. It’s still very early, but the SEC appears to be top heavy with a lot of teams in the middle fighting for whatever scraps are left to be had.

An early guess is that the SEC will get four squads in the NCAA Tournament and possibly that many in the NIT. So the Razorbacks will probably need to finish eighth or better in the SEC to make the NIT.

The Hogs have one final nonconference game against Texas Tech (11-3) on Jan. 30 at Walton Arena. Depending on how they do in SEC play, that game could prove pivotal in the Razorbacks’ NIT chances.
But first things first, the Hogs go back on the road Tuesday for a two-game road stretch. Missouri is first at 8 p.m. Tuesday in a SEC Network-televised game. Missouri is 8-7 overall and 1-1 in league play. No doubt, the game is big for Tigers fans even though Anderson’s in his fifth year as the Hogs head coach after departing Columbia.

On Saturday, the Razorbacks visit Baton Rouge for 7:30 p.m. date with freshman phenom and expected No. 1 NBA Draft selection Ben Simmons and his LSU Tigers. The SEC Network is also televising it. Simmons is cut in the mold of a young LeBron James, but ultimately that’s a poor and unfair comparison for the 19-year-old to have to live up to. But he is a great talent and his Tiger teammates are maturing around him. LSU is 9-6 overall and 2-1 in SEC play. The Tigers host Ole Miss on Wednesday.

Off to the NFL

Alex Collins / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com

It wasn’t a surprise Sunday when Arkansas running back Alex Collins announced that he’d be heading to the NFL. The lure of fulfilling the dream of playing in the NFL and of course the possibility for life-changing money would be hard for anyone to pass up or even delay for a year. Anyone who has even briefly fantasized about what they would do if they won the lottery the last few days has to understand the pull.

Had Collins opted to return, he could have gone after some significant goals from being a Heisman candidate to becoming the Arkansas’ and the SEC’s all-time leading rusher. However, if he suffered through an injury-plagued year or worse had a season-ending injury like his teammate Jonathan Williams did last August in preseason camp, it would have just been lost time in the grand scheme.

After rushing for 185 yards and three touchdowns to earn the MVP trophy at the Liberty Bowl, Collins couldn’t have left a much better impression than he did. His final 12-yard run was arguably as good a run as he had in his career, showing power, grit and determination.

Collins figures to be a mid- to late-round pick. He will get his chance to prove himself. As if it matters, I think his running style will be effective in the NFL. His vision is his greatest asset, but he has quick feet, power and knows how to use his blockers better than any Razorback runner dating back to Fred Talley.

Had Collins opted to return for his senior season, it would have been a boon to the Razorbacks, but with Arkansas retooling the offensive line and grooming a new quarterback on offense, and continuing to search for answers on defense, it’s not like he will be missing out on the opportunity to play for an SEC title.

The influx of players into and out of programs has always been a part of the college game. The reality today is that the best players are generally going to make the move to the NFL as soon as they think they can.

From Buffalo to Fayetteville

Image courtesy ArkansasRazorbacks.com

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema surprised onlookers once again Saturday by hiring an assistant coach under everyone’s radar when he named Kurt Anderson as the Razorbacks’ next offensive line coach.

Anderson comes to the Hogs after coaching the last three seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of those seasons.

Anderson’s experience in the NFL plus his relative youth should work well for the Razorbacks. Athletes enjoy playing for energetic coaches who know what they are doing. And it would seem Anderson fits that bill.

Obviously the proof will be in the play on the field next year, but it’s not a bad move to bring in a younger coach after the departure of a veteran like Sam Pittman. Pittman was beloved by his troops for his personal approach to coaching. There was no reason for Bielema to even try to find a coach with a similar approach because there’s not one out there.

But, Pittman’s not the only guy who knows how to coach and recruit offensive lineman at a high level.

The no-nonsense approach of the NFL will no doubt grab the attention of the returning players, and it won’t hurt Anderson to have two proven starters in tackle Dan Skipper and guard/center Frank Ragnow returning. Redshirt sophomore Brian Wallace, a potential replacement for departed left tackle Denver Kirkland, who like Collins opted to leave for the NFL after his junior year, can now step to the front and begin to fulfill the promise he’s shown in practice.