Pivotal week for Razorbacks on hardwood

Mike Anderson / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com

Coming into this basketball season, we all knew this was going to be a grueling seasons for the Razorbacks and Hogs fans alike. And it has been.

With three consecutive losses at LSU (76-74), to Kentucky (80-66) and at Georgia (76-73 in OT), the Razorbacks are struggling to get their heads above water at 9-10 overall and 3-4 in SEC play.

The Razorbacks were never in the game against Kentucky with the Wildcats’ size, length and talent overwhelming the Hogs out of the gate, but the close losses at LSU and Georgia are what really sting. A few plays here, a bounce or a call there, and the Razorbacks could have won either or both of those games.

Take nothing away from the Tigers or the Bulldogs; they won those games by making plays and taking advantage of the Hogs’ mistakes. The Razorbacks had the same opportunities, but didn’t get the job done.

Unfortunately, that has been a characteristic of the 2015-16 Razorbacks since the very beginning of the season. This Razorbacks team lacks the confidence a team must have to develop a killer instinct.

Six of the Razorbacks 10 losses have been decided by four or fewer points. If the Razorbacks could have just found a way to win half of those games, their record would be 12-7, and we’d all be looking at the season a bit more.

The Hogs’ schedule doesn’t lighten up, either. Wednesday the best team in the Southeastern Conference visits Bud Walton Arena when No. 5 Texas A&M comes to town. There may be more talented teams in the league, but none play the game better than the senior-dominated Aggies, who are 7-0 in SEC play and a very strong 17-2 on the season.

The Aggies ran the Hogs out of the gym, 92-69, in both teams’ SEC opener at College Station. They played the game at the same time the football Hogs were finishing off their season by defeating Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. I DVRed the basketball game and attempted not to know the outcome before watching the replay. I accidentally ran across the final score before replaying it. I’ll admit I wasn’t man enough to watch and learn how the blowout happened.

It’s not inconceivable that the Hogs could stun the Aggies. Similar Arkansas teams have bushwhacked nationally ranked opponents before in Walton Arena, but the Aggies aren’t a fluke. They are a smart, experienced and talented team that knows how to play the game and exploit an opponent’s weaknesses. If the Hogs do upset the Aggies, it will be a victory worthy of pride.

The game will be televised at 6 tonight on ESPNU.

ESPNU will also televise the Hogs’ 3 p.m. Saturday matchup against Texas Tech in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Coming of an 80-76 loss to West Virginia, the Red Raiders are 12-7 on the season and 2-6 in Big 12 play after falling 91-67 to No. 1 Oklahoma on Tuesday.

A split of these two games would be a good week for the Razorbacks.

UA Hosts Star-studded Track Event

With all due respect to Arkansas’ basketball program, the biggest athletics event on campus this weekend will be held a little bit south of Walton Arena on Friday and Saturday when Arkansas hosts the Razorback Invitational at the Randal Tyson Indoor Track Center.

As great as the SEC Indoor Championships will be when the UA hosts it Feb. 26 and 27, this scored meet rivals if not tops it. Certainly, the athletes will be in finer form in a month, but this meet certainly stands as a preview of the NCAA Indoor Championships, held March 11 and 12 at Birmingham, Ala., with the slate of teams on hand.

Razorbacks women’s track coach Lance Harter and men’s track coach Chris Bucknam really outdid themselves in drawing the type of talent they did for this meet.

Harter’s Razorbacks sit atop the women’s poll at No. 1, but will be more than challenged this weekend by No. 2 Georgia, No. 3 Texas, No. 5 Oregon, No. 6 Florida, No. 12 LSU and No. 21 Texas A&M.

The men’s side is just as loaded with No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Oregon, No. 6 Georgia, No. 9 Texas A&M, and the host Hogs at No. 10.

The outcome of this meet could no doubt shake up those standings if a team or teams perform better or possibly worse than expected.

Of course, polls are for publicity more than anything; however, there is a big opportunity for these programs to garner early individual qualifiers for the NCAA Championships.

Track athletes train in order to achieve their peak performance for the championships, but with this type of talent competing, the competitive juices will be flowing. Every team at the event should pick up at least few qualifiers — either provisional or automatic — for nationals this weekend. Qualifying this early takes the pressure off athletes and allows them to train through the rest of the season worry free.

Hog football fans should know that the meet would likely be a good place to spot some of the recruits Bret Bielema’s Razorback football program will be hosting on this final recruiting weekend.

Whether the football recruits are trackmen or not, it is impressive to show off all the championship hardware and banners Arkansas’ track programs have collected over the years.

The SEC Network will televise the meet from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.