Hogs win fourth in a row, move up to 16th in RPI

Arkansas junior guard Daryl Macon / Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com

It wasn’t necessarily the flashiest victory ever, but the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 84-72 defeat of the Houston Cougars on Tuesday was solid. And solid is a good place for the Razorback to be at this juncture of the season.

With the victory, the Razorbacks are 7-1, going into another winnable contest at 4:30 p.m. Saturday against North Florida (3-7) in Bud Walton Arena.

Possibly the best news coming out of the Houston game is that the Razorbacks RPI jumped up to No. 16 in the nation. The Hogs have two top-50 wins and another top-100 win.

While it is still very early, having a top-20 RPI is a boon for the Hogs who have a goal of getting back in the NCAA Tournament after missing the Big Dance and finishing the season 16-16 overall last year.

A team’s RPI is a key component of a team’s NCAA Tournament resume, particularly teams that sit on the proverbial bubble. Now, Hog fans all hope the Razorbacks will play well enough to avoid bubble talk this season, but the RPI also plays a factor in seeding.

So while Razorbacks fans still aren’t paying much attention to the hardwood Hogs with the arena two-thirds empty for the Houston game, the Razorbacks are in a solid situation for early December.

The Razorbacks take a break from competition the bulk of next week while taking final exams before heading down to Houston to play Texas on Dec. 17 in the first of three games — Dec. 20 again North Dakota State and Dec. 22 against Sam Houston State — before Christmas.

After Christmas, the Razorbacks are back in action on Dec. 29 in their SEC conference opener against Florida at Bud Walton Arena at 6 p.m.

If that date looks familiar, it should. It’s the same date that Bret Bielema’s football Hogs play Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl at 4:30 p.m.

Yes, the games will overlap.

NOTE: The basketball game start time was moved to 8 p.m. after this story published.

This is the first time the Razorbacks have played an SEC game before January. The SEC and ESPN really need to rethink the decision to start conference play so early. The decision was driven by a need for content on the SEC Network.

As meaningful as the Arkansas-Florida game is stacking up to be for both programs, SEC fans and viewers are still going to be in football mode until at least after New Year’s. The game — which looks to be a marquee contest for the SEC this season — is going to be swallowed up by the bowls.

That’s a shame because if the Razorbacks and Gators keep winning, the game might be a top-25 matchup. It’ll just be one that few fans watch.

Postseason honors offer salve for grid Hogs wounds

Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com

As we move further away from the Hogs’ post-Thanksgiving debacle at Missouri and closer to Arkansas’ date with Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl, it becomes a bit easier to place the Razorbacks’ season in perspective.

While 2016 won’t go down in the annals of Razorbacks history as a banner season, it wasn’t a total waste as some opined following the Razorbacks’ 28-24 regular-season ending loss at Missouri.

We’ve been reminded of that almost daily this week as the Associated Press and the SEC Coaches released their all-conference teams and the league announced its individual award winners.

Alabama dominated the league and in keeping dominated the individual awards, taking all but two of the honors. Bama coach Nick Saban was, of course, Coach of the Year, with his freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts winning both the Offensive Player of the Year and the Freshman Player of the Year awards.

Hurts’ teammates Jonathan Allen and Cam Robinson won the Defensive Player of the Year Award and Jacobs Blocking Trophy respectively. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson won the Special Teams Player of the Year Award, keeping all but one of the awards in Alabama.

Fayetteville native Brooks Ellis picked up the award that got away from the Alabama schools as the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year. Ellis was also named Arkansas first two-time Academic All-American last year.

You really have to tip your hat to Ellis who epitomizes the term scholar-athlete. A Pre-med tract is challenging for the brightest and most diligent of students, but it’s even more inspiring to realize he did that while performing on the football field at such a high level. Ellis led the Razorbacks in tackles for the second season in a row.

Ellis is going to get a shot a playing pro ball, but his back-up plan of going to med school and eventually training to orthopedic surgeon is as solid as thy come. He’s the kind of young man that Razorbacks fans can take a ton of pride in despite the fact the season didn’t turn out as well as some anticipated.

The Hogs also garnered several on-the-field awards with the Associated Press naming Rawleigh Williams III first-team all conference and the coaches voting him on the second team. One year after suffering a life-threatening neck injury he rushed for more than 1,3000 yards. If they NCAA had a Comeback of the Year Award, Williams would no doubt be a finalist if not the winner.

Senior offensive tackle Dan Skipper joined Williams on the AP’s all conference team with his fellow lineman Frank Ragnow, a junior, made the second team. The SEC coached named defensive lineman McTelvin Agim and linebacker De’Jon Harris to the SEC All-Freshman Team, which bodes well for the future of the defense.

That bit of good news about the Hogs should soothe some of the ill feelings about the wasted opportunity at Missouri. Of course, the only thing that will truly unite the Razorback Nation going into the offseason will be a victory over Virginia Tech on Dec. 29 in the Belk Bowl.