Hoop Hogs struggling with same issues as last season

Arkansas head basketball coach Mike Anderson / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

The Arkansas Razorbacks play at Georgia at 5:30 p.m. in a game televised by the SEC Network, and I haven’t got a clue what is going to happen.

The Hogs (13-6, and 3-4 SEC) inched closer to .500 in league play last Saturday with a 97-93 victory over Ole Miss. That’s good, but the Razorbacks had to fend off the mediocre Rebels (10-9, 3-4) in the final minutes after seemingly having the game well in hand in the first half.

Arkansas at Georgia

Date: Tuesday, Jan. 23
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Stegeman Coliseum, Athens
Television: SEC Network

» See full schedule

Then when you consider that Arkansas allowed a team that has averaged 79 points per game over the course of the season to score 93 points, the victory doesn’t look that great, particularly when considering it was played in the comfortable environs of Bud Walton Arena.

Arkansas shot 59.3 percent from the field and 61.5 percent from three-point range in the first half to build a 16-point lead. The Hogs shot 50 percent from the field and 33 percent from three-point range in the second half, which is pretty good. But Arkansas only won by four points?

The Razorbacks also had to preserve the victory at the free-throw line with Daryl Macon proving clutch when it seemed like the Hogs were about to choke.

All of that points directly to how poorly the Razorbacks are playing defense. Against a decent defense, Ole Miss scores around 80 points a night. Against the Hogs, they scored 93.

Now, look, a win is a win, and I’ve probably repeated Lou Holtz’ old adage of “stats being for losers” more than I should have, but the Razorbacks have defensive issues that have to be fixed or at least improved upon or they are not going to make the NCAA Tournament.

A team can’t count on shooting 54.7 precent from the field and 50 percent from behind the three-point line on a regular basis, particularly on the road.

In the first half of the Ole Miss win, the Razorbacks did play solid defense at times, and it helped them play better on offense. There is just better offensive rhythm when the Hogs are playing good defense. Playing good defense in Arkansas’ system leads to easier shots and free throws because they can play in transition.

And the Hogs can use all the easy baskets they can get.

When the Razorbacks are hitting their three-point shots at a better-than-average rate, Arkansas’ offense looks good. However when those shots aren’t falling, I’ve never seen individual players work so hard to take bad shots in my life.

At times, watching the Hogs makes me think that Macon, Anton Beard, and Jaylen Barford are having a dribbling contest while the other two Hogs are watching.

They dribble and dribble and pound that ball so hard on the floor that I’m surprised Arkansas hasn’t had its own deflate-gate scandal. All that dribbling just seems to create difficult shots.

Now, give that trio credit, they may be the best three guards in the nation at making difficult shots, but the team would be better if the entire squad executed their offense, moved the ball, and gave it up when a player, any play was open.

Good offense — and the motion offense is an excellent offense when executed well — is supposed to yield good shots or at least easier shots than the Hogs have a habit of taking.

As a fan, I’d like to write that the Razorbacks have a great chance to beat Georgia tonight and get their first true road win of the season, but I can’t do that.

Oh, the Hogs are capable of winning at Georgia and for that matter, most any other venue in the SEC, but their pattern of play in the SEC this year tells me the Razorbacks will probably give up too many easy baskets and eventually shoot themselves out of the game by relying too much on their three-point shooting.

Now, I haven’t given up on this Hog squad. We’ve seen glimpses of them playing very good basketball against some tough teams this year.

Also, if we look back to last year, Arkansas didn’t begin playing their best ball until February, and ultimately they are struggling with very similar problems this year.

I think Coach Mike Anderson and his players can fix those issues again this year, but what’s so frustrating as a fan is that they do have to fix those very same issues from last year.

These Hogs shouldn’t be having the same growing pains that they went through a year ago.

But, they are, and that’s why I hope they will beat the Bulldogs tonight, but I’m going to have to see it to believe it.