Seeding, momentum on the line as Hogs head to Missouri for regular-season finale

Arkansas freshman Daniel Gafford / Photo:

Arkansas head basketball coach said his Razorbacks face a one-game season at 5 p.m. Saturday when they travel to Columbia, Mo. to play the Missouri Tigers in a game that has postseason implications for both teams.

The stakes are high for the Razorbacks (21-9, 10-7 SEC) and the Tigers (19-11, 9-8 SEC) alike. Both are playing for improved seeding in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, and both are playing for pride in a border rivalry that dates back to when legendary coaches Nolan Richardson at Arkansas and Norm Stewart at Missouri coached their respective teams.

Both teams are positioned to garner NCAA Tournament bids a week from Sunday, but Saturday’s game is important for positioning and momentum going into the postseason. It’s also Missouri’s Senior Day as Jordan Barnett plays his final home game for the Tigers.

“There’s going to be emotion,” Anderson said in speaking about the emotion of Senior Day. “We need to survive that first 5 minutes, that initial flurry. The punches are going to come, but eventually, you’ve got to play basketball.”

The Razorbacks are out of the hunt for the SEC regular-season title, which will go to Auburn or Tennessee or be shared by the two, but the Razorbacks’ control their own destiny in terms of seeding in next week’s SEC Tournament at St. Louis. A Razorback victory at Missouri earns the Hogs a double bye, which means they will not have to play until Friday’s quarter final round. If the Hogs lose, they will open play Thursday.

Most bracket experts are projecting Arkansas as a sixth seed in the NCAA Tournament as of today, but there is so much basketball to played between now and Selection Sunday that it is hard to say exactly where Arkansas might be seeded, but a victory over Missouri will only help the Hogs’ cause.

Anderson said he is just trying to keep it simple for his players.

“Let’s see if we can get better,” Anderson said “The rest takes care of itself. You want to be playing well, and have momentum going into the postseason. Have that confidence. Let’s just go see if we can get better every time out.”

Arkansas survived Missouri’s trip to Walton Arena on Jan. 13., fending off a late potential game-winning shot to defeat the Tigers, 65-63. The win ended a three-game losing skid early in conference play for the Hogs.

The Razorbacks are playing considerably better going into Saturday’s game than back then, winning six of their their last seven games. The Tigers halted a three-game losing streak of their own Tuesday with a 74-66 victory over Vanderbilt.

Adding a bit of intrigue to the game is the health of Michael Porter Jr., a 6-10 freshman who was heralded as the nation’s top recruit and possible No.1 NBA Draft selection before missing all but two games this season with a back injury.

Porter was cleared for practice Feb. 22, but has yet to play in a game. Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said it would be a game-time decision whether he plays Saturday or not.

When asked about the potential of Porter playing, Anderson said it wouldn’t change Arkansas’ preparation, but said he would go into the game assuming Porter would play.

“We’re going to play pressure defense and be as unpredictable as we can,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to rebound the ball, make some shots, and find their shooters. Try to chase them off the three-point line. We don’t want to let them beat us on effort plays. Those 50/50 balls, we’ve got to get them.”

Diamond Hogs host USC

Arkansas freshman Bryce Bonnin / Photo:

The No. 6 Arkansas Razorbacks baseball team continues its busy schedule at 3 p.m. with the opening contest of a three-game series against the Southern California Trojans (7-1).
The Hogs swept Dayton in a two-game series Wednesday (18-1) and Thursday (11-0). Freshmen pitchers Hunter Milligan, Bryce Bonnin, and Kole Ramage combined for a shutout, surrendering just four hits to the Flyers on Thursday.

USC is expected to put Chris Clarke on the mound against the Hogs in the first game, while Razorback ace Blaine Knight is scheduled to start against the Trojans.

Arkansas’ starting pitchers for Saturday’s 2 p.m. game and Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. game against the Trojans will be Isaiah Campbell (1-0, 2.00) and Kacey Murphy (1-0, 0.00), respectively.

High-energy Hog survive first practice under Morris

Arkansas head coach Chad Morris / Photo:

First-year Arkansas football coach Chad Morris said he wanted his Razorbacks to feel their first practice of his hammer-down regime, and based on his comments following practice, the Hogs did.

There is a distinct change in tone, attitude, and energy atop the Razorback football program as Morris’ tenure as Arkansas’ head coach eagles in its first spring football practices.

Morris’ energy level is turned up to 11 compared to the laid-back style of former coach Bret Bielema, whom Morris replaced after the Razorbacks stumbled to a 4-8 season in Bielema’s fifth season.

Morris’ brand of up-tempo football requires a rapid practice pace to condition the players both mentally and physically for the lightning-like style he plans to employ on the grid-iron next season. It’s a 180-degree change for the program that most fans are excited to see after the implosion of Bielema’s system dating back to the final two games of the 2016 season.

Though the practice went about 15 minutes longer than intended, Morris said the Hog generally showed good recognition of the the playbook they have had for the last three weeks as well as the terminology Arkansas will be using.

Morris did describe the practice as being like drinking water from a firehose for the players and some of the his assistant coaches who are working with him for the first time.

Fans have to expect growing pains during the transition from Bielema’s to Morris’ style, and no doubt the Hogs’ bodies will be feeling that change during the first days of spring workouts as Morris works the burn out of their bodies.

In a press conference Wednesday, Morris said the three general goals he wanted to achieve in spring ball was to create depth, identify his top 11 players on offense, defense, and special teams, and to create a one-play warrior mentality of each player giving their best one play at a time.

He added that tackling will be emphasized by his his defensive staff headed by John “Chief” Chavis, and that tackling will be taught by technique and with physicality.

As an outsider, it’s impossible to understand all the nuances of the changes Morris is making to the Razorbacks’ style of football and culture this early in his tenure as coach. However, one thing that seems to be a truism of spread football is that a team is only as effective as its quarterback. And a quarterback can’t be efficient without a competent center.

Morris said that sophomore Cole Kelley and redshirt freshman Daulton Hyatt would get the first two sets of repetitions early on, but there is no starter at this point. Kelley was 2-2 as a starter last season and threw for 1,038 yards and 4 touchdowns with Austin Allen was out with an injury.

Some believe the quarterback battle won’t be settled until Greenwood freshman Connor Noland gets on campus this summer. That might be the case, but if it is, that’s not a promising situation for the upcoming season. Unless protected by an experienced and talented team, freshmen quarterbacks tend to get eaten alive in the SEC.

At center, Morris said redshirt freshman Dylan Hayes (6-3, 298) and sophomore Ty Clary (6-4, 286) are in the picture. It’s going to be interesting to see how that situation works out as well.
But, if anything, Arkansas football needed a fresh start after last season, and that is what Morris provides for the players, fans, and program in general.

As always, it’s going to be interesting to watch how all of them progress under Morris’ leadership.