Jaw-dropping week makes Diamond Hogs the talk of the town


That’s the most articulate, one-word description I can give for the week that the Arkansas Razorbacks baseball team had last week.

Yes, we knew Dave Van Horn’s latest squad has incredible potential and that the squad itself has expectations of playing its way to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series, but still, wow!

The Razorbacks (16-4, 3-0 SEC) midweek sweep of Texas, 13-4 and 7-5, was impressive, but Arkansas’ three-game dismantling of then No. 4 Kentucky last Friday and Saturday was an epic couple of days work.

Those five victories not only made the Razorbacks the talk of the SEC, but also the national college baseball scene. No other team in the nation had a week like the Razorbacks did last week.

What a display of power by the Hogs. The Razorbacks took advantage of uncommonly blustery conditions — usually the wind blows in at Baum Stadium rather than out — to belt 13 home runs against the Wildcats and roll up an incredible 39 runs to sweep Kentucky in both’s opening SEC series.

That’s the way to start conference play.

Last week is going to be one of those weeks Razorback baseball fans are going to recall for years.

For those of us who remember the Southwest Conference, beating Texas in anything is always special, and rolling over a very good and nationally ranked Kentucky squad is sweet, too.

At this juncture, we don’t know how important getting that opening series sweep of Kentucky will be. It guarantees nothing, but sweeps don’t come easy in the SEC. It could be meaningless in May, or it could be pivotal in locking up an SEC title. Either way is sure was fun.

While the goal of every SEC team is to advance to the College World Series, SEC regular-season titles are significant, and by sweeping the Wildcats, the Razorbacks are at least in the early hunt.

As a fan, it’s always gratifying to check out the league standings and seeing your squad at the top of the charts even if there is a tie. Vanderbilt also earned a first-week sweep, taking three from Mississippi State.

The SEC office took notice of Arkansas’ dominance by naming shortstop Jax Biggers the SEC Player of the Week and third baseman Casey Martin the SEC Freshman of the Week for the second time this season.

Biggers, the Hogs’ leadoff hitter, belted two home runs, and two doubles to tally seven RBI last week. He also walked 8 times in five games to give him 18 on the season. He’s batting .368 and has 11 RBI on the year.

Martin was equally offensive with three homers and 7 RBI during the five-game home stand against Texas and Kentucky. Martin continues to lead the Razorback in hitting with .393 average, 7 home runs, and 22 RBI.

With all that said, last week is in the rearview mirror, and the Razorbacks can’t dote on those accomplishments any longer. Arkansas faces Charlotte today and Wednesday before heading to Florida.

No, the Hogs aren’t going to the Sunshine State to celebrate spring break with their classmates. It is a business trip for the Hogs to meet the No. 2 Florida Gators (18-4, 2-1) in Gainesville.

Most picked Florida to win the SEC, and some have them pegged to defend their national championship.

So while, it is early, this is another huge weekend for the Razorbacks in SEC play. Baseball is no different than any other sport, the more a team wins, the bigger their next game gets.

The Hogs 6:05 p.m. game with Charlotte is being televised by BeIN Sports, if you have access to that channel. Wednesday’s 3 p.m game at Charlotte is being televised by CST.

The 5:30 p.m. Friday opening game of the Florida series can be streamed on SEC Network Plus; however, ESPN2 is televising Saturday’s 11 a.m. game with the Gators, and the SEC Network will televise Sunday’s 11 a.m. finale.

Defense ultimately lets down Hardwood Hogs

As memorable as last week was for the Diamond Hogs, it was a forgettable end to the Razorbacks’ basketball season.

Butler punked the Razorbacks, 79-62, last Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before bowing out themselves to Purdue in the second round on Sunday.

Several of the Razorbacks actually attended at least part of the double header last Saturday with Kentucky, obliging a few fans with selfies. It was not where they wanted to be, but it’s always good to see the various Hogs support the other Razorback teams.

Last Friday was not the way any Hog fan wanted to see seniors Daryl Macon, Jaylen Barford, Trey Thompson, Anton Beard and possibly (probably?) freshman Daniel Gafford end their time as a Razorback, but it happens.

Virginia and Arizona didn’t expect to have such short trips either, but good teams get knocked out of the tournament earlier than their fans expect every season.

There are no guarantees in post-season play.

As cliched as it may be, the 2017-18 Hogs lived and died by their jump shot. The team never fully embraced the defensive philosophy espoused by Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, and it bit them in the behind against Butler.

Scoring was what was important to this Razorbacks squad, and it suffered for it at points throughout the season just like it did in their final game.

The Razorbacks didn’t suffer badly. A 23-12 season isn’t bad. Finishing in a tie for fourth in the SEC is pretty good. It was a good season for the Hogs. It just wasn’t a great one.

Could it have been a great one?

Maybe? But we will never know because defense was secondary in the mind of too many of the Razorbacks’ players.

The Hogs were good enough offensively to get away with it for the most part early, losing only to North Carolina and Houston, both of which made the NCAA Tournament, before conference play.

However, signs of their defensive issues were there in November and December, and even though Arkansas hung on to win their first conference game 95-93 in overtime against Tennessee, the cracks were showing.

Those cracks made January dicey, but the Hogs improved enough defensively and were potent enough offensively to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament by winning 6 of their last regular-season games down the stretch..

A seventh seed wasn’t a great draw for the Hogs, but it wasn’t a bad one either. Butler was a good team, a very tough team, but if the Razorbacks had of been hot, they would have won the game.

In most instances, the Razorbacks had to be hot to beat a good team this season because playing consistent defense game in and game out just wasn’t in the player’s hearts. The Hogs’ leaders were wired to score, to borrow SEC analyst Jimmy Dykes’ line, not to play defense.

The one game this season that the Hogs’ sold out to play defense, where it seemed really important to them, was the Florida victory in the SEC Tournament.

The Hogs smothered the Gators’ guards in that game, and the Razorbacks posted an 80-72 victory over a team that had won the last eight games in the series.

To me, it was Arkansas’ best performance of the season. It gave us a glimpse of the true potential of the team. I had hoped that their performance meant the Razorbacks had turned the corner and embraced Anderson’s approach to the game, but it proved to be just a one-night fling.

I excused the blowout loss to Tennessee, 84-66, the next day as being tired for playing an extra game, but in hindsight, I don’t think that was it. The Hogs played just as nonchalantly against Butler in the NCAA Tournament as they did against the Vols.

That may not be fair. The Razorbacks did battle their way back from a 19-point deficit in the first half to take the lead over Butler, but ultimately, the Razorbacks didn’t have the defensive backbone necessary to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.

Some will put that off on Anderson. To me, it was more of a player issue.

That said this group of Razorbacks won around two thirds of their games while On the Hill. That’s a good run. You have to go back to the days of Kareem Reid, Derek Hood, and Pat Bradley in the late 1990s to find a comparable or better four-year or two-year run.

When I think back on this Razorback team, I’m going to focus on that Florida victory when the squad played their best game and perhaps closest to their potential.

I’m certainly going to remember Macon’s silky smooth stroke from distance and his love for the Razorbacks, and Barford’s knack for bulling his way to the basket and his sweet step-back, three-point shot. I’ll remember Beard’s hustle and Thompson’s deft timing for blocked shots and key assists.

As a fan, I’m wishing upon a star that Gafford wears that Razorback jersey for another season, but if not, his effort and his play above the rim will always stand out in my mind along with those monster windmill dunks..

Arkansas’ never had a basketball player with the combination of height, length, athletic ability, and desire of the 6-11 Gafford. He’s just scratched the surface of his potential, and that’s why he’ll have the opportunity to play in the NBA for a lot of money next season.

Again, I hope he returns, but I totally understand if the business he needs to attend to is in the NBA rather than on the college level.