Fans’ attention divided tonight between Diamond and Hardwood Hogs

With Arkansas basketball and baseball games starting within an hour and a half of each other tonight, Razorbacks fans have a choice to make.

Are you going to continue watching (ESPN App or Longhorn Network) or listening to the radio broadcast of the No. 15 Razorback baseball team against the No 4. Longhorns at 6:30 p.m., or are you going to watch the basketball Hogs’ 8 p.m., first-round NIT basketball game against Providence on ESPN2?

Twenty years ago, it wouldn’t have been much of a dilemma for me, given the option. The Hoop Hogs would’ve taken priority even playing in a second-class tournament like the NIT and even with the Diamond Hogs playing former Southwest Conference rival Texas.

However, with Razorback baseball at its apex in popularity today, and Hog basketball being more frustrating than fun, the call isn’t absolutely weighted toward the hardwood anymore.

For me, it’s a choice. I’ll probably switch off my streaming service on the TV and flip over to the basketball game at 8 p.m., and set my laptop computer on the coffee table and stream the last half of the baseball game on it.

For some Hog fans, though, they lost interest in the 2019 basketball team weeks ago. The fact that super sophomore Daniel Gafford opted not to play in the NIT makes tonight’s game against Providence even less attractive to many. As we knew when he decided to come back last year, Gafford is headed for the NBA and giving up his eligibility immediately.

Other than finishing what he started this season and being there for his teammates, Gafford has nothing to gain by playing in the NIT and a lot to lose should he be injured, as the story goes.

It’s a similar decision that some college football players have been making for more than a decade when their teams wound up playing in a less-than-meaningful bowl game. No doubt other future NBA draft picks have opted out of playing in the NIT.

It’s a prudent move for Gafford, but it’s not about fearing injury, or at least that’s not the primary reason.

It’s about the Benjamins.

With Gafford giving up his NCAA eligibility, his agent can extend him a line of credit. Gafford can also hire a personal coach or a team of coaches to train and work on skills that will develop his individual game and make him a more lucrative draft prospect. Such a move could put more money in his and his agent’s pocket.

And there is nothing wrong with that. It’s probably the decision most of us would make.

Wherever Gafford is drafted this summer, he will gain a measure of financial security for himself and his family that most of us can only dream about.

If by beginning intensive, specialized training now will make him a better prospect this summer, then he needs to do it. Every slot he’s able to move up not only affects his first contract, but also every subsequent contract as well. The sum of the first contract is where negotiations for the next one begins.

That said, the likelihood of Gafford being injured during those training sessions isn’t any less than it would be if he were playing in a basketball game or two with his Razorback teammates.

Remember Michael Qualls? He blew his knee out during a pre-draft workout, not playing in games with his teammates.

An athlete can be injured walking across the street, just like you or me. The injury thing is just a convenient excuse.

In some cases, players opting out of playing in postseason games has as much to do with the psychological grooming process agents employ with their clients as anything.

Who is the player going to trust?

Is it the university that has been making money off his toil, sweat, and tears, or is it the person who is going to help him get paid, the person who can get him a line of credit right now?

That’s a pretty compelling argument, isn’t it?

Frankly, the athlete’s future is tethered to the agent. Blind allegiance to his college team is part of his past.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Gafford or any other player that leaves Arkansas early doesn’t appreciate the fans and the program. That’s on a case-by-case situation. Everything we’ve seen from Gafford — his play on the floor and his interaction with fans around the community — the young man is a Hog through and through, and he appreciates what the program has done for him.

However, as for tonight, him not playing will make the basketball game less interesting to some

Personally, the game is a bit more interesting to me without Gafford playing. I’m intrigued to see how the remaining Razorbacks respond without the player who has been the center piece of the team all season. It might get ugly. Then again maybe it won’t

It’s not really fair to call it a sneak preview of next season. Coach Mike Anderson and his staff have had very little practice time to adjust to the loss of an All-SEC player.

I’m guessing Anderson at least suspected what Gafford’s decision about continuing this season would be last Thursday night after the Hogs’ first-round exit in the SEC tourney.

It crossed my mind, although I thought Gafford would go ahead and play. Shows what I know.

Still four days isn’t a lot of time for Anderson and his staff to implement an entirely new strategy with a team that had been highly inconsistent all year.

Tempo will be a key if the Hogs are to have any chance tonight. The Razorbacks probably need to run and press like they haven’t done all season. It’s even more important that they shoot a high percentage and defend and rebound like their lives depend on it.

As for Dave Van Horn’s Diamond Hogs, tonight and tomorrow’s games with Texas (15-7, 2-1 Big 12) might be the one time this season where the mid-week series supersedes the weekend conference series. The Hogs (17-2, 3-0 SEC) head to Alabama (17-4, 1-2 SEC) for their three-game conference series following their visit to Austin.

The Longhorns are rated as high as No. 4 by Baseball America with D1 Baseball, slotting them at No. 9. D1 Baseball has the Hogs at No. 11, while Baseball America rates the Razorbacks at No. 15. That’s a wide range for both clubs, but it’s early in the season.

This series should be a litmus test for the Razorbacks, especially its bullpen. The Razorbacks are sending lefty Patrick Wicklander (2-1, 2.45 ERA) where he will face the Longhorns’ Jack Neely (0-0, 6.23).

The Longhorns will be the first ranked opponent the Hogs have played this season, while No. 3 Stanford swept Texas in a three-game series a couple of weeks ago, and the Longhorns topped No. 13 Texas Tech two games to one over the weekend, and swept No. LSU (15-5, 3-0).

Whatever the outcome over the next two days in Austin, the Hogs should have a better idea where they stand after playing one of the best teams in the nation.

The squads have relied on solid defense and outstanding pitching this season. Both squads underperformed at the plate over the weekend, my expectation is for two close, low-scoring games, but I’ver certainly been surprised before.

The Razorbacks swept Texas in a two-game series at Fayetteville, and tagged them in the College World Series. You can bet the Longhorns will be looking forward to playing the Razorbacks on their home turf.

The attention of Razorback fans will be divided tonight. I’m going to try to soak in as much of both games as I can, but at the moment, the baseball series with the Longhorns seems to be the more compelling watch.

I can honestly say I never thought I’d pick Razorback baseball over basketball, but everyone likes a winner.