Musselman’s Hogs slowly gaining regional, national respect

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The Arkansas Razorbacks have gotten off to one of their better starts in recent years in Eric Musselman’s first year as head basketball coach, and folks are beginning to notice.

The SEC honored Razorback junior Mason Jones Tuesday for the second time this season as SEC Player of the Week after he poured in 41 points in the Razorbacks’ 98-79 blowout of Tulsa last Saturday.

Jones, who took the Razorbacks’ road loss to Western Kentucky personally, after taking a 30-foot shot when he should have been more concerned with a higher-percentage opportunity for a teammate or himself, packed his stat line with 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, a blocked shot against one turnover.

Jones canned 5 of 11 three-pointers in the game as well as drew enough fouls with drives to the basket to hit 12 of 13 free throws. It was one of the better all-around performances by a Razorback player in recent memory along with Daniel Gafford’s monster game in his final appearance in Bud Walton Arena last March when he scored 29 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to lead Arkansas to an 82-70 win over Alabama.

Jones leads the Razorbacks in scoring with 19.6 ppg., which is third in the SEC behind Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith (22.3), and Georgia Anthony Edwards (19.8). Jones and Edwards are tied for the SEC lead in steals with 2.2 per game.

Three other Razorbacks are averaging in double figures with Isaiah Joe scoring 16.4, Jimmy Whitt 14.5 and Desi Seals 10.3 points per game. Whitt leads the Hogs in rebounding with 6.1 boards a game with Jones wavering 5.9 and Joe 4.4.

The Razorbacks also popped up on the national radar for the first time this season when the NCAA released their first NET ratings of the season, and the Hogs were at a respectable No. 23.

The Net is a ratings system the NCAA adopted last year to replace the Rating Percentage Index (RPI). It’s used as tool by the NCAA Selection Committee to compare teams. It considers a team’s strength of schedule, margin of victory as well as its offensive and defensive efficiency.

The net ranked undefeated Auburn (9-0) as the top team in the SEC at No.7. Surprisingly, the Hogs No. 23 was the second best mark in the league. Tennessee (7-2) was No. 25, LSU (7-2) followed at No. 26, with Ole Miss (7-3) and Kentucky (8-1) at No. 46. The Wildcats home loss to Wright State must have really stunk in the eyes of the Net.

The Razorbacks also received some props from ESPN columnist Joe Lunardi, who gives his opinion on where he believes teams would be seeded in the NCAA Tournament if it were held today.

Lunardi has the Razorbacks in the tournament field as a 10th seed, and he has them traveling out West. That might not sound like a lot of respect for the Hogs, but considering the Razorbacks were picked to finish 10th in the SEC by regional media back in October, the Razorbacks have clawed their way to a bit of respectability early this season.

Lunardi’s projections for SEC teams are Kentucky as a No. 2 seed in the South, Auburn a No. 3 seed int he East, Tennessee a No. 6 seed in the West, Florida a No. 7 seed in the Midwest, and LSU a No. 10 seed in the East.

Obviously, Lunardi’s projections carry no weight and are just for fun, but it is a gauge on how one very tuned in columnist perceives the Razorbacks at this moment.

The SEC is going to be very tough this season. Lunardi could have put Ole Miss (7-3) or Mississippi State (7-2) in the 10th-seed spots occupied by the Razorbacks and Tigers.

The Hogs are the surprise of the league right now. It will be interesting to see how the Razorbacks progress the rest of the season. Many think Arkansas’ lack of size and depth — Musselman’s playing most a seven-man rotation — might not hold up against the riggers of SEC play when teams have better scouting reports on opponents tendencies.

We shall see, but the Razorbacks are off to a great start and so far are on target for accomplishing their goal of making the NCAA Tournament.

Like the rest of the UA students, the Razorbacks are in the midst of finals this week. They won’t back in action until the semester ends when they travel to North Little Rock to face Valparaiso at 7 p.m. Saturday at Simmons Bank Arena.

The game is not televised, nor will it be available on streaming platforms, but it will be broadcast on the radio with Chuck Barrett on play-by-play and Matt Zimmerman as color commentator.

Collegiate Baseball Ranks Hogs 9th

There is a chill in the air; it must almost be time for Razorback baseball?

The season is still nearly two months away with Arkansas’ season opener set for 3 p.m. Feb. 14 against Eastern Illinois at Baum Stadium.

Considering Northwest Arkansas weather, it could be 60 degrees with partly cloudy skies, but it also could be spitting sleet at 33 degrees with a wind chill in the 20s.

As always, I believe the NCAA would be wise to back the season up a month so the Boy of Summer would have a better shot at starting the season playing in something resembling springtime weather. Then the college season could conclude with the College World Series played around the Fourth of July.

What could be more American than that?

While the Razorbacks don’t have any problems selling tickets no matter how frosty the weather is at the beginning of the season, starting the season later would likely prompt better ticket sales across the nation.

Yes, moving the season back would affect summer-league play for players on the eight teams that made the College World Series, but in all honestly, that’s relatively few players in the grand scheme of things.

Well, there’s my annual gripe. So, how about those Hogs?

Collegiate Baseball ranked Dave Van Horn’s squad as No. 9 in its preseason poll. That’s a respectable polling position for Arkansas, but I honestly though the Hogs might be rated a bit higher after back-to-back trips to the College World Series. I was really expecting a top-five spot with all the Hogs have returning.

While I’d like to see the Razorbacks get a bit more respect, it’s hard to argue with a No. 9 ranking, and it gives this veteran squad some incentive to move up in the polls once the season starts.