Hogs reeling heading into showdown with SEC-leading Alabama

There’s not a lot to be said about the Arkansas Razorbacks’ road trip to LSU last Wednesday night.

The veteran Tigers (9-2, 4-1) put the Hogs (10-3, 2-3 SEC) over their knee and spanked them good, making the Razorbacks pay and pay and pay for every quick shot, poor pass or other mistake Arkansas made in a 92-76 loss that was even uglier than that score indicates.

The Hogs’ box score was ugly with a capital “U,” but anyone who watched the game knows that. But here’s some numbers, anyway, to help it sink in.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Alabama
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16
Where: Tuscaloosa
TV: SEC Network
Current Record: 10-3

Next four games

Jan. 20 – Auburn (8 p.m. SEC Network)
Jan. 23 – at Vanderbilt (12 p.m. SEC Network)
Jan. 27 – Ole Miss (7:30 p.m. SEC Network)
Jan. 30 – at Oklahoma State (3 p.m. ESPN2)

The Razorbacks shot a dismal 26 of 76 from the field for 34.2 percent, and hit just 8 of 31 three-point shots for an even worse 25.8 percent. The Hogs did shoot well from the free-throw line, though, making 16 of 20 for 80 percent.

That’s bad shooting from the field, but sometimes a team’s going to have a poor shooting night — maybe not 34 percent poor — but it’s going to happen at times in league play.

However, the Razorbacks compounded the matter with 15 turnovers.

Now, 15 turnovers is never good, but what was so awful is that 11 of them came in the first half when the Razorbacks were digging a hole too deep for them to climb out of in two games.

Thankfully scoring deficits don’t carry over from game to game. The Hogs need a fresh start at 2:30 p.m. Saturday when they face the SEC-leading Alabama Crimson Tide (10-3, 5-0), who routed Kentucky, 85-65, Tuesday night at Rupp Arena. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

The Wildcats (4-7, 3-1) have struggled this season, but it’s still impressive to blow Kentucky out on its home floor. Just the weight of the history in that arena is imposing enough to intimidate some teams, but Alabama’s not worried about the past. Alabama’s eyes are set on an SEC title and then making some noise in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s still early, but if the Crimson Tide keeps rolling like it is now, Alabama will be in the hunt for one of the top eight seeds in the Big Dance.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s still too much meat on the bone of that LSU loss to skip to Saturday’s game.

Watching last Wednesday’s Hog game was like a flashback to the Nolan Richardson era of basketball, where Richardson’s Hogs would set a pace for the game that some teams thought they could function at but really couldn’t.

The only problem was that the shoe was on the other foot.

The pace that the Tigers set and the Razorbacks chased forced the Hogs into quick shots and poor decisions with the basketball in transition and even in their half-court offense. Richardson used to call it speeding an opponent up.

Let’s face it, every team likes to play at a fast pace, but not every team can against all opponents.

The Hogs enjoy a fast pace and scoring a lot of points. They are averaging 87.2 points a game, but a lot of that came against a not-ready-for-prime-time schedule in November and December. Some of those opponents were quality teams, but none of them had an SEC roster of talent.

The Razorbacks could get away with being sloppy in those games because they had superior talent. In the SEC, Arkansas remains a talented squad, but they aren’t talented enough to just roll the ball out there and win. No SEC team is.
About the only thing that slowed the Razorbacks down from taking bad shots in the first half against LSU was Arkansas’ own turnovers.

I’m betting head coach Eric Musselman surprised several of the Razorbacks Thursday by showing them film of how out of control and how quick they chunked up three balls in the game. Arkansas was playing so fast, the Hogs themselves didn’t know they were out of control.

By playing so undisciplined and firing up so many quick shots before even making LSU contest some ball movement, the Hogs set themselves up to be blown out by a more experienced and athletic team, and LSU did the job.

About the only thing that can be said good about the Hogs’ performance at LSU is that they did not quit.

They kept hustling in the second half, especially freshmen like Jaylin Williams and Moses Moody. It’s hard to compliment any of the Hogs after a game like that, but those freshmen and some others showed some heart in the second half.

That’s good because the Razorbacks are going to need a lot of heart and guts to bounce back next week.

Yeah, I’m saying next week because I don’t think the Razorbacks have a chance against Alabama on Saturday, not with they way they played at LSU.

Alabama is just as athletic as LSU, but they are more solid in all phases of the game, or at least the Crimson Tide has been in their first five SEC games.

Unless the Razorbacks play smarter, more under control, and just plain better on Saturday, they are likely to come home smarting from another trip to the woodshed against Alabama.

Musselman might be able to get them to regroup next week for a less challenging portion of their schedule. Maybe then the Hogs might be able to find their equilibrium and hopefully start to build for a better second half of the conference schedule and a push to make the NCAA Tournament.

This Razorback squad is a talented group, but for it to be successful and reach its potential, the one-on-one stuff has to recede and the teamwork needs to excel.

Talented older guys like Jalen Tate, Vance Jackson Jr., JD Notae, and Desi Sills need to lock into their strengths and play every minute with a purpose to help lead younger guys like Moody, Williams and Davonte Davis.

All isn’t lost with this season. Heck, even the Alabama game is not lost, yet. But for the Razorbacks to meet their goal of making the Big Dance, players are going to have to start fitting into their roles and playing smarter ball.