Razorback athletics enjoying across-the-board success

Wow, what a week to be an Arkansas fan.

The Razorbacks began football workouts on Tuesday to open Sam Pittman and his staff’s second season but first spring practice at the University of Arkansas.

The basketball Hogs jumped into the Associated Press Top 10 at No. 8, and are expected to be at least a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament if not a No. 3 or possibly No. 2 if they can win this week’s SEC Tournament which opens tonight in Nashville.

Dave Van Horn’s Diamond Hogs are the consensus No. 1 team in land.

Mike Neighbors’ No. 15 women’s hoops squad is catching its breath to get ready for a hopefully deep March Madness run.

Arkansas plays host to the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track Championships Thursday through Saturday at the Tyson Indoor Track Center with three dozen or so female and male competitors who will be proudly sporting Arkansas’ familiar cardinal and white with their sights honed on capturing even more hardware and honors for the program.

Most of the other spring sports squads are nationally ranked, too. Everywhere you look on campus there is a measure of athletic success.

It’s truly a great time to be a Razorback and Razorback sports fan, and Hunter Yurachek, Arkansas athletics director, and his team of administrators and coaches deserve at least a thank you and a pat on the back for the structure, support, and the opportunity for success their work has provided UA student-athletes in perhaps the most trying period major college athletics has ever faced with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

A Familiar Tune

Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman sang a familiar tune to longtime Hog fans Tuesday in his Zoom interview session with the media.

The Razorbacks’ second-year head coach was a little bit upset that more of his Hogs didn’t receive All-SEC recognition. Moses Moody, of course, was named to the All-SEC first team and was named Freshman of the Year.

Fellow guard J.D. Notae, a junior transfer, picked up the league’s Sixth-Man Award, but no other Hog received an honor from the SEC coaches. Guys like grad-transfers Justin Smith and Jalen Tate went unnoticed. Musselman even touted Connor Vanover for his shot-blocking ability.

Where was the respect?

Shortly after that Zoom call, USA Today released its All-SEC Team and Smith was honored as a second-team selection, but that didn’t make Musselman’s disgust any less hollow.

But, yes, Musselman played a similar “no-respect card” Tuesday to the one that legendary Razorback basketball coach Nolan Richardson doubled down on in 1994 to fuel his and his Hogs’ fire through their run to the national title.

Some folks thought Richardson was a bit crazy when he said his Hogs got “no respect” in 1994. After all, the Razorbacks spent more time ranked No. 1 that season than any other team and despite losing their opening game to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament that season in Memphis, his Razorbacks still received the No. 1 Seed.

But Nolan was crazy like a fox in crafting that “no-respect” narrative for his team to buy into.

By throwing down the no-respect card, Richardson drew much of the media attention to himself, allowing his players to fly under the radar. Richardson took the pressure on himself so his Hogs could just play, albeit with a chip on their shoulder.

Richardson’s ploy worked like a charm as the Hogs rolled to the national title game against Duke.

Then Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom gave the Hogs a gift without intending to or even knowing it. On the Sunday morning before the final game, Albom smart-alecky opined that the “smart team” would win the championship game.

Though Albom didn’t mention the Blue Devils by name, everyone knew he meant Duke.

Chelsea Dungee earned a spot on the Wooden Award National Ballot / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

That quip played right into Richardson’s “no-respect” narrative and fired the Razorbacks up.

When asked about the comment, Razorback sharp-shooter Scotty Thurman said the “smart team” would win the game, but unlike Albom, Thurman was talking about the Razorbacks.

The Hogs did defeat Duke, 76-72, and brought home Arkansas’ lone national basketball title.

That was 27 long years ago, but it almost seems like yesterday to me.

I don’t know if Musselman will continue to play the “no-respect” card with his Razorbacks and the media. If it keeps his Hogs’ juices flowing and helps them extend their 11-game SEC winning streak, more power to him and them.

I always kind of liked the circle-the-wagons mentality that Richardson used with his best teams to deflate the post-season pressure.

That “us-against-the-world” attitude served Richardson and his Hogs well through the glory years of the late 1980s and 1990s when some in the media constantly questioned whether Richardson could coach just because he used different tactics than Eddie Sutton.

Richardson often said “there is more than one way to skin a cat,” and certainly Musselman’s coaching style is as different from Richardson’s as Richardson’s was from Sutton’s.

But, if Musselman’s Hogs can gain some advantage by buying into a “no-respect” narrative more power to the them.

Moses Moody was named SEC Freshman of the Year and JD Notae was named SEC Sixth-Man of the Year / Photos: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

The Razorbacks have not won the SEC Tournament since 2000 when Richardson guided the Hogs to four victories in four days. Those Hogs had to win the SEC Tournament to punch their dance card into the NCAA Tournament that season, and by doing so they in all likelihood save Richardson’s job. Yes, the rumors going into the SEC Tournament that year were that Frank Broyles was gathering the support he needed to let Richardson go.

Musselman’s Razorbacks are in a much better position than that Hog squad. One win in the SEC Tournament this weekend will likely seal up a No. 3 seed for the Razorbacks.

The only way for Arkansas to improve to a No. 2 seed would be to win the SEC Tournament and knock off No. 6 Alabama in the process.

Even that wouldn’t guarantee the Hogs a No. 2 seed. It would depend on how the other conference tournaments shake out, especially the Big 10.

The major value in being a No. 2 seed is that Hogs wouldn’t run into a No. 1 seed until the Elite Eight, which this year is a huge advantage. Some seasons there isn’t a lot of difference between the 1 seeds and the 2s, but this year with Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, and Illinois there is.

However, talking about that is really putting the cart before the horse.

That said it’s really fun for the Razorbacks to be in a position where we are talking about where they will be seeded for the NCAA Tournament rather than what they have to do to just get an NCAA bid.

With all due respect to Alabama coach Nate Oates, who really did a wonderful job with his veteran Alabama team this season, the job Musselman and his staff has done to get the Hogs — a team full of freshmen, transfers, and grad-transfers — to play at the level they are playing at now is pretty remarkable and worthy of any honor he receives.