Hogs turn page, head to Alabama

While the revelry continues among Arkansas fans after Tuesday night’s overtime upset of No. 1 Auburn, 80-76, in Bud Walton Arena, the Razorbacks and their head coach Eric Musselman have already turned the page. Or they are at least in that process.

The Hogs (19-5, 8-3 SEC) are prepping for a key road matchup at Tuscaloosa, Ala. with defending SEC champions Alabama (15-9, 5-6), which defeated Ole Miss, 97-83, at Oxford on Wednesday.

Tipoff is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Coleman Coliseum. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Alabama
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 12
Where: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa
TV: SEC Network

Next 5 games

Feb. 15 – at Missouri, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Feb. 19 – Tennessee, TBA (ESPN/2)
Feb. 22 – at Florida, 6 p.m. (ESPN/2)
Feb. 26 – Kentucky, 1 p.m. (CBS)
March 2 – LSU, 8 p.m. (ESPN2/U)

Musselman said that he and his staff have refocused the Hogs on the upcoming game, and will continue to do it again and again before the Hogs face the Crimson Tide.

“Look, it’s out there,” Musselman said of the continued talk about the Razorbacks’ upset of Auburn. “When you go to a restaurant, people are still talking about it. I know our players hear it, too. The question is what is our maturity level, and what is our professional approach?

“…We play two road games coming up, it’s so hard to win on the road and then a third really hard home game. We have to turn the page for sure. We’re going to address it, and we’ll do it again. We’ve got to figure out a way to go out and get better.”

As Musselman eluded, the Hogs play at Missouri on Tuesday and then play host to Tennessee a week from Saturday in Walton Arena.

The Alabama game looms large for the Hogs and Crimson Tide in terms of the SEC race, possible NCAA Tournament seeding, and pride.

After losing their first three SEC games of the season, Arkansas is now the hottest team in the SEC, riding a nine-game winning streak.

Alabama’s trip through the SEC has been a bit more bumpy with the Tide sitting a game under .500 in league play, but Nate Oats’ squad has pulled off some big wins in nonconference play, including upending Baylor, 87-88, in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Wins like that as well as early season victories over Gonzaga and Houston have the Crimson Tide’s NCAA Net Ranking still ahead of the Hogs. After Wednesday’s games, Alabama’s Net ranking was at No. 22, while the Razorbacks were at No. 31.

Kentucky (20-4, 9-2) currently has the top Net ranking in the SEC at No. 5. Auburn (22-2, 10-1) fell to No. 9 with the loss to the Hogs. Tennessee (17-6, 8-3) is at 10, LSU (17-7, 5-6) is at No. 16, Florida (16-8, 6-5) is at No. 48 and Mississippi State (14-9, 5-5) is at No. 56.

The Razorbacks could improve their Net ranking, a tool used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee for picking and seeding teams for the Big Dance, quite a bit over the final few weeks of the season.

Each of the Hogs’ final seven opponents except for Missouri is ranked in the Net’s top 50, and four of the games will be against squads ranked in the Net’s top 20 — Kentucky, LSU, and Tennessee twice.

Conversely, the Hogs’ final seven regular-season SEC games compose arguably the toughest stretch of basketball Musselman’s Razorbacks have faced this season.

Barring a complete collapse, the Razorbacks should be in the NCAA Tournament field with what they have accomplished so far this season, but how strongly the Hogs finish in these final seven games – along with their showing at the SEC Tournament in Tampa, Fla. — will greatly affect their seeding.

While it is unlikely the Hogs would win out, if they did, Arkansas could rise as high a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they did. It’s more likely Arkansas will end up a fifth to seventh seed depending on how the season plays out.

While it seems like ancient history now, Arkansas’ last trip to Tuscaloosa was an uncomfortable one. Alabama throttled the Hogs, 90-59, last Jan. 16 before the Razorbacks got their act together and made their run to Elite Eight.

The Crimson Tide has not been as consistent this season as last, but they boast a talented lineup, according to Musselman, that can punish opponents from the outside.

“I know their numbers aren’t what they were last year, but [Jahvon] Quinerly was there last year,” Musselman said. “He’s a great dribble-drive player, but he also able to hit 3s when his feet are set or off the bounce. [Jaden] Shackelford is one of the best 3-pointer shooters in the country, but he can also get to the rim with the left hand. [Keon] Ellis is also back, and he can hit the 3. You add JD Davison and [Juwan] Gary who will hit an occasional 3 for them. [James] Rojas who plays the 4 and the 5 for them is known as a physical rebounder for them, but he will take a high volume of 3s.”

Senior Razorback guard JD Notae turned in not only one of his best games of his career against Auburn, but one of the best games in UA basketball history against such a highly ranked opponent, leading all scorers with 28 points. Notae also had 3 assists, 3 steals, and 4 blocks.

Notae’s big night also pushed him back to the top of the SEC’s scoring chart with an average 19.1 ppg. Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr. is averaging 18.7 ppg. The two talented guards have been trading the league’s top scoring lead back and forth all season.