Eric Musselman’s No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks likely are the most talented collection of players to wear Hog uniforms since the hey days of Hawg Ball from 1990 to 1995.
Honestly, it might be the most talented Razorback team in history on an individual basis when all hands are healthy through 10 players.
However, as the Razorbacks showed Tuesday night in Bud Walton Arena against a veteran North Carolina-Greensboro squad, great talent doesn’t necessarily equal great teamwork or disciplined basketball.
If talent doesn’t execute together for a common goal, it can get punked by a more disciplined team.
The Razorbacks looked to deliver a haymaker against the Spartans before ever truly taking a measure of their opponents. The result was an ugly, undisciplined showing that was much harder than it had to be.
The Hogs, who were more talented at every position, eventually broke the will of UNC-Greensboro, and won, 65-58, after the Spartans led for nearly 30 minutes of the game.
Next up for the Razorbacks
When: 12 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
Where: Tulsa, Okla. (BOK Center)
Next 5 games
Dec. 17 – Bradley (in North Little Rock)
Dec. 21 — UNC Asheville
Dec. 28 — at LSU
Jan. 4 – Missouri
Jan. 7 – at Auburn
In attempting to make the game easy by unleashing a barrage of 3-pointers early in the shot clock, the Hogs made the game hard and ugly.
The Spartans packed their defense in the paint and made sure they got back on defense to keep the more athletic Razorbacks down. They gave the Hogs open outside looks, and the Razorbacks took that cheese, firing up eight first-half 3-pointers and making absolutely none of them.
As legendary former Razorback coach Nolan Richardson would tell his players in practice, if you are wide open, it’s because the opponent wants you to take that shot.
The Hogs made three of their 10 treys in the second half to wind up shooting 16.7 percent from beyond the arc. That’s a painful percentage that’s going to haunt the Hogs the rest of the season.
Teams are going to give the Razorbacks the same cheese all season until the Hogs prove they can turn it down, and begin to work for better shots that are more in their wheelhouse. The quicker the Razorbacks learn this, the less severe their growing pains will be.
The Razorbacks won by eventually overtaking the Spartans with their talent. It likely would have been an easier night if Arkansas had worked their offense a bit more.
As gifted as the Razorbacks are, outside shooting is not their forte. When a team takes shots outside of its comfort zone, even if those shots are open, it gunks up the works of the offense.
With inexperienced or young teams, when one player feels the license to take bad shots, it seems to become contagious. The Hogs were so eager to put the Spartans down, they never truly got into a flow.
The Razorbacks are lucky UNC-Greensboro wasn’t a more capable team because the Hogs were ripe for an upset Monday night.
It’s great to have the talent to push through a bad offensive performance and still win. To the Razorbacks’ credit, they played well enough defensively to not allow the Spartans to build to great of a lead.
However, I’m guessing Musselman was not happy with how easily UNC-Greensboro dribble drove into the paint for some easy scores or for pitch-outs for 3-pointers. The Spartans only hit 9 of 28 treys for 32.1 percent, but that was enough to keep them around until the final minutes of the game.
Had the Hogs faced a better shooting team, the outcome for the Razorbacks might have been as ugly as their play.
Sometimes it’s a blessing to be able to teach so much from a victory. Other times it’s a curse because players don’t always listen to corrections as urgently and intently after a victory as they do a loss.
Speaking of losses, sophomore forward Trevon Brazile’s right knee buckled on a drive to the hoop in the first half. He had to be assisted off the floor, and appeared to be in great deal of pain. He was on the bench in the second half, but Musselman said the knee would be reevaluated after an “MRI or X-ray.”
The 6-10 forward, who transferred to Arkansas after a season at Missouri, comes off the bench, but has averaged starter’s minutes. His length and athleticism have made him a key component for the Hogs on both ends of the floor.
It’s probably good for the Razorbacks to get such an ugly performance out of their system this early in the season. The past two seasons we’ve seen Musselman’s squads make some of their greatest strides after ugly SEC losses. Maybe, these Razorbacks can make the adjustments needed after a win?
Up next for the Hogs is a high noon showdown with the improving Oklahoma Sooners (7-2) at the BOK Center in Tulsa. The game will be televised by ESPN2.
Last year the Sooners routed the Hogs, 88-66, in Tulsa. It was the start of a span where the Razorbacks lost six of seven games before, pulling together to turn the season around and eventually make the Elite Eight.
While it might seem early to be thinking of NCAA seeding two weeks before Christmas, how the Hogs perform in December in non conference games does weigh heavily in the NET Rankings, which are a tool used by the NCAA Selection Committee in seeding teams.
The outcome of Saturday’s date with the Sooners will have a bearing on the Hogs’ seeding in the Big Dance come March.