Arkansas Razorbacks basketball coach Eric Musselman opened his media teleconference Tuesday with his head down — literally not figuratively.
He was obviously doing something below the view of the camera. Maybe signing some merchandise or taking care of some paperwork before previewing his team’s game at Missouri tonight, and heading off to practice. Just stuff major college coaches do.
However, his youngish basketball squad probably should figuratively take their cue from Musselman when they take the floor against the Tigers tonight. Just keep their heads down and take care of business.
In their last outing, the Hogs not only lost 97-84 at Vanderbilt, but they blew an early 10-point second-half lead to boot.
In the process, the Razorbacks also showed how immature and hot-headed a squad they are as the Commodores — the very definition of a mediocre basketball team with a 9-9 record — carved up Arkansas’ defense like a nice pork loin for Sunday dinner.
It was an embarrassing showing.
Vanderbilt scored a whopping 63 points in the second half, no doubt spurred on to their best offensive half of the season after a dust up beneath the basket that was instigated by Anthony Black’s disrespectful attempt to step over a Commodore player who fell to the floor after fouling Black on a layup attempt.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: at Missouri
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18
Where: Columbia, Mo.
TV: SEC Network
Next 3 games
Jan. 21 – Ole Miss – 11 a.m. (ESPN2)
Jan. 24 – LSU – 6 p.m. (ESPN/2/U)
Jan. 28 – at Baylor – 3 p.m. (ESPN)
By all accounts, Black is a wonderful young man. A good kid. He is clearly talented and skillful in all areas of the game except perhaps outside shooting. But there was absolutely no need or any good that came from his act of false bravado.
It was the impetus for the butt kicking the Hogs would receive in the second half.
Now, Black wasn’t the only Hog that made poor choices in the game. Veterans Kamani Johnson and Devo Davis also lost their cool at points throughout the matchup.
As old heads, they are defacto leaders on this team. The younger Hogs take their cues from them. If they can’t keep their cool in heated moments on the road, it sets up a difficult situation for Musselman and his staff.
Now, everyone has shown their rear end at one time or another and embarrassed themselves. It’s part of growing up, and hopefully maturing. The key is not making a habit of it.
The question is will the Hogs learn their lesson from last Saturday’s missteps, and take their cue from their coach and keep their heads down and just play basketball tonight in Columbia?
If they do, they will have a much better chance of snapping this three-game losing streak and picking up their first SEC road win this season.
Funny enough, the Razorbacks’ lone victory in SEC play came against the Tigers on Jan. 4 in a 74-68 victory in Walton Arena in which the Hogs stormed back from a 17-point first-half deficit.
It was just two weeks ago, but in the midst of a three-game losing streak in which the Hogs have been whipped by double digits in each game, it seems longer ago.
The SEC did the Hogs no favors in scheduling with four of their fist six games on the road out of the gate, but that will eventually even out.
The question is does this Razorback squad have the mental toughness to fight their way out of the hole that they have dug for themselves?
I’d like to say they do, but that remains to be seen.
Finding a way to win on the road tonight would be an outstanding step forward for this squad, but the way the last six games have gone, I’m not sure that is a fair expectation. The Razorbacks clearly have a high degree of talent in areas, but they also have a true deficit in the outside shooting department.
That said, the Hogs did score 84 points against Vanderbilt. That’s enough to win most games if the defensive effort and intensity is up to the standard that Musselman has demanded from his previous Arkansas teams.
And that’s the big issue with this Razorback team at the moment. It’s not just one thing. It seems the Hogs have more leaks in their boat than Musselman has corks. He plugs one hole and another leak breaks loose.
But say the Razorbacks do find a way to win tonight. Their next three SEC games — Ole Miss on Saturday, LSU on Tuesday, and Texas A&M on Jan. 31 — are in the friendly confines of Walton Arena. The Hogs then play a winnable road game at South Carolina on Feb. 4 before going to Kentucky for a date with the Wildcats on Feb. 7 at Rupp Arena.
The Razorbacks also step out of conference play on Jan. 28 for the SEC-Big 12 Challenge at Baylor.
Before that road trip to Lexington, the Razorbacks will have a chance to find their equilibrium with four winnable games. However, it remains to be seen if this squad has the mental toughness to come together much like Musselman’s last two teams.
The first step, though, is just playing basketball at a high level against Missouri.
That won’t guarantee a victory, but it would be a step in the right direction for a team that lost its way at Vanderbilt last Saturday in more ways than one.