Hog basketball struggles with baseball season on the horizon

Arkansas players Keyon Menifield Jr. (1), Jalen Graham (11), Trevon Brazile (2), Tramon Mark (12) and Davonte Davis (4) watch as Auburn forward Jaylin Williams shoots a free throw after a flagrant foul was called against Arkansas during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

Anyone ready for baseball?

Never thought I’d ask that question this early in January.

Honestly, I’ve always been a proponent of moving the start of the collegiate baseball season into March. That would allow the season to extend into July.

As hot as it is around the SEC region in July, it’s actually baseball weather when compared to the temperatures faced in mid February and early March most of the time.

I think the College World Series coinciding with the Fourth of July would be about the most American event one could imagine.

I noticed that Perfect Game has Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks slotted at No. 2 in its preseason Top 25 Baseball Poll, behind No. 1 Wake Forest and just ahead of reigning national champs LSU at No. 3.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Georgia
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10
Where: Athens, Ga.

Next 5 games

Jan. 13 – at Florida, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Jan. 16 – Texas A&M, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Jan. 20 – South Carolina, 12 p.m. (SEC Network)
Jan. 24 – at Ole Miss, 8 p.m. (ESPN2/U)
Jan. 27 – Kentucky, 5 p.m. (ESPN)

But, honestly, my mind has not actually turned to baseball and the Boys of Summer, yet.

I’m just trying my best to avoid thinking about what happened in Walton Arena last Saturday.

In case you’ve been out of town or deathly ill, the Auburn Tigers gave the Arkansas Razorbacks the mother of all butt-whoopings in the Hogs’ last outing.

The Tigers pantsed the Razorbacks in their own front yard, 83-51. That’s a 32-point bullying if my arithmetic is sound.

It was the worst defeat the Hogs have ever suffered in Walton Arena, and the worst since a semi-pro squad did a number on the Razorbacks in Barnhill Arena back in the mid-1950s.

It was nightmarish.

I don’t think I’ve seen anything as scary since the late 1970s when I foolishly watched “The Exorcist” on HBO at a too tender age and had nightmares for weeks.

After that performance, it might not be a bad idea for Hog head coach Erick Musselman to call in a holy man to pray for his Hogs. The kind of whipping the Razorbacks absorbed from Auburn is one that the players aren’t going to forget.

It was pure nightmare fuel.

The last time I remember the Hogs being punked as badly was when the 1997 team got worked over by Cincinnati, but that was a road game during a season when the Razorbacks’ best players were a bunch of sophomores, just learning the ropes.

This squad is filled with seniors. Granted this is the first year many of them have been Razorbacks, and they likely don’t realize the weight and honor that they carry when they lace ‘em up for the Hogs.

As Razorbacks, they are carrying the shield of warriors like the Triplets — Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph, and Ron Brewer. Tough guys like Darrell Walker, Alvin Robertson, Corey Beck, Clint McDaniel, Patrick Beverly, and Kareem Reid who took crap from nobody.

Talented bigs like Scott Hastings, Joe Kleine, Oliver Miller, Corliss Williamson, and Bobby Portis, who ate opponents alive offensively and defensively during their time as Razorbacks.

Heartbreakers like U.S. Reed, Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, Scotty Thurman, Pat Bradley, and Joe Johnson who shot teams’ eyes out like cold-blooded assassins.

Auburn forward Johni Broome (4) and Arkansas forward Jalen Graham (11) fight for a rebound during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

The Hogs of today don’t get it, but they carry the legacy of those all-time Razorback greats as well as every other player who has proudly donned the Cardinal and White and gave their sweat, blood, and heart for the program.

Where’s the heart with this current group of Hogs that features so many newcomers with two freshmen and seven transfers?

Going back to that nightmare fuel from last Saturday’s loss.

The Hogs can do one of two things with it.

They use it as an excuse to lay down and continue to be used and abused by SEC opponents.

Or they can use it to finally come together as a team and play some semblance of winning basketball. Make their hard work pay off in some form or fashion.

It’s really up to them. Musselman and his staff can push them, and you better believe they will, but the players have got to want it. They are the ones who have to make it work.

Musselman’s previous Razorback teams which eventually won their way to the Elite Eight and the Sweet 16 also faced turning points in their seasons.

The Hogs started 2-4 in SEC play in 2021, 0-3 in 2022, and 1-5 last year before finding their way and turning the season around.

Granted those teams accomplished more during their non-conference schedules than this one has, but past turnarounds under Musselman show that it is a possibility for this team, too.

Will it happen?

Who can say, but back-to-back SEC road trips aren’t the best environments for working out struggles.

The Hogs (9-5, 0-1 SEC) play at Georgia (11-2, 1-0) at 8 p.m. Wednesday on the SEC Network, before heading to Gainesville, Fla. for a 3 p.m. Saturday meeting with the Gators (10-4, 0-1) on ESPN.

As fans, we can only observe what will happen and continue to count down the days until Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks open their season Feb. 16-19 with a four-game home series against James Madison.