Hoop Hogs hunt first SEC victory at Florida

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman on the sidelines against Duke during an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

The good news about Saturday’s 3 p.m. matchup between the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Florida Gators at Gainesville, Fla. is that one team will pick up its first SEC basketball win of the season.

The bad news is that the other squad will fall to a dismal 0-3 start in league play.

Rock bottom.

But, hey, there is no place to go but up?

What is developing for both programs isn’t what either envisioned for this season.

On opening day of SEC play, the Gators (10-5, 0-2 SEC) had the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats on the ropes in the O’Connell Center, but John Calipari’s squad slipped away with an 87-85 victory.

A tough way to start league play, but Kentucky is going to win on a lot of team’s home courts this season. A few plays go the other way, and the Wildcats would have been Gator bait.

However, the Gators’ trip to Oxford, Miss., on Wednesday was no genteel garden party. Chris Beard’s Rebels gave Florida a backyard stomping, 103-85, that no doubt challenged the Gators’ perception of themselves.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Florida
When: 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13
Where: Gainesville, Fla.

Next 5 games

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)
Jan. 31 – at Missouri, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)

As for the Hogs (9-6, 0-2), Eric Musselman’s wayward Piggies were roasted, 83-51, at home by No. 16 Auburn to suffer their second loss of the season in Bud Walton Arena.

The Razorbacks were more competitive Wednesday — particularly in the second half — at Georgia, but the Bulldogs soundly spanked the Hogs, 76-66, despite a 24-point, 7-rebound performance by Tramon Mark, who seems to be the only Hog playing up to his potential at this point in the season.

Since there are no ties in basketball, something has to give Saturday. Either the Hogs or the Gators will gain their first league victory.

History says it’s probably the Hogs that will fall to 0-3. Arkansas is 3-14 against Florida all-time in games played at the O’Connell Center.

Only the best Razorback teams have come out of the O’Connell Center victorious. The Hogs defeated Florida on its home floor in 1993, 1995 and 2022. Those Razorbacks squads went to the Sweet 16 in 1993, the Final Four in 1995, and the Elite Eight in 2022.

It doesn’t look like this Razorback squad is even going to make it to the NCAA Tournament. With the loss at Georgia on Wednesday, the Hogs Net Ranking is now 109, down from 107.

The Hogs are so far off the NCAA bubble at the moment that it can’t be seen. If the season ended today, the Razorbacks probably wouldn’t make the NIT.

Now, the Hogs have 16 more SEC games, and it is a possibility that enough ground could be made up for Arkansas to make the NIT or maybe even the NCAA Tournament, but things are really going to have to turn around.

If the Hogs do win enough for an NIT bid, the big question is whether enough of the Hogs’ transfer seniors would stick around to compete?

The last time the Hogs made the NIT, Daniel Gafford skipped out on playing. I could envision several Razorbacks doing the same, should the Hogs get a bid this year.

Those senior transfers didn’t portal into Arkansas to play in the NIT. They came to Arkansas with the idea of making a run in the NCAA Tournament.

I don’t know how many Razorback fans would even be interested in watching the Hogs in the NIT?

If a NIT bid is extended to the program, it might be best for head coach Eric Musselman just to punt and concentrate on recruiting. He’s going to have a ton of holes to fill on this squad, and with the way this season is going, it might be more difficult to recruit players from the portal to a program the missed the NCAA Tournament.

Obviously that is a pessimistic view of what is left of this season, but it could be a reality if the Razorbacks don’t find a way to turn it around.

The Razorbacks need Mark to continue to play as well as he did at Georgia, and he probably will. He seems to be a warrior.

We know the player that Devo Davis can be. He needs to be that guy again night in and night out.

Trevon Brazile has the talent and potential to be an All-SEC player. That potential probably will allow him to be a first-round NBA Draft pick this summer.

It sure would be nice if he would start playing like a future NBA player. We’ve only seen it in glimpses this season. Brazile could be a double-double machine, but he has to make up his mind to do it.

Overall, this Razorback team has to toughen up mentally and physically, or this is going to be a very long and uncomfortable basketball season.

The SEC has always been a league of predators in football. The weak link is singled out from the pack and feasted on by the others.

It’s become that way more and more in basketball. From top to bottom, the SEC might be as strong in basketball as it has ever been.

The Razorbacks need to decide if they are going to be the prey or the predator. If it is the latter, it’s time to enter the fray and eat.