Hog fans to show their pride to ‘College GameDay’ audience

Arkansas players Khalif Battle (0) and Layden Blocker, right, celebrate with fans after defeating Duke in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” in his poem “To a Mouse” way back in 1785, and John Steinbeck borrowed a bit of the phrase for the title of his 1937 novella about Great Depression era itinerant farm workers Lennie and George that many of us were supposed to read in high school.

Burns’ truism is as apt today as it was in 1785 or 1937.

Case in point is ESPN’s “College GameDay,” the premiere college basketball pregame show, which will be originating live from Bud Walton Arena at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The show, featuring host Rece Davis and college hoops analysts Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg, Andrea Carter, and Jay Williams highlights the best games and stories of the day in college hoops.

Students are to enter through the east entrance of the arena beginning at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Doors open to the general public on the west side of the arena at 9 a.m.

Obviously, the decision for the home of the Razorbacks to be the site for tomorrow’s broadcast was planned last fall or maybe even last summer when Saturday’s 5 p.m. contest between the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats and the Arkansas Razorbacks seemed like a lock to be a highly anticipated game.

Eric Musselman’s Hogs, which made back-to-back Elite Eight appearances in 2021 and 2022 and advanced to the Sweet 16 last March, seemed to be a sure bet to be a factor in this year’s NCAA Tournament, too, or at least a squad that would be worthy of a bid to the Big Dance.

Unfortunately plans do go askew.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Kentucky
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27
Where: Fayetteville, Ark.

Next 5 games

Jan. 31 – at Missouri, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Feb. 3 – at LSU, 11 a.m. (ESPN/2)
Feb. 10 – Georgia, 5 p.m. (SEC Network)
Feb. 14 – Tennessee,8 p.m. (ESPN2)
Feb. 17 – at Mississippi State, 1 p.m. (ESPNU)

John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats held up their end of the bargain. Despite their 79-62 loss at South Carolina last Tuesday, the Wildcats are everything they were supposed to be this season with a 14-4 overall record and 4-2 mark in SEC play.

But the Razorbacks?

Frankly, they are sucking hind teat in the SEC race with a 1-4 league mark and a 10-9 overall record. Well, to be accurate, the Razorbacks are ahead of Vanderbilt and Missouri in the SEC standings. Vandy is 0-5 and Missouri is 0-6 in the conference standings.

Thank goodness for those Texas A&M Aggies!

The Hogs nipped the Aggies, 78-77, in Bud Walton Arena on Jan 16 for their lone SEC and their only victory since the calendar turned to 2024. The Razorbacks average margin of loss in SEC play is almost legally able to drink in Arkansas at 20 points per game.

I wish I were bold enough to predict that a Razorback upset is brewing for Saturday, but with Arkansas’ best player Tramon Mark suffering from migraines, and the Hogs’ most athletic player Trevon Brazile’ availability up in the air after he injured his knee in the Razorbacks’ 77-51 loss to Ole Miss Wednesday night, even my homer heart won’t allow me to pick the Hogs.

I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve seen nothing that leads me to believe that Arkansas has a chance on Saturday, not even with the support of the Walton Arena crowd. Fans can only do so much.

Razorback fans are among the best at supporting their teams when they have a team worth supporting, but the Razorbacks have shown us very little in SEC play this year.

It’s hard to believe the Razorbacks we have watched this month are the same Hogs we saw upend Purdue, 81-77, in overtime in an exhibition game in October and Duke, 80-75, in November, both in Walton Arena.

But they are.

Now, I have too much respect for anyone who might read this column to attempt to convince you that the Hogs have a chance of upsetting Kentucky.

But, just because the Razorback can’t get their act together doesn’t mean their fans can’t.

In part, “College GameDay” chose to be at Walton Arena on Saturday because the Kentucky-Arkansas game appeared to be a great matchup, but the game was also selected because of the awesome atmosphere Razorback fans create in and around The Bud.

Yes, the great Razorback teams and players of the past are a big reason Bud Walton Arena is considered one of the great venues in college basketball, but Hog fans are without a doubt “the straw that stirs the drink,” as Hall of Fame Razorback coach Nolan Richardson liked to say.

There is no Molotov cocktail without Hog fans lighting the fuse.

For whatever reasons, the Razorbacks can’t get their act together and play up to expectations or their potential.

Musselman and his staff haven’t been able to push the right buttons with this group like he has the previous three seasons.

Right now, my thought is that the dismal display of basketball we’ve witnessed in recent weeks is more on the players than the coaching staff, while understanding it was the coaching staff that recruited this mix of players to Fayetteville.

Hog fans could use the poor play of the team as an excuse not to show up and show out for “College Gameday” on Saturday morning.

But, what all Razorbackers need to remember is that the Razorback basketball program is greater than this one underachieving team.

It is debatable whether this collection of Hogs deserve the support of Arkansas fans. It absolutely is.

However, Saturday morning’s airing of “College Gameday” isn’t only about this team. It’s about the reputation of Razorback Basketball as a whole.

It’s about that 1994 team from 30 years ago that made this whole state so proud by capturing the national championship.

Those of us old enough to remember will never forget the accolades that Nolan and his Hogs — Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman, Corey Beck, Clint McDaniel, Dwight “Big Dog” Stewart, Darnell Robinson, Lee Wilson, Roger Crawford, Alex Dillard, Ken Biley and others — brought to the Razorback program and this state in general.

That may be Arkansas’ only basketball national title, but the Razorback program is also about the blood, sweat, and tears given by men like coach Eddie Sutton, Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph, Jim Counce, Steve Schall, U.S. Reid, Tony Brown, Scott Hastings, Alan Zahn, Darrell Walker, Alvin Robertson, Joe Kleine, Charles Balentine, Leroy Sutton, Keith Wilson, Ron Huery, Mario Credit, Arlyn Bowers, Lenzie Howell, Lee Mayberry, Oliver Miller, Todd Day, Darrel Hawkins, Michael Shepherd, Pat Bradley, Derek Hood, Kareem Reid, Nick Davis, Joe Johnson, Brandon Dean, Teddy Gipson, Ronnie Brewer, Jonathon Monica, Patrick Beverly, B.J. Young, Jannaro Pago, Eric Ferguson, Sonny Weems, Bobby Portis, Michael Qualls, Daryl Macon, Jaylen Barford, Mason Jones, Dusty Hannahs, Daniel Gafford, Moses Moody, Isaiah Joe, Jaylin Williams, J.D. Notae, Stanley Umude, Anthony Black, Jordan Walsh among others.

Just listing those names floods my mind with so many cherished memories.

Saturday morning when “College Gameday” shines its light on the Razorback program inside Bud Walton Arena it’s not just about this current team.

It’s about what the entirety of the program means and has meant to Hog fans since Eddie Sutton modernized and rebuilt the program into a source of pride for the whole state beginning in the mid-1970s.

This is a bad season. It’s miserable watching it, but it absolutely doesn’t not mar or erase the accomplishments of this program, nor the pride it has generated among Razorback fans.

“College GameDay” and its audience needs to see Razorback pride in full display on Saturday morning.

Yes, it’s nearly impossible to be excited about the way the current Hogs are playing, but their futility in no way diminishes the accomplishments this program and its players and coaches have achieved, and Razorback fans should show their pride to the basketball nation Saturday morning.