Hogs need victory at Missouri to avoid slipping below .500

The Razorbacks play at Missouri on Wednesday, Jan. 31 at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network
Arkansas forward Chandler Lawson (8) runs a play against Kentucky during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

The Arkansas Razorbacks played perhaps their best game of the SEC season in last Saturday’s 63-57 loss to No. 10 Kentucky, especially defensively.

The Hogs busted their tails on the defensive end for 40 minutes.

A few lapses late in the game cost them against a very talented Kentucky squad, but the upside of that loss is if the Razorbacks continue to play that hard and that well defensively, they will have a chance to not only improve but more importantly win some games as the regular season progresses.

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman wasn’t happy with last Saturday’s loss or the turnovers, but he did like how his Hogs competed against one of the best teams in the nation.

“If you walked out of the building and didn’t think we played hard, then you’re wrong,” Musselman said. “Because we did play hard… We inched a little bit closer to where we want to get to.”

Hog fans will get to see if the Razorbacks (10-10, 11-6 SEC) can continue to improve this week with a two-game road swing for Arkansas through Tiger Land.

The first stop is at Columbia, Mo. tonight for a 7:30 contest with Missouri (8-12, 0-7) on the SEC Network.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Missouri
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31
Where: Columbia, Mo.
TV: SEC Network

Next 5 games

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)
Feb. 20 – at Texas A&M, 6 p.m. (ESPN)

The Hogs head to Baton Rouge, La., for an 11 a.m. Saturday showdown with LSU (11-9, 3-4) on ESPN2. The Razorbacks have an open date next week before hosting the Georgia Bulldogs (14-6, 4-3) at 5 p.m. on Feb. 10.

A loss tonight would drop the Razorbacks under .500 on the season, while a victory would get their heads above the water. The Hogs have not had a losing season since the 2009-10 season, John Pelphrey’s third year as coach. Pelphrey coached one more season before being fired and replaced by Mike Anderson, who preceded Musselman as the Hogs’ head coach.

There are no easy games in the SEC this year with the way the Razorbacks have been playing, but this three-game stretch isn’t a nightmare if the Hogs can continue to pull together and play as a team.

The Hogs really did play well defensively and on the glass against Kentucky. That kind of effort is what the Razorbacks will need each day as they go forward, if they want to improve. The Razorbacks gang rebounded, which gave them a chance against a squad as talented as Kentucky.

Offensively, they shared the ball better as Musselman noted after the game, but there is still a lot of standing around, which leads to the guards just dribbling the ball out front and then desperately trying to make a one-on-one play or a desperation 3-pointer.

Tramon Mark, Khalif Battle, and El Ellis all have skills for hunting their own shots, but If the Razorbacks want to really improve, they can’t continue to play so much hero ball where four stand around and watch one guy operate. There has to be more purposeful movement.

Makhi Mitchell played well against Kentucky with a double-double of 13 rebounds and 12 points, exploiting the free-throw line for eight of his 12 points. He swatted four shots and did that without getting into foul trouble, which he has struggled with this season and last.

Davonte “Devo” Davis, who has “stepped away from the team” as it was described by a UA press release, is obviously the talk among Hog fans.

I certainly have no insight into the situation beyond reading a Facebook response by former Razorback Jaylin Williams, basically saying fans who are not extremely close to Davis don’t know what is going on and should hold their comments.

That’s good advice in almost every situation, but that’s not going to stop the speculation or gossip. It will die out eventually, but the interest is there because of how important a player Davis has been for the Razorbacks during his career, a career that included two trips to the Elite Eight and one to the Sweet 16.

Davis had not played up to expectations this season, but frankly no player on this team has, with the exception of Tramon Mark.

Most speculators feel Davis is gone for good. Remember, he took a break last year before coming back. However, Musselman has not said Davis can’t come back, and as of Wednesday morning, he is still listed on Arkansas’ roster.

Tonight’s matchup with Missouri is somewhat more interesting with former Razorback Connor Vanover playing up for the Tigers, and former Tiger Trevon Brazile possibly suiting up for the Hogs.

Brazile, Arkansas’ leading rebounder with 6.5 boards a game with a scoring average of 9 ppg., has missed the last game and a half with a knee injury. Vanover averages 4 points, 2.6 rebounds and nearly 1 block a game in 12 minutes of playing time.