Second half of SEC play to be no easier for Hogs

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman talks with an official during a time out against Kentucky during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

With nine games played and nine games left on their SEC regular-season slate, the Arkansas Razorbacks sit in an uncomfortable situation Saturday when they play host to the Georgia Bulldogs at Bud Walton Arena.

The game tips at 5 p.m. on the SEC Network.

At 11-11 overall and 2-7 in SEC play with a Net Ranking of 130, the Hogs would probably have to go undefeated during the back half of their SEC schedule to even make it on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

That may be an exaggeration, but if so, only slightly.

The Razorbacks could earn the SEC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the SEC Tournament, played in Nashville March 13-17, but I don’t see any players resembling Joe Johnson or even Brandon Dean suiting up for the Hogs.

If you’re old enough to remember, those two former Razorback greats powered the Hogs’ lineup the last and only time Arkansas won the SEC Tournament in 2000.

The NIT even seems out of the question considering the Razorbacks have been blown out by double digits in six of their nine SEC games.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Georgia
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network

Next 5 games

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)
Feb. 24 – Missouri, 11 a.m. (ESPN/2)
Feb. 27 – Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)

No team’s schedule in the SEC is easy this year, but the Razorbacks have forthcoming trips to Starkville, Miss.; Bryan-College Station, Texas; Lexington, Ky.; and Tuscaloosa, Ala. still left on their docket.

The Tennessee Vols will visit Walton Arena on Wednesday, and they ran the Wildcats out of Rupp Arena, 103-92, last Saturday.

I’m by no means a betting man, but the only games left on the Razorbacks’ schedule in which I would favor the Hogs is when Missouri and Vanderbilt visit Walton Arena on Feb. 24 and Feb. 27.

Even then, I’m uncertain.

So, the question out there is how does coach Eric Musselman motivate this team to keep putting forth effort?

I know many of the Razorbacks hope to continue their basketball careers in the professional ranks. Other than Tramon Mark, I’m not sure there is an NBA player on the squad right now. Even he is a question mark.

Trevon Brazile and Devo Davis will likely get shots, and hopefully they make it. Some of the others may or may not get developmental opportunities but more likely offers to play overseas.

I wish anyone well who hopes to play professionally, but my concern is the Razorbacks. With eight and likely more players moving on from Arkansas’ roster this season, it’s going to be another major overhaul for Musselman this recruiting cycle. Perhaps the biggest since he came to Arkansas.

Musselman has bolstered the program before with the transfer portal, but one has to wonder how popular of a destination Arkansas will be for top-quality transfers with the Razorbacks tumbling so hard off the table this year?

It may speak to an opportunity, or it might caution some players to stay away. No doubt how much NIL money is on the table will play a major role.

Something didn’t work this year. It was probably a combination of a lot of things. Hopefully Musselman and his staff will be able reevaluate and course correct to get the Razorbacks back on track.

Arkansas forward Makhi Mitchell (15) manages to release a pass while falling down during an NCAA college basketball game against LSU at Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, Baton Rouge, La. (Javier Gallegos/The Advocate via AP)

The SEC is not getting any easier with Texas and Oklahoma being added into the mix.

NIL along with the loosening of transfer restrictions has changed the game, and it is ever evolving.

Hopefully Musselman and his staff’s work will make this miserable season a one-year anomaly.

But for now, the Hogs attention must be on the Georgia Bulldogs.

It’s a game Arkansas could win, but right now everything seems uncertain for this basketball team.