Hoop Hogs still have an opportunity for a winning regular season

The Razorbacks face Missouri at home on Saturday, Feb. 24 at 11 a.m. on ESPN2
Arkansas’ Khalif Battle (0) brings the ball down the court as Missouri’s Sean East II (55) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The Arkansas Razorbacks’ surprise 78-71 victory over Texas A&M last Tuesday at College Station leaves the Hogs with a legitimate shot of finishing the regular season above .500.

Going into Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against the Missouri Tigers in Walton Arena, the Razorbacks stand 13-13 on the season and 4-9 in SEC play.

If the Razorbacks can win three of their last five games, the Hogs would finish above .500 in the regular season.

Obviously, that’s not the goal Hog head coach Eric Musselman or his Razorbacks were shooting for this season as a preseason Top-10 pick, but it remains a legitimate goal that is attainable by these Razorbacks despite how disappointing this season has turned out.

The Razorbacks have three home games remaining on their schedule against Missouri (8-18, 0-13 SEC) on Saturday, against Vanderbilt on Tuesday and against LSU (14-12, 6-7) on March 6. All three of those squares are in the bottom half of the SEC rankings.

Games at Kentucky (18-8, 8-5) on March 2 and at Alabama (19-7, 11-2) on March 9 are much more problematic, but if the Hogs can sweep their remaining home games, even with two road losses they would finish the regular season at 16-15.

Nothing has been easy for this Razorback team, but with continued improvement, it is at least a possibility.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Missouri
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 24
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville

Next 5 games

Feb. 27 – Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. (SEC)
March 2 – at Kentucky, 12:30 p.m. (CBS)
March 6 – LSU, 6 p.m. (SEC)
March 9 – at Alabama, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
March 13 – SEC Tournament in Nashville

That’s not the type of goal the Razorback program dotes on, but at this juncture, it is a positive goal and something for fans to root for.

The Hogs did prove there is still some life in them with the victory over the Aggies on Tuesday. Makhi Mitchell posted his second double-double in a row, and Tramon Mark continued to play well despite all circumstances. That’s something to cheer for.

To be frank, it is going to be difficult for the Hogs to avoid having a losing season unless they get on a serious roll. Even if the Razorbacks manage to go into the SEC Tournament a game over .500, it would mean they would have to go at least 1-1 in the SEC Tourney.

If the Hogs do have a losing season, it would be their first since John Pelphrey’s Razorbacks had back-to-back losing seasons in 2009 (14-16) and 2010 (14-18). Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks went 16-16 in 2016, the worst of his eight seasons as head coach.

The transfer portal and NIL have changed the dynamics of college athletics in recent years. It’s both easier to rebuild in today’s game, but also easier to fall off the cliff like this team has done.

Coaching in college athletics has never been as difficult.

All the issues coaches once faced remain, but in today’s game, coaches walk a tightrope every day with their players. Every player is a free agent, every year of their eligibility.

It really is a madhouse, and at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight.