Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Razorbacks a different team at home
Arkansas' Bobby Portis attempts a shot while being guarded by UT Martin's Pierre Mopo during the first half of the basketball game in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on Thursday December 19, 2013.
FAYETTEVILLE - Only the Harlem Globetrotters benefit playing the Washington Generals game in and game out.
That likely is the caustic view of some University of Arkansas basketball ticket holders watching the Razorbacks from Dec. 12 through Jan. 4 as they feasted on cupcakes Savannah State, Tennessee-Martin, High Point and Texas-San Antonio at Walton Arena before gagging 69-53 in Wednesday’s SEC season-opening loss at Texas A&M.
SMU (Nov. 18) and Clemson (Dec. 7) were the only teams that visited Walton Arena that many Arkansas fans took notice of in a nonconference home schedule that included the aforementioned teams and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, Louisiana-Lafayette and Southeastern Louisiana.
Risky road conditions from snow and ice kept many at home who otherwise would have cheered Arkansas’ victory over Clemson.
The Hogs played three good teams - California, Minnesota and Gonzaga - away from Arkansas, but that was back during Thanksgiving week at the neutral site Maui Classic in Hawaii. Arkansas went 1-2 at the event, defeating Minnesota.
So some logically reason that the mostly soft schedule in Arkansas, which also included South Alabama on Dec. 21 at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, and no true road game did not prepare the Hogs to open the SEC by taking their show on the road to College Station, Texas.
Before totally buying into that idea that too many cupcakes softened up the Hogs going into the SEC opener, think back to last season.
In November-December 2012 at Walton Arena, Arkansas played nonconference games against sixth ranked Syracuse, Oklahoma and Robert Morris, a cupcake some might say until recalling that Robert Morris upended Kentucky in the NIT.
On the road the Hogs played Arizona State and Wisconsin at the Las Vegas Invitational and then played third-ranked Michigan on its home court in Ann Arbor, losing to a Wolverines team that beat Syracuse in the Final Four before losing in the national championship game to Louisville.
That schedule should have hardened the Hogs to start the SEC season on the road at A&M’s Reed Arena. But the Aggies - who embarrassed themselves in nonconference play in December 2012 by losing to Southern University - embarrassed Arkansas 69-51 in the SEC opener just like they embarrassed Arkansas 69-53 this past Wednesday.
Whether prepped by a hard or comparatively soft nonconference schedule, Mike Anderson’s team remains an enigma on the road in SEC play in his third season as the Razorbacks coach.
At home, their history speaks volumes. Only Syracuse, in a well-contested game, beat Arkansas at home last season. Arkansas went 9-0 in SEC home games played there, including a victory over SEC champion Florida, which visits again at noon today. That also included a victory over Kentucky, the bluest of SEC basketball blue bloods, which visits Walton Arena again Tuesday night.
Although embarrassed again at College Station this season, these Hogs have displayed the potential to have their fans packing Walton Arena.
Expect them to be there trying to will their Hogs past Florida and Kentucky and whatever crowd-silencing promotions and artificial noise the UA marketers cast along the way.
Sports, Pages 20 on 01/11/2014