Hogs got their big win, now consistency is key
Arkansas guard Anton Beard (31) drives to the hoop against South Carolina guard Duane Notice (10) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Columbia, S.C. Arkansas defeated South Carolina 83-76. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
About the only people who thought Arkansas could win at No. 21 South Carolina Wednesday night were on the visiting bench at Colonial Life Arena.
Somehow the wildly inconsistent Razorbacks knocked off the Gamecocks and gave their NCAA Tournament hopes a boost. The first real signature win of the season (hard to believe it took this long) has the Hogs back in a better position to earn a tournament bid that some say is critical to Coach Mike Anderson’s job security.
However, the Hogs’ task is far from finished with five games left. And as we have seen from this bunch nothing is guaranteed even though Arkansas plays three of the five games at home.
All of the games - other than the road tilt against No. 15 Florida - appear to favor the Razorbacks. I write that with some apprehension after Arkansas put itself in precarious position by dropping back-to-back losses against Missouri and Vanderbilt.
Now, Arkansas has a two-game win streak and is trying to get over .500 in the SEC at home against an Ole Miss team that has won four of its past five games.
"I scratch my head on the [SEC home record],” Anderson said Thursday. “We've always been really good at home."
Arkansas senior Dusty Hannahs said “We won't look past Ole Miss. We know what we need to do now.”
It also seems apparent the Hogs didn’t care for the boos they heard at Bud Walton Arena during the lopsided Vanderbilt loss.
"You don't want to add to that,” Hannahs said. “That's really all I've got to say to that question.”
The best way for the Hogs to win back the fans and the selection committee is with consistency. Because Arkansas’ schedule doesn’t offer many chances for resume-building wins it seemed like a winning streak, especially one at the end of the season, was going to be a key to getting into the tournament and earning a higher seed.
Even if Arkansas loses to Florida, the Hogs would have won six of seven heading into the SEC Tournament if they take care of the game they are expected to win.
A win at Florida should cement a berth.
What drives consistency is effort, particularly on the defensive end. When Arkansas hasn’t played well it has mostly been because of the time the opponent has played harder. Anderson mentioned not being able to take plays off in the SEC. He’s right, but it also a bit absurd he even needs to address that, especially this late in the season when every game means something.
If the Hogs are playing halfway at this point, they don’t deserve to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Playing aggressively with effort on both ends is key, shooting well and not turning over the ball will be the difference. The frustrating part for Hog fans is it seems like if those things happened at Missouri we wouldn't still be talking about the bubble.
The great thing about March is once you get in the tournament, it is a new season. If the Hogs rattle off a few wins the next few weeks and do well in the SEC Tournament, they could be a sleeper team.
No one will be bold enough to predict that now, but an improbable road win has opened the door for it being a possibility.
The next two weeks will determine whether Arkansas is going to meet the expectations Anderson laid out early in the year.
Nate Olson is a contributor to WholeHogSports
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