Hog Calls:

Age equates to success on basketball court

By: Nate Allen
Published: Saturday, February 9, 2019
Arkansas guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson goes up for a shot between three Vanderbilt defenders on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson goes up for a shot between three Vanderbilt defenders on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- It's not just wine enhancing with age.

College basketball teams do, too, though these days we tend to discount that experience counts.

The flash of phenomenal freshmen -- sometimes en masse back to the Michigan Fab Five through the ongoing John Calipari Kentucky run of the one and done -- often blinds the beauty of teams better blended by age.

So we overlook the mid-majors -- intact without losing the one-and-done and two-and-through to the NBA -- routinely upsetting the disrupted big boys.

We forget that the nation's No. 1 team, SEC-leading Tennessee, took its lumps years back but stayed intact improving to become the best.

Time generally improves all, including, often especially, those phenoms so recently bursting to prominence.

Look at Kentucky. The now 19-3 Wildcats on a nine-game winning roll don't resemble the timid tabbies demolished by Duke, 118-84 back on Nov. 6.

Now comes Arkansas. Amazingly even younger than Kentucky -- the Wildcats start graduate transfer Reid Travis via Stanford while junior Adrio Bailey was Arkansas' lone scholarship player above a sophomore until Thursday's scholarship award to walk-on Jonathan Holmes -- Coach Mike Anderson's Razorbacks seem defensively coming of age.

Reviewing last season's senior laden team it was presumed the Razorbacks offensively would sorely miss graduated guards Daryl Macon, Jaylen Barford and Antoine Beard. And they have.

But defensively, with sophomore shot-blocking center Daniel Gafford a year older and stronger and a new defensive-oriented backcourt with Jalen Harris, Mason Jones, Isaiah Joe and Desi Sills, this appeared a roster more in tune with the aggressive defense that Anderson and his mentor, Nolan Richardson, espouse.

Even 3-point shooter Joe was recruited defense first out of Fort Smith Northside.

"Everybody talks about his shooting" Anderson said. "But if you look, he's doing a lot of good things for us defensively as well."

Nevertheless, team-wise, the defensive potential wasn't filled early, particularly the defensive duds Arkansas suffered in lopsided losses at Tennessee and at Ole Miss.

But starting with a 72-60 SEC victory over Missouri on Jan. 23, Arkansas' defense has improved markedly during a 4-1 stretch also including SEC successes over Georgia, No. 19 LSU and Vanderbilt and a closely contested 67-64 SEC/Big 12 Challenge road loss to currently No. 18 Texas Tech.

Repetitions in the rotations required in Anderson's trapping defense improve with time.

"I just think we're getting after people," Anderson said Thursday leading into Arkansas' SEC game today at South Carolina. "I think we're being disruptive again. Our help side defense exemplified in the Vanderbilt game. I don't think our defense was as disruptive as it could have been, but we took six or seven charges. So that means our line of defense is there. I think our guys are more in sync defensively. They're talking, communicating, and that defense is leading to some offense. It's that time of the year when a lot of things start coming together."

All in good time, it seems.

Sports on 02/09/2019


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