Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Florida an ideal starting point for a run
Confetti covers the logo on the floor after the championship of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, March 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. While the University of Arkansas spent most of February mired in a six-game losing streak, there was more talk of Mike Anderson’s likelihood for a ninth season than there was of the Hogs having any chance of making March Madness.
Then the Hogs played Kentucky close, celebrated the 25-year anniversary of the national championship, the board of trustees was petitioned to name the floor in Bud Walton Arena after Nolan Richardson, and the Hogs closed the season with three straight victories.
No more talk about Anderson. Here’s a little talk about overcoming the odds and winning the SEC Tournament, and getting one of the final invites to the NCAA Tournament.
Finishing with the No. 9 seed instead of the 10 in the SEC has something to do with shifting the focus.
Today at noon, the Razorbacks will face Florida instead of a 6 p.m. game against Ole Miss. Despite splitting with the Rebels during the regular season, they are a tougher matchup than the Gators. The early game also gives the Hogs almost 24 hours to recoup to get ready for LSU, if they win.
Florida beat Arkansas 57-51 in January in Bud Walton, but it was a game that wasn’t decided until the final minute. It appears the Razorbacks have improved since then, and perhaps the Gators haven’t. They are riding a three-game losing streak.
Florida occassionally will run, but mostly the Gators walk the ball up, then pass it six or eight times while working for a high-percentage shot.
They like a much slower tempo than the Razorbacks. The Gators want games in the mid-60s. The Hogs want all they can get.
Arkansas doesn’t have to completely control the tempo to survive and advance. More importantly, the Hogs need to take smart shots and make them. Go inside-outside, and push the ball enough to get into Florida’s head.
If the Razorbacks can do that and win, they will have spent less energy and should be able to bounce back strongly against LSU, who are the turmoil Tigers right now.
Last week when Coach Will Wade was suspended and Javonte Smart benched because of the FBI probe into college basketball, the Tigers didn’t have time to think about much other than the SEC regular-season title on the line against Vanderbilt, who was winless in the SEC.
They beat the Commodores easily, and now they’ve had time to think about things like such as: Why was he getting paid and I wasn’t?; my coach let the team down by not meeting with his bosses; Are we going to vacate this great season?; and why was this player being paid so much?
In other words, the scandal has had time to sink in. No matter what they say publicly, those players have to feel deserted. Plus, this was a team Arkansas beat in Baton Rouge 90-89 after losing to the Tigers at home 94-88 in overtime. Smart played in those games, and Wade stormed the sidelines.
To get to the finals, the Hogs also would have to get by, most likely, Auburn or South Carolina in the semifinals. They lost to both of those teams in the regular season, but both were road games and occurred before Anderson tweaked his lineup to insert more athleticism and better shooting.
Then of course, they probably would face Tennessee or Kentucky — two teams that could make runs in the NCAA Tournament.
The bottom line is this is not the same Arkansas team that on Feb. 9 began a six-game losing streak that made Anderson’s seat a bit warm.
The keys for the Hogs, as they have been all season, are smart offense and tougher defense.
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