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:
Razorbacks should be leery of Georgia
Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr. (3) talks with coach Eric Musselman during a time out against Mississippi State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
On paper, and probably on the court, the Arkansas Razorbacks are better than Georgia.
The return of Nick Smith Jr. and the bounce-back effort against Florida after two road losses, should have the Razorbacks in the right place as the race to the NCAA Tournament looms large.
Smith’s return after missing 13 games has been pretty seamless.
Eric Musselman knew in his mind what it would take for Smith to work his way back into the line-up and progress is being made.
That said, the Georgia Bulldogs are not a walk-over and a big part of that is Michael White, their head coach.
White was mostly a four-year starter at Ole Miss for Rob Evans and spent seven years at his alma mater as an assistant before becoming the head coach at Louisiana Tech and then replacing Billy Donovan at Florida.
White, who comes from a family deeply involved in college athletics, coached the Gators, then stunned the world of college basketball when he announced he had accepted the head coaching job at rival Georgia.
He did it to protect his children.
A portion of the fan base was ready for a change, and White probably never had a chance. He wasn’t Donovan, who became a Florida legend when he led the Gators to back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007.
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Even when his encore was consecutive NIT tournaments, Donovan remained beloved.
White won, and he qualified for the NCAA Tournament every season (2020 was canceled) but one. He was trying to replace a legend.
Alabama went through six head coaches over 25 years before Nick Saban was hired and the “Dig Up The Bear” bumper stickers started to disappear.
White was at Florida for seven years and had success. His institutional knowledge of college athletics gave him time to know that it was time for him to leave Gainesville.
White’s father Kevin was an athletic director at several schools, including Notre Dame and Duke. His brother Danny is athletic director at Tennessee, brother Brian is vice president and athletic director at Florida Atlantic and his sister Mariah Chappell was an assistant athletic director at SMU before taking a position at Tulane Law School.
One can only imagine the range of discussions at a family reunion.
White replaced Tom Crean, who was a legend at Marquette but nowhere else. He was 47-75 overall and 15-57 in SEC play in his four seasons. He was fired after a 6-26, 1-17 season.
Saying White took on a challenge is an understatement, but all things considered the Bulldogs are having a turnaround season.
The Bulldogs are 16-11 overall and 6-8 in SEC play with road games tonight and at South Carolina and a home game with Missouri before closing the season at home against Florida.
In their initial meeting earlier this season, the Gators won 82-75 but White didn’t let any personal emotions show.
The Bulldogs have won only one road game in SEC play and that was at Ole Miss, where he also didn’t show any personal feelings.
Georgia is coming off a resounding loss to Alabama, 108-59, on Saturday. The Tide were coming off their first SEC loss, and they got the Bulldogs in Tuscaloosa. Saban was even there.
They might be catching the Razorbacks at a bad time, too, as their confidence should have been restored to where it was after beating Kentucky 88-73 in Rupp Arena.
In the Hogs’ win over Florida, they played one of their most complete games of the season on both ends of the court.
Arkansas needs to gain some momentum tonight before it heads to Alabama and Tennessee.
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