Did anyone see that game Tuesday night?
There were a handful of fans in the arena and probably fewer watched it on TV but the Arkansas Razorbacks played their best basketball to date. Now, I’m not saying the Hogs played amazing, but they showed life out on the court. Led by sharp-shooters Dusty Hannahs (23) and Anthlon Bell (21) the Hogs were able to put away a good Evansville team 89-76. Last year this game would have been considered a cake walk but Evansville came into Bud Walton believing they could win, because they are the better team. It’s true. The Evansville Purple Aces are a better basketball team than the Arkansas Razorbacks, but not Tuesday night.
It’s clear that neither team was full of talent. You can change the channel and watch two top ten teams fly up and down the court with McDonald’s All-Americans and packed stands. For the Hogs, any win is a good win and Tuesday night’s was a sigh in relief for fans. Evansville RPI is 76 while the Hogs RPI is 160 (out of 351). To the Purple Aces, this was a pretty bad loss and it was only their second of the season. For the Hogs, they climbed back to .500 to reach 4-4.
Mandatory Credit: Gunnar Rathbun-USA TODAY Sports
It wasn’t just that the Arkansas Razorbacks won but they bounced back from a close loss to Wake Forest. Fans are learning more and more about this team each game. Fans knew from the start this was going to be a rebuilding year but no one knew just what they were capable of, how good they could be or how bad they actually are. We know they have scoring threats. Hannahs and Bell have proven to be deadly if given any space. They provide a consistent deep threat that the Hogs didn’t have last year. Bell has risen his game another notch now that he’s the old Hog on the team. We know they have a solid player at center in Moses Kingsley. He’s averaging 15.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg and 2 bpg. We also now know we have a solid point guard in Jabril Durham. He’s not flashy but he’s been consistent, especially in sharing the rock. He ranks third in the nation in assists per game with 7.9. Fans weren’t sure how the point guard position would unfold with no Anton Beard but Durham has greatly improved from last season.
Those four players have all stepped their game up and have actually given this Hog fan a little hope for this season. There is no superstar this year so there is no one hogging (no pun intended) all of the limelight. This is an actual team. They rely on one another for their success, not just one or two players. There will be painful games to watch but there will also be games like Tuesday night. When the team is firing on all cylinders and it’s fun to watch again. All of the players will grow this year, probably more than any year before, because they have to. As an Arkansas Razorback fan, I’m licking my chops for next season. Twelve of the 14 guys on the team could potentially all return, giving the Hogs more experience than they’ve had in two decades.
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Until then, however, the Hogs must continue to fight their way through this season. Next team up is the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles. This should be a much easier game as Tennessee Tech has an RPI of 216. They beat East Tennessee State on December 2nd by two points and ETSU has an RPI of 95. The Golden Eagles also have a better record than the Hogs at 7-2 and average 83.3 ppg while giving up only 72.3. The Razorbacks in comparison average 86.1 ppg while only allowing 78.1. Saturday’s match-up may end up similar to the Evansville game with the Hogs winning convincingly. They’ll need to keep an eye out for Tech’s number 12, senior Torrance Rowe, as he is averaging 17.6 a game and is effective from beyond the arc.
If the Hogs can close out this year without another loss it will be nothing short of a Christmas miracle. We can only hope that as a team they find out ways to squeak out wins and develop their players each game. For those interested in going, the game is tonight at 7 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena and judging from the last game, tickets won’t be hard to come by. Otherwise, check them out on the SEC Network and see the fun for yourself.