Q. Our first question is from Hogfurious who says: Everyone keeps expecting the basketball Hogs to do what the previous two teams did. With three straight losses, one of them at home to end the regular season, you can forget that. What’s wrong with this bunch?
A. The season’s not over so I will stick with what’s been going since a week ago last Saturday. Arkansas has lost three straight games and in two of them they looked out of sync.
I’m gonna skip all the theories about bad chemistry, locker room issues or that some of the players supposedly don’t like Muss. Looking strictly at those three games, the first thing that stands out is the drop off in defense. The Hogs gave up an average of 83 points a game against Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. It got progressive worse as ‘Bama shot 45% from the field against Arkansas, Tennessee 50% and Kentucky 53%. Those are mostly on inside points. Layups.
Why is it happening? It could be fatigue. Three guards, Ricky Council IV, Anthony Black and Devo Davis have all averaged around 34 minutes a game this season. However, the fatigue theory doesn’t hold water when it comes to the guys defending the basket. The Mitchell brothers are each averaging 19 minutes a game. Kamani Johnson, 11 minutes and Jalen Graham 10.
Now let’s look at the offense. The stat that jumps off the page to me is the drop off of points from Arkansas bigs. If we go back to the win over Kentucky, Arkansas got a combined 21 points from the Mitchell brothers and Jalen Graham. Against Kentucky in Fayetteville it was six points, two against Tennessee and seven against ‘Bama.
Arkansas missed 18 layups against Kentucky last Saturday. I don’t recall seeing a game where so many shots bounced around on the rim and came off.
Some are blaming Nick Smith Jr. for the streak. That’s nuts. The kid averaged 21 points a game in those three losses. As bad as some are saying Council has played, he’s averaged just under 16 points, Davis 14 points. Which brings us to Anthony Black. He’s averaged just 11 points a game and committed 10 turnovers with just 7 assists. This has not been confirmed but supposedly he’s been sick. Not sick enough to sit out but enough to have him off his game.
Going forward, the defense has to improve and those guys around the lane have got to start scoring again.
Q. Larry Adkison says: I think the experiment of going for 5 stars has come to a crashing failure. Other teams have tried and failed. Maybe Muss will go back and pull the best players out of the portal now.
A. Doesn’t sound like it. He’s got two five stars signed for next season and is heavily recruiting another one. I talked last week about the one-and-done types becoming largely a thing of the past if the NBA starts signing kids right out of high school to the G leagues. So you may get your wish but I don’t think Muss is going to write off signing five-start because of what’s happened this season.
Q. sgiles asks: Is Thursday’s SEC Tournament matchup against Auburn a must win game? Seems like it might be.
A. The latest bracketology has Arkansas a 9 seed. I can’t see that losing to Auburn would drop them completely out. But to me it’s a must win game because if they go into the NCAA Tournament on a four-game losing streak, I don’t like their chances of making it to the second round.
Q. Hogdogger says: I know Muss thinks the Hogs are an NCAA Tournament team but I’m not sure the players think that. Sometimes they play like they haven’t been coached before. But I still have hope. Just wonder if the Hogs do.
A. I actually hope they don’t think they’re already in. Maybe they’ll play with more urgency.
Lot’s of questions about what’s going on inside the team. Are there internal issues?
A guy I know who lives in Texas and watches a lot of college basketball told me that Musselman looks like a different guy this season on the sidelines. He’s gone from being pumped up, jacked up or whatever, to a guy who just looks baffled at some of the stuff he’s seeing.
Imagine what he envisioned when he put this team together compared to what he’s seeing now. If the fans are disappointed, how do you think he feels?
Q. mousetown says: I’m not a rip-the-officials guy but those refs in the Kentucky game were the worst. That technical foul on DVO was an over reaction. It resulted in his ejection and basically decided the game, right?
A. I agree that it was an over reaction and I get Devo’s frustration but he’s got to control himself better in those situations. The ejection took Arkansas best defender out of the game so that hurt. There’s no way to know how much of a difference he could have made but it turned a three-point Kentucky lead into a nine point margin. Muss would not comment after the game but I’d pay good money to see the refs evaluation that he sent to the SEC office after that game. There were multiple issues. It was just a mess from an officiating standpoint.
Q. Pigsfeat says: Oscar Tshiebwe killed the Hogs after the altercation. Can you explain how he wasn’t ejected for a flagrant 2 elbow? It seemed to be a textbook, by the letter of the law offense…
…..I get that if we hit free throws we either win or it is very close but this seemed to defeat our team energy.
A. If you look at what he did during the game, pushing, grabbing and hammering Makai Mitchell on the top of his head with an elbow, it is hard to understand how Tshiebwe remained in the game while what Devo did sent him to the locker room. Hog fans are used to this. I’ve said it before But Walton has to be one of the few high capacity, high energy arenas in college basketball where the road team often comes out better with the officials than the home team.
Q. Hog-Corleone wants to know: When the hell is coach Muss gonna start playing Jalen Graham?
A. It was the same story Saturday afternoon that it has been most of the season. The guy can score but he doesn’t play defense. He came off the bench, got a dunk and then gave up two layups to Tshiebwe on back-to-back possessions. We’ve seen a few games where Graham has been passable with his defense but he’s very inconsistent. Muss is like Nolan. If you don’t play defense you will stay on the bench.
Q. RazorAlex88 asks: Is there ANYTHING positive that we can glean from this basketball season?
A. Yes. It’s not over and at times this team has looked really good. That blowout win over Kentucky in Rupp Arena was impressive. I enjoyed this team in December before the injuries messed things up. But again, you can’t write the book on this season yet. A positive bounce back might begin Thursday In Nashville.
Q. Marty Byrde’s proxy wants to know: Your take on Ricky Council IV’s comments after the Tennessee game. When asked about the locker room and turning things around, he gave “no comment……” Later he stated they needed to bring positive energy “from the coaches on down.” Do you think there’s player-coach(es) issues?
A. I figure Council was frustrated. He and the rest of the guys probably got an earful in the locker room. So he said what he said. There was a big debate about it on Twitter. My take is, if Council IV needs positive energy he should create it. Muss is not a smiley, feel good type coach. Nobody shows more positive energy than he does when they win but in a loss, especially with the up and down play of this season, I would not expect him to be Mr. Positive.
Some fans have said Council IV really wasn’t criticizing the coaches. He was just saying, we all need to get together and create positive energy. But when you say, from the coaches on down you’re saying it begins with them and to me, that’s a criticism.
But honestly, as frustrating as some of these losses have been, sometimes I’m surprised that we don’t see more quotes like that. It’s tough to get in front of that zoom camera when you are still steaming from a bad loss.
Q.robs4516 asks: With spring practice just around the corner, just curious if you’ve heard any scuttlebutt about how the offseason conditioning program went?
A. There are no press conferences until spring football starts so we don’t get any updates. The good news is, spring ball starts on Thursday so next Monday we’ll have a lot of information on how things have been going. The one thing we do know is that defensive tackle Taurean Carter
has been cleared to go 100% this spring after the knee injury he suffered last spring. That is great news. He’s really good.
Q. Lanny wants to know: What’s your opinion of the latest 9-game SEC football schedule model for 2024? Arkansas would have Mizzou, Texas and Ole Miss as its permanent opponents.
A. That model is speculation by the main college football writer at SI. Some people, even Nick Saban were reacting like it was written in stone. Maybe the guy has inside information from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. As I looked at it there were some problem areas.
I’m not surprised that Arkansas and Missouri are lumped together. The SEC has been out to create a rivalry there from the day Missouri and A&M were announced as new members of the SEC. I’m not sure about Ole Miss. To me it seems like a good move since there are a lot of Hog fans in East and Southeast Arkansas that rub shoulders with Ole Miss fans just across the border. It’s a short drive over to Oxford. I know a lot of older Razorback fans would love to renew that annual rivalry with Texas but to me Oklahoma makes more sense. Even if Texas is not in Arkansas pod they’d still play almost every other year.
Q. T.L. Slaten says: I’m worried about the Razorbacks’ pitching. The team ERA is hovering around six. Considering how many lower level schools they’ve played, that’s alarming. Make me feel better. Tell me I’m wrong.
A. The staff ERA is dropping. Saturday starter Will McEntire has pitched well in two games now after a rough start. Brady Tygart is out for five to six weeks but at least his injury doesn’t require surgery. Middle reliever Koty Frank is injured but it’s not an elbow problem. Sophomore Jake Faherty is also sidelined with an undisclosed injury.
Austin Ledbetter and Zack Morris need to get going. They are key pieces in the bullpen but their current ERA’s are 10.38 and 14. 21 respectively. Arkansas has six freshmen pitchers and at least two of them need to show improvement in the next six games before SEC play starts.
The good news is that Arkansas’ three weekend rotation pitchers are each 2-0 on the season with 44 combined strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings.
Q. Hawgredneck says: You keep complaining about the our guys swinging for the fences too much. Ten games into the season we’re averaging two home runs a game. I’ll take that and be happy with it.
A. The team batting average is up to .310. It’s probably going to drop when SEC play starts but right now it’s where you want to to be. What I don’t like is a team batting average in the .265-270 range and everybody talking home runs. We saw last year what swinging for the fences can do for you with men on base and you get those long fly balls to the outfield that kill rallies.
So far we haven’t sees a lot of that. The bottom line, I agree with you that hitting for powe is fun to watch and it can help you pile up runs in a hurry. But a team needs balanced scoring.
Q. Melissa Lemon says: I don’t like run-rule baseball but Arkansas has already won a few of them this season. When a player delivers an RBI that invokes the run-rule, the game automatically ends. I get that, but it annoys me to no end when I hear someone refer to a hit that ends a game on the run-rule as a “walk off.” No it’s not. Your thoughts?
A. Here’s my take. Any action in the bottom of the 9th or in the bottom of extra innings, that ends the game on a run or runs scored, is a walk off. Walk off’s can only be generated by the home team.
Some are saying that a walk off can also occur in a run rule game when one team takes the lead by ten runs at any point from the 7th inning on. I don’t agree and here’s why.
Any action that ends a game results in the two teams walking off. But do you have a walk off strike out? A walk off double play? A walk off catch in center field?
of course not!!
So again….you walk a team off when a run scores to win a game in the bottom of the 9th or the bottom of any extra inning game. You can have a walk off homer. A walk off single, double or triple. You can have a walk off error.
If any of those things happen to end a game because of the run-rule, then you have run- ruled the other team. A run-rule homer, a run-rule single, double or triple. A run-rule error.
You have to designate a difference between walking a team off and run-ruling a team. It’s common sense.