I contend this group IS Razorback basketball in the finest sense of that phrase. They are not going to win the SEC West and they won’t make the NCAA tournament, but they are likable overachievers.
Whit E. Knight
On Saturday afternoon, the Georgia Bulldogs lost for the third time in four games, this time to the Kentucky Wildcats in a game that may not have been as close as the score indicated. Now, with the disparity between the SEC East and the SEC West suddenly looking nowhere near as stark, the Fox Hounds must travel to Fayetteville for a Wednesday night date with the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The Hogs may be the toughest team to figure in a jumbled SEC. Arkansas went 4-4 through the month of January, falling by margins of 33 points at Texas and 32 points at Florida, coming up short against a hapless LSU club on the road, and nearly being beaten at home by an awful Auburn outfit, yet sneaking by Tennessee and carding a huge win at Vanderbilt on Saturday night. Such maddening inconsistency has Razorback fans expressing doubts about John Pelphrey’s future which the school’s athletic director is doing little to dispel.
Among the roadblocks impeding the ability of denizens of the Natural State to have confidence in Coach Pelphrey are the facts that (a) his woeful road record looks "like something penned by Cormac McCarthy" and (b) he looks like a twelve-year-old version of actor Harry Groener, who played Tam Elbrun in the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Tin Man," Secretary of Agriculture Roger Tribbey in "The West Wing," and Lance Brockwell in "Mad About You" after Alan Ruck left the role to become a regular on "Spin City." Seriously, check out Coach Pelphrey in a suit at courtside on Wednesday, and you’ll swear he’s wearing a clip-on tie his mother bought for him to wear to Sunday school.
The Razorbacks’ roster includes guards Rotnei Clarke, Kikko Haydar, Julysses Nobles, and Mardracus Wade, as well as forwards Glenn Bryant and Michael Sanchez. Evidently, the way to tell the guards from the forwards at Arkansas is to spell the player’s name; if you spelled it correctly, he’s a forward. Clarke, the Hogs’ leading scorer, has averaged 13.7 points per game through the team’s first 20 contests, tying him with Gerald Robinson for 17th in the SEC. Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie both rank in the top eleven in the league.
Some 20 games into their respective schedules, Georgia has scored 1,435 points to Arkansas’s 1,432, and the Bulldogs have allowed 1,325 points to the Razorbacks’ 1,311. The Hogs are last in the conference in rebounds gained (34.8 per game) and eleventh in rebounds allowed (38.2 per game), giving the SEC West Swine the league’s worst rebounding margin (-3.4 per game). The fact that the Razorbacks pull down a conference-low 10.2 offensive boards per outing is ameliorated somewhat by the fact that the team also ranks second in the SEC in steals (8.7 per game) and in turnover margin (+1.95 per game).
Thus far, Georgia and Arkansas have played four common opponents, the Florida Gators, the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils, the Tennessee Volunteers, and the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Hoop Hogs are 3-1 against that quartet, while the Hoop Dogs are 1-3. The Razorbacks’ 4-3 conference record also represents a reversal of the Classic City Canines’ 3-4 league ledger.
Both teams are 14-6 overall, and Arkansas has posted a 12-1 mark in Bud Walton Arena this season. The Hogs average 11,428 fans per game in Fayetteville, giving them the highest home attendance in the Western Division, while the Red and Black are accustomed to playing before a typical crowd of 7,841 in Athens, making Stegeman Coliseum the least populous venue on average in the Eastern Division. Georgia hasn’t won a game on an opponent’s home court before more than 7,192 spectators this season, and the Bulldogs’ lone victory in an away game before such a sizable crowd came over the Saint Louis Billikens in a late November nailbiter.
Georgia’s hardwood history with the Hogs dates back only to the Razorbacks’ first season of SEC play in the 1991-1992 campaign. Since one of the 26 series meetings was vacated due to NCAA sanctions---curse you,
poor man’s John Calipari Jim Harrick!---Arkansas officially holds a 16-9 lead in the interdivisional roundball rivalry. Nevertheless, the SEC West squad from the Natural State occupies a special place in the hearts of Bulldog fans, as the Red and Black’s last two conference tournament wins, in the first round last year and in the tourney final in 2008, came against the Hogs.
Winning this game is mission-critical to Georgia’s NCAA Tournament prospects. Presuming, probably safely, that the Bulldogs still need to go 10-7 between early January and early March to make the field of
64 65 68 sixtysomething, the Classic City Canines must win seven of their remaining ten games to avoid being left dejected on Selection Sunday. After this week, the Red and Black have road games remaining in Columbia, Knoxville, Gainesville, and Tuscaloosa; winning any of those would be an achievement, and, of the Athenians’ five remaining home games, only the dates against the Auburn Tigers and the LSU Tigers appear to be anything like "safe" wins. The bottom line is that, if the Bulldogs lose on Wednesday, it is hard to see where they will find the requisite victories in their remaining schedule. The Razorbacks are a "must-win" unless we are aiming for the NIT.
Wednesday night’s game, which is slated to tip off at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, will be televised on CSS. Since the contest is taking place on National Signing Day, you should expect my ill-informed roundball wrapup to be delayed rather than instantaneous, unless Georgia loses (particularly if Georgia loses to Arkansas in basketball the way Georgia lost to Arkansas in football), in which case I’ll give the game the same short shrift I gave it last year.