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On a run 

By the time you burden yourself with these fresh Pearls, you'll likely be all frothy with anticipation of the singular basketball stanza that will pretty much dictate how the postscript for 2013-14 is written. The Arkansas Razorbacks have scraped it together in February for a change, winning five of six to actually nudge upward in a jumbled SEC, and have therefore reignited a postseason flame that had all but been extinguished by a slew of seemingly fatal defeats early on.

What's been even more bizarre is how the rest of the conference has shown itself to be thoroughly unwilling to take a firm grip on that third or fourth potential NCAA tournament berth. Florida and Kentucky are the lone firm entries in the field at this point, with the Gators likely claiming the top overall seed if they keep up their flawless run through the league slate. Missouri has been every bit the source of head-scratching as Arkansas has, and the third-place Georgia Bulldogs were so flaccid in nonconference play that they've made their surprising success to date largely irrelevant from the perspective of those who have received advanced degrees in accredited Bracketology programs across the continental U.S. or in Vanuatu and Guam. Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and others have taken turns slipping on the ice.

The Hogs have managed to mesh a little bit and thrown together this spurt despite having made only mildly discernible on-court progress. The surge has undoubtedly been by way of soft scheduling: Arkansas has notched two road wins by all of six combined points, and should've frankly destroyed feeble Mississippi State last Saturday in a game that was played in some sort of barren Magnolia State trucking distribution center. Once again, this team proves that no opponent's lead is too large to be tested, and that its own wide margins of victory can be pared down in a laughably predictable bit of late-game neural misfiring. They've slogged through home wins against the absolute worst teams in the field (Alabama and South Carolina).

It hasn't been high artistry, but it's been enough to get the Hogs back to .500 in SEC play and have them feeling reasonably comfortable about the forthcoming end run. Going on the road to Rupp Arena is the first and by far most imposing test, but the Wildcats aren't coalescing quite as nicely as their record might suggest. They escaped LSU at home in overtime on a game-winning bucket by the supremely skilled Julius Randle and were substantially outclassed by Florida a week earlier, punctuating a month of fairly uneven play. Arkansas's overall record is all of three games worse than Kentucky's, and if the Hogs could execute a season sweep it should change the tenor of the discussion about the team's NCAA chances.

There are three imminently winnable games behind that one, too, and even losing at Kentucky wouldn't forestall the Razorbacks' reaching 20 wins for the first time in six seasons. They sit at 18-9 as it stands, and with home games against fading Ole Miss and Georgia and a swing down to Bama at the tail end, here's your utterly obvious, possibly throwaway comment of all-time: They could end up 22-9 and 11-7, scratching loudly at the tourney door, or fizzle so badly that another drab 18-13 or 19-12 finish is in the offing. Projection has never been this columnist's forte, but that's never been a real impediment before. Therefore:

Arkansas flatlines at Rupp Thursday night, losing by double figures. It's a listless, discouraging performance, but it's also the Hogs' last loss of the regular season. They clean things up and beat Georgia and Ole Miss rather handily to reach the 20-win mark, then put together their best road effort of the season in punishing hapless Alabama. The sum total of it is a solidly third-place finish in the 14-team standings, but moreover, there's a surge of teamwide unity built on the foundation of getting off the mat and closing strong for a change. And as a result, they enter the SEC Tournament feeling like there is something attainable in their midst.

I'll confess to being utterly dismissive of the team a few weeks ago and recent events do not ameliorate any overriding concerns about the team. This squad still doesn't rebound with great tenacity, shoots erratically from 17 feet outward, and has issues identifying its true go-to guy, particularly in moments where the opponent catches a spirited run. But sometimes the whole truly ends up being greater than the sum of the parts. If Arkansas can position itself well for the conference tournament first, then the percentage indices will improve commensurately and the overall mentality of a youth-laden team changes for the better.

And sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same: As it has been for two decades-plus in the Southeastern Conference, Arkansas has to prove itself against the bluebloods in the Bluegrass State first before it can even think about where spring break will be spent.

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Speaking of Arkansas Razorbacks, Mike Anderson

  • Solidly second tier

    January 12, 2017
    It only makes sense that in this numbing era of Razorback slip-and-falls, the Hogs could really put vaunted Kentucky to the test at Rupp Arena for a good 30 minutes of action ... and end up losing by 26 points. /more/
  • Changes needed

    January 5, 2017
    Those who have read this column with some degree of regularity know that I've held fast to the belief that Bret Bielema can and will revive the Arkansas football program. /more/
  • Belk bowling, b-ball

    December 8, 2016
    Before Pearls breaks its brief silent treatment about Razorback basketball's latest bid to shake off listless irrelevance, we'll spend a word or two on the Belk Bowl, where the football team draws a Dec. 29 matchup with Virginia Tech in Charlotte. /more/
  • Woeful

    December 1, 2016
    On Thanksgiving night, Bret Bielema could settle into his bed knowing that after a rather miserable 2013 inauguration, he had slipped comfortably into his job and the results were bearing some small but edible fruits for this ravenous fan base. He was only 25-24, but 18-10 with two bowl wins over his last 28 contests, a smattering of takedowns of ranked teams, and a stabilized roster that showed off the staff's endeavors to enlist and develop a caliber of player that would lead to better days ahead in a rugged conference. /more/
  • Williams shines

    November 24, 2016
    Alternating wins and losses has been the pattern behavior of Arkansas's 2016 season as it draws to its terminus. So after the Hogs gave their most listless and disappointing home effort in a good while against LSU, why wouldn't they just explode all over the cowbell-clanging din in Starkville the next time out? /more/
  • Deflated

    November 17, 2016
    Foolish consistency, per Emerson, is the hobgoblin of little minds. What commentary he would've offered about the Arkansas Razorbacks' 10 weeks of wild inconsistency is for debate, but he might've been more profane than pithy if he had to sit through this madness. /more/
  • Lessons learned

    October 20, 2016
    Picture Bret Bielema pole-vaulting for a minute. Then, once the laughter subsides, hear me out with this absurd analogy. /more/
  • On to Alabama

    October 6, 2016
    With War Memorial Stadium's mystique and alleged efficacy dying by the year, it was at least comforting to watch Arkansas finally devour a purported cupcake there. Bret Bielema boosted his Little Rock record to 2-3, with those two wins coming against Football Championship Subdivision schools, after the Hogs pummeled Alcorn State 52-10 on Saturday. /more/
  • Hogs blew it

    September 29, 2016
    Arkansas needed to beat Texas A&M. That's it. Sometimes perfunctory is poetry. /more/
  • 2-0

    September 15, 2016
    If you tuned in to ESPN Saturday night or settled into your seats at Fort Worth's compact but energetic Amon Carter Stadium, you undoubtedly felt like the impending Arkansas-TCU tilt was going to be compelling, if for no other reason because it pitted a burgeoning Big 12 power against a rising SEC program, with both having that Southwest Conference badging that went dormant a quarter-century ago. /more/
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More by Beau Wilcox

  • Solidly second tier

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  • Solidly second tier

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    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Changes needed

    Those who have read this column with some degree of regularity know that I've held fast to the belief that Bret Bielema can and will revive the Arkansas football program.
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  • Joy in downing Longhorns

    Admit it: You still get a charge out of watching an Arkansas Razorback team putting away anything in burnt orange, don't you?
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Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Changes needed

    • Building a lead so rapidly and holding it in games, even professional football, is difficult…

    • on January 15, 2017
 

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