Favorite

Overcoming playing down to the cupcakes 

It's at least anecdotal evidence that Arkansas basketball is on a meaningful upswing, in this columnist's opinion, that a 29-point demolition of a MEAC school is your low point to date.

Even in two losses to California and Gonzaga, the Hogs showed quite a bit of potency for a team trying to cobble together a semblance of chemistry in Chaminade's crackerbox gym. When they listlessly plodded through the first half against Savannah State last week and carried a two-point lead to the locker room, though, this was that moment that had become queasily familiar over recent years.

It isn't that Mike Anderson's teams have scuffled badly during non-conference games over his three seasons, but there have been some nervous junctures. In 2011-12, the Hogs were bedeviled until the end by Utah Valley and Southeastern Louisiana; last winter, they were unsteady in the season opener against Sam Houston State and then struggled to put away Robert Morris, two wins that each came by a five-point margin.

For context's sake, Arkansas bombed SELA this year by a healthy 46 points, so it was already established that these guys are a quite a bit more dutiful and focused. Savannah State took full advantage of Michael Qualls' first-half sitdown — I guess we've got an inadvertent Pearls' jinx going here, since we had just sung his praises here last week —and employed a methodical pace. It worked. Only Rashad Madden's deft touch and smart shot selection gave Arkansas that slim 27-25 lead it had at the break.

That last sentence ought to tell you something. Yes, THAT Rashad Madden, the same one who was a favorite whipping boy for fans the past two seasons, was lighting it up from the very same territory that nipped at his Achilles heel for two solid seasons. Madden has shaken off all that, displayed confidence and maturation at both ends, and transfigured his game from liability to asset nicely. Before you dismiss his 21-point output as a byproduct of the competition, be reminded that the junior guard had only two double-digit scoring games all last year, and is now up to five such performances in nine games this season.

With Madden's confidence brimming and Qualls playing at a high level (both of their early season discipline issues notwithstanding and hopefully aberrations), there's something very odd afoot: Arkansas has two electric and athletic two-guards who are stroking it from the perimeter and penetrating like mad. That doesn't even include Anthlon Bell, who is in the midst of a major funk but is certainly capable of springing loose at any moment, and Mardracus Wade, who as a friend recently put it, has been practically buried beneath the bench due to ineffectiveness and lost confidence.

The consensus going into this campaign was that Arkansas would again struggle to make shots from outside. One-third into the schedule, we simply aren't seeing that. It's unreasonable to expect this squad to keep pumping in threes at a 39 percent clip, but imagine for a moment that any scaling back there is offset by the advancement of frontcourt players like Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley, and suddenly there's a pang of enthusiasm that hasn't been there for quite some time.

When BJ Young and Marshawn Powell were here last year, the Hogs had two gloriously talented players whose motivations ebbed and flowed. The flashes were too sporadic, though, and Arkansas was again stuck at home in the postseason for the fifth straight year. But the more pressing issue a season ago was that guys like Madden, Wade and Hunter Mickelson simply regressed when the circumstances demanded that they excel. Mickelson is gone and Wade seems resigned to his fate, but this has been the kind of start the Hogs needed, with even great things happening in the two defeats.

Anytime a team wakes up like the Hogs did against Savannah State, posting a 45-18 second half to end up blowing out the hapless Tigers, there's something working. Portis, showing an awful lot of prescience for an 18-year-old, flatly said the Hogs played down to the level of their competition for a half. The fact that their youngest player recognizes this and finds it intolerable now is one hell of a nice sign.

Favorite

Speaking of...

  • Tourney time

    March 16, 2017
    Selection Sunday hasn't been a meaningful day very often in recent years for Arkansas. Over the span of a decade, the Hogs knew they were safely within the expanded 68-team field only three times. /more/
  • Hogs going dancing

    March 9, 2017
    Even in a week where a modest winning streak went by the wayside at Gainesville, Arkansas authored one more earnest surge toward an NCAA Tournament berth that not long ago seemed beyond its grasp. /more/
  • Razorbacks rolling

    March 2, 2017
    Tread cautiously, Hog fans — this kind of success as we head toward March, in two sports, feels a little ominous, doesn't it? /more/
  • Momentum

    February 23, 2017
    Sure, I'd like to think that Pearls About Swine, that modest batch of haphazard prose, had something to do with motivating Arkansas's beleaguered basketball program to rise from a seemingly inestimable late-season swoon to re-emerge in the NCAA Tournament discussion. /more/
  • Not worthy

    February 16, 2017
    There's something to be said for an Arkansas basketball team that spends two-and-a-half games looking like quitters before rising off the mat. /more/
  • Another disaster

    February 9, 2017
    I swear, y'all, I am trying like hell to come up with a new angle on this tragicomic mess called Arkansas basketball. But every week presents the same dichotomy, and the past few days just qualifies as flat-out bewildering. /more/
  • Skeptical about Anderson

    February 2, 2017
    Consider yourselves lucky, Hog fans. Most teams that manage to play about five quality minutes out of 80 in a two-game week don't end up fortunate enough to forge a split like Arkansas did in its latest two road games. /more/
  • Critical stretch

    January 19, 2017
    The minute you take a shine to an Arkansas Razorback team is almost assuredly the same minute you have your sanity tested. /more/
  • 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/
  • 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/
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

Latest in Pearls About Swine

  • Foul play

    This beautiful little ride couldn't have just ended conventionally. That's not the Razorback way.
    • Mar 23, 2017
  • Tourney time

    Selection Sunday hasn't been a meaningful day very often in recent years for Arkansas. Over the span of a decade, the Hogs knew they were safely within the expanded 68-team field only three times.
    • Mar 16, 2017
  • Hogs going dancing

    Even in a week where a modest winning streak went by the wayside at Gainesville, Arkansas authored one more earnest surge toward an NCAA Tournament berth that not long ago seemed beyond its grasp.
    • Mar 9, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Arkansas is the perfect place to try out this new health trend. Read all about the what, why, where and how here.

Event Calendar

« »

March

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • The Savage truth

    Talking Feynman and failure with science champion Adam Savage.
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation