A week's worth of fodder from Razorback Country is akin to a Leone spaghetti western. To wit:
Il Buono: Bud Walton Arena's self-affixed label as the Basketball Palace of Mid-America is kind of laughable these days, but it's nonetheless remarkable how much better Mike Anderson's troops look when they are at 1270 Leroy Pond Drive. Against a Mississippi State program awash with inexperience, the Hogs were just plain nasty. The 96-70 win had all the flavor of a 1990s-era box score, what with the Bulldogs coughing up possession 28 times and the Hogs employing better scoring balance (four in double figures) than they have all year. The hectic transition game that has been missing reappeared primarily in the form of thunderous dunks, namely one by Marshawn Powell that was eradicated by a horrid charging call.
Excitement about Bret Bielema's inaugural recruiting class is also rising. The Hogs flipped a massive offensive line commit, Dan Skipper, from Tennessee, and they are making an earnest push to sign one of the nation's truly elite tailbacks, Florida product Alex Collins, away from Miami. Even the Bielema detractors here and abroad at least acknowledge his cockiness is virtuous, and if he continues his zealous push into Florida and Texas, he's going to swing more votes in his favor. That said, how does anybody get worked up one way or the other about recruiting season anymore? It is such a ludicrous sport-within-sport, and Bielema's successes at Wisconsin are tangible proof thereof.
I digress, though. The past week also featured...
Il Brutto: These are ostensibly the best days in Razorback baseball history. Dave Van Horn's team rides into 2013 with what most observers regard as the deepest and most gifted pitching staff in the program's history, and that's even after All-SEC stalwart DJ Baxendale elected to bypass his senior season. Buoyed by a splendid postseason run, Arkansas therefore commanded the attention of all the amateur baseball publications and has claimed the preseason No. 1 ranking in three different polls.
So, right before the season starts, how about a disciplinary matter to sully these bright waters?
Freshman southpaws Colin Poche and Adam Meyer were arrested and charged with shoplifting for allegedly doing an inherently juvenile thing — swiping sandwiches and beer — in the one place (Walmart) where the phrase "loss prevention" is king. Poche is held in particularly high regard, as he was a fifth-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles last June who passed on a cushy bonus to reaffirm his commitment to Arkansas; Meyer probably figured in this season's bullpen plans as well.
Look, it's a minor offense and it seems unlikely that it will cost either player his roster spot, and Van Horn's squad has had a pretty resplendent history as far as criminal scrapes are concerned. But it is still disenchanting news and a potential distraction for a team that is staring down the barrel of unprecedented expectations for the coming season.
Anderson also had to mete out in-house discipline recently when he sat sophomore guard Rashad Madden for the South Carolina game. The impetus for the suspension was unknown, and I guess Madden was fortunate to have not been on the court last Saturday, because it was...
Il Cattivo: No team in the country, I would hazard to bet, swings so wildly from the precipice of greatness to utter collapse quite like the Hogs basketballers. They are a modest 3-3 in SEC play, their trends home and away being exhaustively documented. Arkansas's three wins were inside of Bud Walton Arena by an average of 19 points; their three defeats away from home were the epitome of ugliness with an average margin of 17 points. The psyche of the team is clearly and demonstrably affected.
Arkansas sprinted out to a 15-3 lead against the Gamecocks Saturday, only to watch it disappear as South Carolina predictably defied its own conventions by nailing long-range shots and smothering the Hogs' guards at will. South Carolina's response to the Hogs' early jabs was a slew of uppercuts, and by the time the half was over, the Cocks had finished on a 40-11 surge that made Arkansas look like some kind of wayward midseason out-of-conference breather. Only Marshawn Powell (22 points, 13 rebounds) bothered to give any kind of sustained effort in the loss. The Hogs still have incredible potential, but nothing is clicking consistently at all, and opportunities to salvage the campaign are drying up.