J.R. and Henry: Hawgball Missed
In the past week or so, we’ve watched games involving the basketball teams of Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas. And after the games were over, we couldn’t help but wish that Arkansas’ basketball team played like the ones at Tennessee and Missouri.
It’s been a long time since Nolan Richardson left, and even longer since Nolan ran his famed “40 minutes of Hell” defensive scheme that put wins on the board and fans in the seats. In Nolan’s later years, he seemed to move away from a steady diet of full court defense to one that included more half court traps and pressure. But in the glory years of the early 1990s, Nolan was Rollin’ and there was no better show on the hardwood than the Razorbacks.
When we look at Bruce Pearl’s Tennessee team, and Mike Anderson’s Missouri team, we see a lot of what we loved about Nolan’s early 90s teams. Great effort, constant action, and a general sense that win or lose, the other team was going to have to play like us.
Which is one of biggest criticisms we have about Stan Heath’s Razorbacks this year. This is a team with enough of talent to win consistently, but with seemingly no plan on how to do it. Every team Arkansas plays, regardless of style, controls the tempo and makes the Hogs do the adjusting. If Arkansas plays a slow down team like Southern Illinois, the Hogs slow down with them. Against a fast paced team like Missouri, Arkansas tries to keep up. Since Heath has been the Head Hog, the Razorbacks have demonstrated no identity on offense or defense. As a result, the Hogs are always playing to their opponents’ strengths rather than developing and implementing their own.
So 11 games into the season, Arkansas stands at 8-3, which is about where we expected them to be. The Hogs have a couple of decent wins. West Virginia is 9-1 and Southern Illinois is 8-2, and both of those wins will mean something in March. And before the Missouri game, everyone paying attention should have known that that game was going to be very difficult to win. The way the Hogs lost was the problem there.
The ugly Texas Tech loss in Alltel Arena last Saturday was painful and seems to have robbed much of the fan base of enthusiasm. Stealing a win at Texas would have gotten it back, but the Hogs, although playing much better and very well at times, didn’t take advantage of their opportunities down the stretch.
With Oral Roberts, Tulsa, and Louisiana Tech coming up before conference play begins, Arkansas cannot afford a slip up. Going into conference play 11-3 would be good, not great, but good, and the Hogs can still accomplish that. However, going into conference play 10-4 or worse could foreshadow a trip to the NIT in March, a completely unacceptable result with the players assembled on this squad.
So with Christmas almost here, we’d love to see the following:
1. A more aggressive Sonny Weems. Arkansas can be a decent team without Sonny Weems playing well, but it can’t be a good team. Let’s hope that Sonny realizes very soon that if he attacks the basket, with his length, athleticism and nice shooting touch, he can become nearly unstoppable.
2. A weight bench for Darian Townes. When he plays strong inside he can score.
3. An offensive mindset for Steven Hill. Against Texas, he botched a sure dunk but came back and made two nice post moves on the following two possessions. Take it to the rack, big fella!
4. A big “Thank You” to Patrick Beverley and Charles Thomas. These guys bring it every game. And we appreciate it.
5. A little more experience for Stefan Welsh and Michael Washington. Washington needs more minutes than he’s getting, and Welsh just needs to keep doing what he’s doing.
6. A point guard who values the ball. Of the 11 turnovers against Texas, 7 were from the point guards. Whether it’s Gary Ervin or Sean McCurdy, one of them has to step up.
7. Finally, a team with a plan. The Razorbacks have to find an identity. Coach, we need you to give them one.