Trying to keep a calm stomach while riding the Razorback roller coaster is just so damned hard.
You'd think that two nights in Bud Walton Arena against the undisputed dregs of the SEC would be gratifying, a return to normalcy of sorts, even for a pretty mediocre bunch coming off two horrible road losses. Instead, the Hogs bottomed out in a borderline disastrous loss to Auburn, then puttered around three days later in a 12-point win over hapless Missouri.
Now, chide me if you must. I know good and well that Bruce Pearl's Tigers knocked off Kentucky earlier this season. I know that the other Tigers, those to the north, coached by the most forgettable guy in the league, were actually playing their best basketball of late, having beaten South Carolina and Tennessee in consecutive home tilts. I know that — yes, we've been down this road already — Arkansas was not supposed to be very good this year anyhow.
Still, giving up 90 points to Auburn? One of the nation's most inept offensive teams? It's true that Pearl's team is improving by minor strokes here and there, but Kareem Canty, the team's leading scorer, had long since been dismissed, and freshman Bryce Brown had been in a long stretch of dismal shooting games before he obliterated his season highs of six three-pointers and 20 points with nine and 27.
Brown is the very definition of a spot-up gunner, a player so one-dimensional at this early juncture of his career that in 36 minutes against the Hogs, he did not tally a single rebound or assist. He didn't shoot a free throw. By both the box score and the video evidence, you could gather that this kid was going to just prowl around the arc all night, and when the ball ended up in his hands and there wasn't a bus parked on top of him, he was going to shoot it. He did it with precision and confidence on this particular night, two qualities that sometimes only manifest when you face Mike Anderson's trademark defense.
The term "trademark" is employed liberally here. Arkansas is, to be clear, bad at defense. These Hogs can run and score just fine, but my, how they suffer when the finer points of help and rotation on the other end are required. Auburn missed 10 free throws and turned the ball over 21 times. That's supposed to be good, right?
Not when the shots from the floor are almost as unchallenged as those from the line, and not when Arkansas cannot, in its own right, convert on free throw chances or crash the glass. Brown's proficiency was admirable, but Cinmeon Bowers, not an artful basketballer at 6-7, 260, was even more of a problem for the Hogs. He used his size with a certain degree of reckless impunity, and got away with it, scoring 14 but also dishing out six assists and snatching 10 rebounds. The interesting thing is that Bowers got more mileage out of his rough-hewn performance than Moses Kingsley did with his 20 points and 10 boards on the same court. The latter may have more skill, but when you watched Bowers bowl over defenders, chuck free throws and zip passes, you gained a certain bizarre admiration of the passion he had, all while playing for a nine-win Hindenburg that just spent its prior 40 minutes getting nearly run off the Plains by visiting Vanderbilt. Because of how ugly that loss was for the Razorbacks, the epilogue against Mizzou was hardly satisfying. Let's equate it to the first substantive meal you might have after a few days of stomach flu. Nothing tastes right, and you're still trying to get all the linens cleaned, but hell, at least it's solid food.
The Hogs were listless in the second half but it mattered little because they again built a sizable halftime lead. Dusty Hannahs got back on rhythm with 22 points, and Jabril Durham had his finest offensive game overall with 17, along with six assists and no giveaways. Maybe the greatest accomplishment of the game was Anton Beard making a field goal. Otherwise, blah.
Arkansas paid tribute to Eddie Sutton during the Mizzou game, segueing into this week with a home tilt against LSU, the outcome of which will be decided when this hits print. They then take another stab at winning a road game of consequence by traveling to Tennessee. Maybe those games will end up being good tributes to the longtime head coach who preceded Nolan Richardson on the Hill, and carved out a legacy as a coach who not only recruited the hell out of in-state talent, but also exhibited mastery in close games. Those are two characteristics that the current boss will need to develop soon if he wants to have his own invitation back to Fayetteville three decades later.