Arkansas basketball: How much can we believe in these streaking Hogs?
With a huge 80-76 overtime victory on Tuesday over No. 1 Auburn, the Arkansas Razorbacks just might start to get the respect they deserve. Unranked coming into the game, the Hogs had won 8 straight and were looking like a team that could play with anyone.
On Tuesday they proved it, snapping Auburn’s 19-game win streak, and in doing so beat a top-ranked team at Bud Walton Arena for the first time in school history. A record crowd of 20,327 was treated to the overtime thriller that saw the Razorbacks improve to 2-11 vs. No. 1-ranked teams. The only other time Arkansas defeated a No. 1 was way back in 1984, when they beat Michael Jordan and North Carolina, 65-64 in Pine Bluff.
Improving to 19-5 overall and 8-3 in SEC play, after an 0-3 start, tells you how this team is trending. The Hogs did not panic when their 12-point first-half lead was sliced to 3 at halftime, following a scoring drought of 8-plus minutes.
That just shows the confidence and maturity level that this team has reached since the 0-fer start.
What has worked
A lot, especially over the past 9 games.
It starts with JD Notae. He’s a beast and the team’s leader. The leading scorer in the SEC added a game-high 28 against Auburn on Tuesday. He’s the only player in the SEC to rank among the league’s top 15 in scoring, assists, steals and defensive rebounds.
At Georgia less than a week earlier, he scored 23 points and grabbed 9 rebounds (all defensive), and handed out 6 assists. He became the first Arkansas player to record 23-plus points, 9-plus rebounds, and 6-plus steals in a SEC game since 2010 when Courtney Fortson did it in an overtime victory against Auburn.
But you can’t go on a 9-game win streak in the SEC without solid play up and down the roster. Jaylin Williams has certainly picked it up over that stretch. With 11 rebounds on Tuesday, he now has grabbed double-digit boards 7 times in the past 12 games. He also continued to hit his free throws, going 6-for-7 from the line Tuesday and is 43-of-54 (79.6%) in the past two dozen games.
His 13 points to go along with 11 rebounds is the 5th double-double over the past 9 games.
And let’s not leave out the contributions of Stanley Umude, who poured in 31 points, including a career-high 6 3-pointers, in the victory over Georgia.
The overall team aggressiveness is reflected in the Razorbacks’ ability as a team to attack the basket and get to the free-throw line. They came into the Auburn game ranked 4th in the country in made free throws (385) and 4th in attempts (522), adding to that with 32 trips to the stripe on Tuesday, converting 26 times (81.3 percent). It was the difference in the game as Auburn shot just 17 free throws and made only 8 of those.
Home court has also been a huge advantage for the Razorbacks this season, improving to 14-1 following the victory on Tuesday.
What hasn’t worked
Hitting the boards, especially on the defensive end. Outside of Jaylin Williams (9.1 rebounds per game), the Razorbacks didn’t have a rebounder in the top 15 in the conference entering action on Tuesday. Guard Au’Diese Toney (5.3) was the only other Arkansas player among the top 20 in rebounding in the SEC.
Only 2 teams in the conference, Mississippi State and Kentucky, average fewer defensive rebounds than the Hogs.
Three-point shooting must also improve if the Razorbacks are to make a serious run in the postseason. Only Missouri (27.9) and Florida 30.4) have a lower 3-point percentage than does Arkansas (31.0). heading into the big game on Tuesday.
What’s left to come
Tuesday’s upset was huge and historic, but Arkansas still has some major challenges left on the schedule. The Razorbacks still have a home-and-home with Tennessee as well as a home encounter with Kentucky (Feb. 26).
The Razorbacks have fought through the untimely slump that opened the SEC schedule. They are trending upwards and will no doubt enjoy a big bounce into the Top 25 with the huge win on Tuesday. That will only fuel the current roll the team is on.
Heading into that game, the Hogs were considered no better than a 7-seed by Joe Lunardi’s bracketology. That should surely change for the better and Arkansas still has plenty of opportunities to continue the trend.
If they can take care of business over the final 7 games of the regular season and then put on a good showing in the SEC Tournament, who knows what kind of leap they could make heading into the Big Dance. A No. 5-seed is attainable, but a 4-seed or better is certainly within reach the way this team is playing.