The Sentinel-Record

Razorbacks hard team to get read on

- Bob Wisener

After peaks, valleys. Any better explanatio­n from a week that Arkansas beat Kentucky and lost to Mississipp­i State in basketball, the road team winning both games?

Possibly that Kentucky, which Arkansas handled in Rupp Arena, is grossly overrated, even in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. Drop a few more to the South Carolinas and Georgias of the Southeaste­rn Conference and the Commonweal­th of Kentucky will be out of the hoops business soon.

Already, the Denny Crum era at Louisville seems as ancient as that of E.A. Diddle downstate. Like Adolph Rupp at Kentucky, Western Kentucky named its campus arena after a famous coach, even if coach Crum has one more NCAA crown than John Calipari.

Arkansas, where they name gyms after an ex-football coach (John Barnhill) and a wealthy contributo­r (Bud Walton), is puzzled what to make of Eric Musselman’s team right now. The skill with which they took apart Kentucky (88-75), thanks in part to curious coaching by Calipari, hinted that it might become as good as many expected.

That is before Nick Smith Jr. (day-to-day) and Trevon Brazile (season) were lost with injuries. Take away a 6-5 projected one-and-done college player (Smith) and a 6-10 forward (Brazile) from any team, and its engine might stall some icy morning, not just in northwest Arkansas.

Without them, this team of four seniors (three have eligibilit­y beyond this season) but minus a true point guard tests one’s emotions, none more than those of Musselman. One school of thought is that if Smith comes back (five points in 17 minutes against Mississipp­i State) for longer stretches, this team hasn’t played its best basketball.

It is hard to tell what one is going to get each night from three-year starter Davonte Davis, 6-4 junior guard from Jacksonvil­le, whom so many native Arkansans want to be good because, well, he is a local talent. Davis missed nine of 11 shots in a seven-point night against Mississipp­i State. Jordan Walsh, 6-7 freshman swingman with Texas residence and Missouri (prep school) background, came to Arkansas with about the same high profile as Smith. Walsh scored 2 points in 23 minutes Saturday night after a good game at Kentucky.

Anthony Black, 6-7 fresh

man guard, had 23 points (game high) and Ricky Council IV, a Wichita State transfer with North Carolina roots (Durham) had 13. On a night they shot 43.8 percent and were outboarded by two, the Razorbacks lost 70-64 before the bedrock 19,200, previously losing at home to SEC leader Alabama.

Even trailing 34-25 at halftime, the Razorbacks entered the second half with high hopes of a comeback because, well, there was precedent. Though both teams left the floor 17-8 for the season, Arkansas 6-6 in the season to Mississipp­i State’s 5-7, people overlooked that the Bulldogs are on a par with Missouri, which led by 17 at Walton Arena last month and lost 74-68.

Arkansas, which lost a rematch with Missouri, has beaten one team and played close with another (Kentucky and Baylor) that have NCAA championsh­ips in this century. The Razorbacks also have lost to two teams (Chris Jans at Mississipp­i State and Dennis Gates at Missouri) with new coaches. Vanderbilt is outmanned some nights but when it’s clicking at home, Jerry Stackhouse’s team can contend with the best of teams.

Ask Tennessee, which saw the Nashville crowd storm the court (for which it was fined by the SEC) after a 6665 win last week. The Vols, which beat Kansas early but were thumped by Kentucky in Knoxville, lost another at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday, 86-85 to Missouri. Next up for Tennessee: Alabama, which beat Auburn at Neville Arena as the road team in the basketball Iron Bowl.

It’s not just an Arkansas thing, folks, though be advised that the Hogs still have Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky ahead. Peak performanc­es or valleys? Stick around: That’s why they play the games.

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