It's hard to believe that the start of basketball practice is just a few days away. Time, it does fly. Seems just like yesterday that the Tar Heels were making mincemeat of the Hogs.
And if you go by the pre-season prognostications, it would seem that lots of teams will be making mincemeat of Arkansas this year. Here at Razorback Expats, we're not ready to give into the gloom and doom just yet. Yes, the Hogs have lost a ton of production from last year's squad. But, there appears to be some real talent among the newcomers, including a few guys who may even be able to shoot the ball, a skill that there hasn't been an overabundance of in Fayetteville in recent years.
To some extent, the situation reminds me of the fall of 1992. Back then, the Hogs had lost of ton of seniors (albeit ones that were much more accomplished than Weems, Ervin, Hill, et al.). The incoming recruiting class was fairly well-regarded, but, overall, the team was deemed too small and too inexperienced to pose much of a threat that season. The returning player with the highest scoring average, point guard Robert Shepherd, had averaged a whopping 6.7 points per game the previous season. The best-case scenario seemed to be an NIT invitation.
The result? Seniors Shepherd and Darrell Hawkins and newcomers Scotty Thurman, Corliss Williamson, Corey Beck and Dwight Stewart — to name just some of the heroes from that year — busted their asses, embraced Nolan Richardson's full-court-pressure style of play like no Hog team before or since, and made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. If I had to pick any Hog season as my favorite, this would be the one (although picking my favorite Razorback basketball season is a little like picking my favorite Beatles album, i.e., an agonizingly difficult decision).
The 1992-93 season started off with a bang when the unranked Hogs defeated No. 8 Memphis State (the team that had ended the careers of Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller several months earlier) after rallying from a 20-point deficit. Four days later, they defeated No. 9 Arizona in Tucson. Surely they're playing over their heads, many thought. Surely they aren't this good.
The young Hogs provided further rebuttal to the doubters in mid-December, when they marched into Columbia, Mo., and, behind Thurman's 34 points, notched an impressive 73-68 win in a very hostile environment. They finished their non-conference record with a thoroughly unexpected 9-1 record, which is even more impressive when you consider that they achieved it largely without the services of Williamson, who broke his foot in the season opener and didn't return until late January, and Craig Tyson, a well-regarded junior college recruit who injured his knee in pre-season practice and never appeared in a regular-season game for Arkansas.
The conference season produced some bumps in the road - such as a three-game losing streak in January and a two-game skid in mid-February - but the Hogs also notched a thrilling upset of No. 2 Kentucky in Fayetteville and finished the year with an SEC West title.
Strangely enough, two of my favorite memories from that season are games that Arkansas lost. In the SEC Tournament semifinals in Lexington, Ky., the Razorbacks had a rematch with Kentucky. At this point in the season, the Wildcats, who would go on to make the Final Four, seemingly opened every game with a non-stop barrage of three-pointers to rush out to a huge lead.
Against Arkansas, Kentucky opened up a 17-0 lead, and it sounded like the roof was about to blow off of Rupp Arena. The Hogs — showing the same indomitable spirit they had all year — fought back and, at halftime, the Wildcats were only ahead by a score of 42-36. At one point in the second half, Arkansas narrowed Kentucky's lead to two, 57-55, before they ran out of gas and lost by 11. I don't know that I've ever been more impressed or inspired by a Razorback team.
The Hogs were every bit as inspiring two weeks later, when, in the NCAA East Regional semifinals, they lost to eventual national champion North Carolina, 80-74. As I recall, many pundits were predicting an easy Tar Heel victory, in part because Carolina was so much bigger than Arkansas. However, Corliss proved to be virtually unstoppable in the paint, and the Hogs came within a whisker of pulling off a massive upset. If nothing else, the Razorbacks served notice that night that they would be serious competitors for the national championship in 1994.
I'm not predicting that we have an equally surprising season in store for us this year, but the 1992-93 Razorbacks showed that you can't always take pre-season predictions to the bank.