Yesterday my esteemed Razorback Expats colleague J. Hawg 3 wrote an impassioned post about why this year's Arkansas basketball team simply isn't that good. They haven't done anything yet, he argued, so don't get excited.
It's quite possible that he's right, but I'll be the first to admit that I don't feel the same way. In fact, although I agree they haven't done much yet I feel like there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the state of the hoops team. So, in the spirit of a lively and vigorous debate, here are my observations from the game against Northwestern State:
* First, the obvious: Courtney Fortson is the real deal. More than that, actually. As John Pelphrey himself said, he's special. He's on a path to be one of the Razorback all-timers, and I don't think I'm premature in saying that. Savor every game, because you'll miss him when he's gone.
* Another note about Fortson: the kid is a born leader. He has presence. You can tell from the way he commands both the action and his teammates on the court. He probably popped out of his mom's womb and started barking out plays to the hospital staff. We haven't had a floor general like this on the team since Corey Beck (sorry Kareem).
* Even though Rotnei Clarke's shot was off against Northwestern State, I liked his style. To be honest, I was sort of expecting a generically stiff white guy 3-point ace, but he has some flair to his game....he had a nice Iversonesque pass off the high dribble in the first half, and his (thwarted) alley-oop to Forston was impressively audacious.
* J. Hawg accused Stefan Welsh of being a ball hog, but the guy (Stefan, not J. Hawg) hit 6 of 8 threes. He was obviously feeling it, so I don't see much room for complaint there. (And yes, I realize that 75% 3-point shooting probably won't be the norm for Welsh, but let's at least savor the moment.)
* I actually kind of agree with J. Hawg about Michael Washington...it was embarrassing how many times he got his shot blocked in the first half. But, he's had plenty of big games already this season so I'll be charitable and chalk it up to holiday rust. Still, he'll need to get meaner for the Hogs to succeed in SEC play.
* More than any one player or single play, though, I was impressed with the Razorbacks' energy. Yeah, they were playing a crappy team but that doesn't matter...they brought it. They brought it from opening tip through the end of a blowout and that's not something to take lightly. How many times did a player from the previous era say something like "I guess they just wanted it more than we did" after yet another frustrating conference loss? Even when this team loses I doubt you'll be hearing that quote again. (Give credit to Pelphrey and, perhaps even more so, Fortson for that.)
* Bottom line for me is that this team is fun. They're scrappy and spunky. They're too young to know they're not actually that great. They're not going to win every game, and they may even lose a lot of games, but they'll always play hard and they'll always try for the ballsy alley-oops. No matter what their final record is (and I suspect it will be better than the preseason prognostications), this is a team I'll enjoy rooting for.