On the first Tuesday of 2009, the unranked Razorbacks played No. 7 Texas in Bud Walton. On the first Tuesday of 2010, unranked Arkansas will once again take on the Longhorns, now No. 2 in both the AP and USA Today polls, in Fayetteville. But the atmosphere surrounding the games couldn't be more different.
Last year, the Hogs brought an 11-1 record into their contest against Texas. They were only one week removed from a stunning 96-88 upset of No. 4 Oklahoma. Arkansas beat the Longhorns that night, prompting visions of high NCAA Tournament seeds and pleas for the university to ink John Pelphrey to a big, fat contract extension, the better to keep the coach in Fayetteville after the inevitable courtship by the Kentucky Wildcats.
It's been all downhill since then.
After the Texas game, the 2008 Hogs went 2-15. This year's squad has started the season 7-7 and has already lost five home games. The star of last year's quick start, Courtney Fortson, has yet to play and is serving a suspension of who-knows-how-many games for who knows what (UPDATE: Courtney will return tonight). Michael Washington, perhaps the team's best player, is battling back woes that have kept him out of two games and severely limited his effectiveness in others. Fans are debating whether Pelphrey is in over his head.
No, Razorback basketball is not much fun these days. Still, I'm not ready to bail on this season. That may sound crazy, but I still hold out hope that Fortson's return could be a big boon to the Hogs. And the SEC looks to once again be fairly weak, with the notable exception of Kentucky. It might not take a whole lot of improvement for Arkansas to compile a halfway decent conference record. On the flip side, it wouldn't surprise me if the team managed only another victory or two before the year is out.
In the meantime, I'll tune in tonight and hope for a miracle. I'd feel better about our chances if Pelphrey comes decked out again in this.