This is an excerpt of a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. You can read it in it's entirety here.
Following a disastrous week in which the Hogs lost a second SEC home game, suspended two players, and were blown out in another road disappointment, there seemed to be an impression of inevitability. That expectations were set unreasonably high for a program that’s gone so long without making the NCAA Tournament and lost so many road games, not to mention lost six straight SEC Tournament games. That media and fans simply misjudged them.
I think that’s a total cop-out.
Sure, we might be proven wrong on the surface because they probably won’t make the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have the ability to get there. Even now, after everything Arkansas basketball has gone through, I have a very difficult time with the idea that just making the NCAA Tournament is too lofty a goal. We’re not talking about Final Fours or Sweet Sixteens or even winning a Tournament game. We’re talking about just making the field. For the rest of my life I’ll probably always believe the Arkansas Razorbacks should, at the very least, be able to make the NCAA Tournament. Between facilities, fan interest, and history, I struggle with the notion that this can’t be a top-50 program as a general rule instead of an exception.
I’ll always believe this team has the talent to get there. This isn’t a young team. Or at least it’s not that young. They normally start three seniors and a junior. More upperclassmen contribute significant minutes. The big question coming into the season was replacing the production of Marshawn Powell and BJ Young, but that hasn’t been an issue at all. The Hogs are ranked 18th in the country in points per game and 28th in assists per game. Bobby Portis by himself has nearly matched Powell’s numbers from last year. The backcourt combo of Ky Madden and Fred Gulley has improved enough to nullify the loss of Young.
However, the suspension of Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris highlights the fact that some of the players aren’t performing up to their capabilities. And the thing is, they’ve shown us what they can do. There’s been a lot of talk regarding strong performances against weak December competition, but that’s not really true either. Qualls hit six threes in the three games in Maui. He’s hit six total in the seven SEC games Arkansas has played. For whatever reason, once the calendar flipped to 2014, he’s mostly struggled (including a 3-for-11 performance against UTSA on January 4th).
Qualls is by no means the only one. Harris was arguably the best player on the team in November. He averaged 15.8 points per game until December hit. He scored 21 points against an SMU team that currently is a top-50 RPI opponent. He scored 15 against Minnesota and 17 against Gonzaga. Since then, he’s only broken double figures three times. Two of those came against Florida and Kentucky, but Harris has only managed five total points in the last three games he’s played. Anthlon Bell hit 11 threes in the four games between SMU and Gonzaga – all quality opponents. In the 15 games since Maui, he’s hit 13.
It’s not all on those three players. There are other problems besides scoring. Rebounding and defense continue to put the team in bad spots. But I point that out about those players because these are talented players. These are not bad players. They’ve performed well against strong competition. Arkansas didn’t just put up big numbers against High Point and Southeast Louisiana.
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