Clemson hiccup safely out of sight, out of mind, the Hogs are back to climbing the polls.
A strictly cosmetic exercise in the world of college basketball, but with Arkansas wandering (for what sure seems like 40 years) in the hoops wilderness, Hog fans gladly are tracking any and all positive publicity. And like it or not, 16- and 17-year-old recruits pay close attention to that stuff.
The Hogs now head to Knoxville off a productive week: Huge win in Athens to open league play and then a methodical if hard fought win over a game Vandy squad at Bud Walton, and in front of the first Fayetteville crowd to resemble, well, a proper Fayetteville crowd. Indeed, it was a week that felt a little like old times.
The psychology of the win in Athens can't be overstated. While fans remained high on the Hogs, many expected a stumble against what could be argued is the third or fourth best team in the league in Mark Fox's Bulldogs. (I'm beginning to wonder if ditching the glasses was the last remaining piece to the UGA puzzle.)
Anyway, it had become almost a tradition -- open SEC play on the road with a loss, exasperating road monkey sticking more pins in that symbolic voodoo doll adorned in cardinal. And the game played out early like those expectations would be met. Georgia throwing in shots from Savannah, the Hogs stumbling all over themselves...Double digit deficit.
Bobby Portis, the soon-to-be latest addition to the Hog basketball Mount Rushmore, and then later, Alandise Harris (God bless his confounding, fall-away, high-arcing 3s) would have none of it, and thankfully so.
In the second half, we displayed the mettle necessary to win on the road, and that kind of resolve is what it takes whether the road leads through the ACC, SEC or Little Rock middle school Parochial League. Our grit shown through in Athens, and quite simply, we refused to lose that game. And that's what it takes.
Vandy, to its credit, simply refused to wilt. The Hogs toyed with blowing the game open on several occasions only to have the Commodores make things a tad uncomfortable by cutting leads to 1 on a couple of occasions in the second half. Of course, we forced turnovers and wound up playing our game, but it was a bit of a test from a young team that, like us, appears strategically poised for success the next few years.
Portis stamped his name on national player of the week honors with his 32-point workout. Without question, he's the most skilled player to don a Razorback uniform since Joe Johnson, and may be the most skilled player produced in Arkansas since Joe (and yes, that includes Archie Goodwin).
His shooting touch remains delicate as ever despite his new-found bulk, which has enabled him to be more aggressive around the hoop. And as much as Bobby gained physically, his mental game is just as tough. I suppose we can hope, anyway, for another year with No. 10 on the roster...Currently projected as a mid-first round pick, Portis could play himself into the lottery by season's end.
Michael Qualls, meanwhile, jittered about on Saturday like a dog begging for a bone. Ky Madden finally threw our hyper pup a proverbial tennis ball with the SportsCenter-approved oop in the second half, and Qualls finally had his outlet.
Not sure what to expect out of the rebuilding Volunteers in Knoxville Tuesday night aside from a probable slow-paced, grind-it-out struggle. Tennessee actually led Alabama 36-35 midway through the second half over the weekend and got one more bucket -- one bucket -- the rest of the way in a 56-38 home loss. (UT ace Josh Richardson scored 17 of the Vols' 38.)
Bama did us no favor; the Vols will be anxious for redemption.
We'll need Portis' steady leadership and more boundless energy from Qualls against a Tennessee squad that won't want to run with us and against which, on paper, we own some advantages. Of course, we can expect going in that Tennessee will be in the double bonus 10 minutes in and that turnovers and points off them will have to overcome our seemingly inherent disadvantage at the line. And somebody, perhaps someone completely unexpected, likely is gonna have to step up.
Who will it be? Jacorey Williams? Beard, Bell? Madden, perhaps, operating very much under the radar of late? Ky certainly is due.
A win in east Tennessee sets us up for a possible big run. A BIG run. Ole Miss awaits this weekend, but one game at a time, of course. We're good, legitimately, (perhaps even darkhorse tourney run good?) and it's the first time in a while we could say that. But not even great teams can take anything for granted, and we're 2-10 all time at Thompson-Boling. The win at Georgia was impressive, but it doesn't mean we've conquered all our road demons just yet.
Still, it's starting to feel like the old days a little, isn't it? Days where our placement in the polls indeed was taken for granted and SEC basketball meant UA, UK and the rest.
Perhaps, led by CMA (Coach Moses Anderson), we're wandering our way out of the hardwood wilderness. And while technically we'd remain ahead of schedule even with a loss on Tuesday, a win in Knoxville...well, at 3-0 with two road games behind us, a win arouses the aroma of the promised land.