For the first time this season, Arkansas suffered a bad loss, an NCAA Tournament-hindering loss.
The Hogs’ first three losses this year all came to teams currently ranked in the RPI’s top 10, but Mississippi State came into the game ranked outside the top 150 (although this game may put them within it). And considering this was at Bud Walton Arena, this is a disappointing, ugly effort from the Hogs.
Arkansas couldn’t get stops when they needed them. Trailing at halftime down six, they scored six quick points to tie the game, then gave up a couple of field goals. At one point Arkansas forced a long three at the end of the shot clock, but Moses Kingsley committed a foul trying to block the shot, and they made a couple of free throws. The Razorbacks hit a three to cut the lead to three with nine minutes to go, and still made three more triples as the game wound down, and never could get closer than three points.
Mississippi State made every play, seemed to get every loose rebound, and seemed to get every whistle they needed. Arkansas couldn’t break through. These were many of the same issues we’ve seen throughout the Anderson era: bad perimeter defense and bad rebounding.
The difference was the Bulldogs’ three-point shooting. They shot 12-26 from beyond the arc. Arkansas was 7-21. The Hogs actually made more shots from the field, but the threes and missed free throws killed them. The Hogs had four players in double figures and two more with 8 points, it was Kingsley’s best offensive performance of the season with 19 points on 7-12 shooting, but it wasn’t enough.
But let’s be real, why the team lost again isn’t something anyone cares about. It’s that they lost a game at home in which the Hogs were favored. Razorback fans don’t have a lot to be hopeful for at the moment - not just in basketball, but in general.
Everybody is frustrated, and everybody should be. This is the danger zone for Mike Anderson. They can still make the NCAA Tournament, but this loss made their margin of error really thin. They’ve won 12 games. They have at least 16 more to go. But they can’t afford any more games like tonight. Depending on what happens on the road, they may have to win out at home.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many top 50 teams in the SEC. They’re almost all in the top 100, but not a lot of top 50 opportunities to really boost their resume. We’ll see what happens, but the sense of urgency has never been higher in the Mike Anderson era.