Hog fans are used to it at this point. Each year, the players who deserve the awards most are seemingly left out of the conversation in place of guys who by the numbers have achieved less. Whether it was Mason Jones in 2019-2020 or Darren McFadden in the I Heisman vote, these things just seem to happen. While there are multiple instances in this year's awards for the SEC basketball season, I want to zero in on one player specifically, and that is Justin Smith.
A Fresh Start Comes For Justin Smith
Justin Smith came into the Razorback program from an Indiana team that the Hogs had beaten just a season prior. A starter for the Hoosiers, Smith played in all 32 games for Indiana, averaging 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds before leaving for Fayetteville. The Buffalo Grove, IL native came onto the scene and absolutely exploded. He has been instrumental in the Razorback's success this season, and the stats prove it.
After an ankle injury against Auburn early in the season required surgery, the Hogs struggled to rebound and have a strong presence inside. This part of the season was before Jaylin Williams really came into his own down low. Their worst stretch of the year came when Smith was not on the floor. In his absence, the Razorbacks saw blowout losses to LSU and Alabama, and a contest that they were really not competitive in against Mizzou.
Senior Leadership Coming In Clutch
With Smith on the floor, the Hogs have only lost one game, and even that game was against an Oklahoma State team that is surging and will be playing in the tournament next week. During their win streak, Smith has averaged 14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds. His best game during that streak came against #6 ranked Alabama, where he snagged 12 rebounds and scored 11 points.
“Justin’s impact on the team goes without saying given our record with and without him,” Hogs freshman Moses Moody said of Smith. “It is what it is. I don’t know what all goes into the decision-making process behind closed doors, but he definitely could have and should have been in there.”
That game was a real momentum builder for the Hoop Hogs, and without Justin Smith there, I would not be surprised if that was a much different-looking game. Being a senior in this program, Smith provides a solid piece of leadership for a team that really needed it, following the departure of Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe last season.
So Why No Recognition?
The fact that he is not even in consideration for an All-SEC Second Team appearance seems like highway robbery in and of itself. Coach Musselman didn’t mince words about it, either. “Justin Smith has been as important to our team as any player is to any team. Jalen Tate defensively. Vanover is one of the best shot-blockers. We were left off the all-defensive team. I think we’re a pretty good defensive team.” Musselman said of his team. “Justin Smith has been as important to our team as any player is to any team.”
It’s not like no one could see Justin’s impressive season, though. USA Today named him to the All-SEC Defensive Team.
USA Today Sports Network postseason SEC awards ...— Kevin McPherson (@ARHoopScoop) March 9, 2021
- Arkansas freshman guard Moses Moody @moses_moody3 named All SEC 1st team
- Arkansas senior forward Justin Smith @justinsmith3_ named All SEC 2nd team pic.twitter.com/Cb7lWhSBV3
Hoop Hogs Looking Past Awards and to the Tournament
At the end of the day, the hardware that matters is the trophy, and the Hogs are looking past what happened today and looking forward to the tournament this weekend and next. The Hogs are a 2 seed in the SEC Tournament and will face the winner of the Missouri-Georgia game on Friday evening.
“I think Justin’s so mature, and just knowing him I don’t think it affects him at all.” Musselman said. “the bottom line is, it’s a team sport, and it’s how you do win the next game.” The Hogs will look to do that this weekend and beyond, as they prepare for their first tournament appearance under the Eric Musselman era.