Disillusioned with Arkansas football and hungry for positive vibes regarding Razorback athletics, fans have good reason to move on to basketball.
During a five-day period, Mike Anderson’s current and future players provided a slew of talking points to support the idea the Razorbacks are on track to be a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament.
On Wednesday, the UA cranked out six releases topped with headlines certain to encourage. Two days later, another release zeroed in on expectations for Arkansas’ veteran guards. During the weekend, the Razorbacks won by 39 and 28.
All told, a tidy package of optimism.
As for football, details of the 33-10 loss at LSU are pretty much meaningless at this point.
The pertinent topic is whether the fate of fifth-year head coach Bret Bielema, whose teams are 11-27 in the SEC, has been decided.
Strictly a guess, it seems more likely the question is not if, but when does the UA cut him loose. Waiting until after Jan. 1 reduces Bielema’s buyout by almost $4 million, but making a change earlier could clear the air for recruits considering becoming a Razorback during the new December 20-22 signing period.
On basketball signing day, the initial E-mail from Arkansas arrived shortly before 9:30 a.m. announcing shooting guard Desi Sills of Jonesboro as a member of the 2018 recruiting class. Three hours later, the first attention-getting headline introduced Keyshaw Embry with: “Razorbacks land top player in Oklahoma.”
During the next seven-plus hours, the signees and accompanying headlines:
—Isaiah Joe, “Arkansas Signs Top-20 Shooting Guard.”
—Reggie Chaney, “Arkansas Signs Top Player in Texas.”
—Ethan Henderson, “Arkansas’ No. 1 Player Stays Home Again.”
Almost lost in the ballyhoo was Jordan Phillips, who doesn’t have the credentials of some of the others, but is intriguing because he is a 6-foot-7 guard.
When ESPN ranks recruiting classes in football, I check where Arkansas’ group fits in the SEC and pay little attention to names since incoming freshmen don’t often crack the starting lineup. Basketball is different. For starters, proficient shooters are unfazed by the slightly deeper 3-point line in college and superb on-court skills work no matter whether the defender is 17 or 21.
Not only do young men star straight out of high school, the very best only play a year before moving to the NBA. In June, 16 freshmen were taken in the first round of the NBA draft, including nine of the first 10.
That is not to say that Chaney or Henderson or any of the others is going to be a “one and done,” only that their resumes indicate they have the talent to play as freshmen.
On Friday, Arkansas reworked material concerning the Preseason All-SEC team to highlight the fact that seniors Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford were named Second Team.
In the first two games, Barford scored 43 points while Macon scored 37 and handed out a dozen assists.
Arkansas’ two routs whet the appetite for watching the Razorbacks next week against better competition in Portland where the field includes Oklahoma, North Carolina and Michigan State. Besides, I’m eager to see the freshmen, particularly 6-foot-11 Daniel Gafford.
On the other hand, tuning in to Arkansas-Mississippi State football this week is more obligation than anticipation.
With a clear conscience, I missed the Arkansas-LSU kickoff and relied on the soccer dad at the far end of the 10 lawn chairs for updates.
Driving home, Chuck Barrett informed that Arkansas had not crossed midfield. Considering such field position, 7-7 at the half was a victory.
In the third quarter, Darius Guice was virtually unchallenged on a 33-yard run and, five minutes later, D.J. Chark ran by a backpedaling Kamren Curl for a 68-yard TD pass that upped the lead to 16.
Arkansas’ performance provided Bielema critics with more fodder, including:
—Again, the Razorbacks’ wilted in the second half vs. a quality opponent.
—For a school-record fifth time in one season, the Razorbacks lost by 20 points or more.
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org