FAYETTEVILLE – If Eric Musselman’s nationally 24th ranked Razorbacks close this week extending their SEC men’s basketball winning streak to nine, then they ought to be ranked among the Top 10 next week.
For to advance from seven to nine successive SEC successes the Razorbacks, 17-5 overall, 9-4 in the SEC, must avenge losses against two of the SEC’s top three teams.
At Walton Arena, the SEC first-place 13-1 in the league nationally No. 8 Alabama Crimson Tide comes calling at 8 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN2 and at 1 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2 the LSU Tigers, tied for SEC second with Arkansas at 9-4, come next.
Back in on Jan. 13 in Baton Rouge, La. and Jan. 16 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. LSU walloped Arkansas, 92-76, and Alabama annihilated Arkansas, 90-59.
However graduate transfer forward Justin Smith, starring offensively and defensively during Arkansas’ SEC winning streak, didn’t play against LSU among four games he missed because of a Dec. 30 ankle injury requiring surgery.
Alabama marked Smith’s first game back and he only netted five points and a rebound in 18 minutes upon an understandably tentative return.
Nothing tentative about Smith lately Musselman says of his “awesome” senior transfer via Indiana University.
Musselman just wishes he felt as “awesome” about Arkansas’ idle weekend. For the second time this season, this time last Saturday at the Texas A&M Aggies Reed Arena in College Station, Texas, with the first Feb. 6 at Walton Arena, the Hogs vs. Aggies games have been “postponed” because of Aggies issues with covid-19 testing and protocols.
The “postponements” appear ever more apt to become permanently cancelled.
With Tuesday’s Texas A&M game at Kentucky already postponed, the Aggies have had to postpone eight SEC games, their last seven consecutively.
Even with the gap between the March 2 end of the regular SEC season until the March 10 start of the SEC Tournament that seems too many games for the Aggies to make up as they continue struggling with covid issues.
Though unfortunately with no fans allowed because of covid precautions, the Razorbacks track and field teams of men’s coach Chris Bucknam and women’s coach Lance Harter defend their SEC Indoor Championships titles Thursday through Saturday at Arkansas’ Randal Tyson Indoor Track.
Harter’s nationally No. 1 Razorbacks and Bucknam’s nationally No. 2 Razorbacks are both favored and confident.
Yet both know who nips at their heels. Texas A&M’s women rank second nationally and LSU’s men rank third nationally with Ole Miss, the 2020 SEC Cross Country runner-up to Arkansas, potentially cutting into the Razorbacks’ distance cushion from the mile through the 5,000 and the distance medley relay.
“We feel good,” Bucknam said. “But we know it’s going to be a tremendously competitive meet across the board. LSU and us have been going back and forth in the national rankings. We know LSU is really good and going to give us a run for our money. And because of their distance strength, Ole Miss is right up there as well.”
Given Harter’s Razorbacks reign as NCAA and SEC Cross Country, Indoor, and Outdoor triple crown champions (there were no 2020 NCAA Indoor or Outdoor championships because of covid concerns) he’s hard put to poor mouth his Hogs’ chances.
But it’s fact that for the women’s top five national rankings, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama rank second, third and fifth behind Arkansas’ first.
“We’ll go in as the favorite no doubt about it,” Harter said. “We’re ranked No. 1 in the nation but A&M is right in second and if there is such a big as guaranteed points they have got some guarantees with some phenomenal field event people and their mile relay broke the collegiate record here and they have a phenomenal 800-meter runner that even as a freshman most everyone concedes is untouchable. They are going to score some big points at the conference meet.”
Harter and Bucknam yearn that Arkansas fans could attend the SEC and NCAA Indoor Championships that Arkansas hosts and experience the Randal Tyson renovations made in hosting them.
However both say athletes have done remarkable job adjusting to no fans at the five meets Arkansas hosted this winter, most recently the star-studded Tyson Invitational.
“I have been so impressed,” Bucknam said. “Not just with our team but the other teams like at Tyson where there were absolutely no fans but great performances and personal bests and a collegiate record. It’s a testament to the track and field athlete. The performances have been phenomenal.”