Mentioning Arkansas’ flagrant fouls, Malik Monk’s offensive gesture, and talking smack from both sides before referencing the Razorbacks’ assignment in the NCAA Tournament is inevitable and a shameful distraction from the achievements of UA coaches and players.
Dwell on the garbage from the Arkansas-Kentucky game or move on to the task at hand. Preferring the latter, the makeup of the All-SEC First Team says much about Arkansas’ proven recipe for success vs. Seton Hall in Greenville, S.C., on Friday.
Even though league coaches somehow justified putting eight players on their first team, nary a Razorback can be found. Seven teams finished above .500 in the league and Arkansas and Alabama are the only two without a representative on the all-conference unit. Two players from 9-9 Georgia were selected.
The Razorbacks have no all-stars. Period.
Moses Kingsley is on the All-SEC Second Team, a reward for leading the league in blocked shots. But, he is limited offensively in the low post, particularly when the appropriate move involves using his left hand. Dusty Hannahs, Daryl Macon, and Jaylen Barford are each capable of 20 points or more in a game, but they’ve each scored less than 10 in at least three SEC games. The silver lining is the presence of three potential scorers prevents the opponent from ganging up on one Razorback.
Son of the associate head coach, Manny Watkins is wise to the game, but limited and Trey Thompson has a passing ability unique for a big man.
All told, contributions from various players have enabled Arkansas to compile a solid resume and the formula for winning does not change just because the next game is in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas beating a fatigued Vanderbilt in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament was no big deal, but the willingness to compete despite trailing NCAA Tournament No. 2 seed Kentucky by 19 is the sort of thing that can pay dividends this week. After all, hanging in and making a play or two late is often the way to advance and it is worth noting that Seton Hall won five in a row by three to seven points before losing to Villanova by two in the Big East Tournament.
By the way, even if Arkansas had managed to beat the more talented Wildcats on Sunday, the Razorbacks were still going to be a No. 8 seed.
The final minutes of Arkansas 73-72 victory over Ole Miss on Friday night provides the perfect how-to snapshot of the Razorbacks’ winning formula:
—4:44, Hannahs’ 3, Arkansas 67-65.
—1:28, Watkins’ layup, Arkansas 71-70.
—0:33, Barford misses inside, but Thompson tips the ball to Macon.
—0:24, Macon’s two free throws, 73-70.
—0:10, Kingsley records one of his two blocks in the final minute.
Even with all that, the Razorbacks had to sweat the Rebels’ three attempts from long range in the final seconds. Although Barford, Hannahs, and Macon were all in double figures vs. the Rebels, they were a combined 11-of-36 from the field — normally a number that portends an “L.”
Superb free throw shooting was just enough vs. the Rebels and Arkansas’ proficiency from the line is more of a bankable commodity than, say, 3-point shooting. Uncontested and always from 15 feet, good free throw shooting is about rhythm and repetition and Arkansas is among the top 25 teams in the country. Hannahs is almost 90 percent from the line, Macon is pushing 88 percent, and they will be on the floor at the end of a close game.
Macon has led the team in scoring 13 times, while Hannahs has been tops 11 times, and Barford nine times. Two of them probably need to total 35 or more for Arkansas to defeat a team that lost 11, but tied for third in the Villanova-dominated Big East where teams have a reputation for physical play.
And, all involved need to stay cool and just play basketball.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org