Doc Harper: Razorback Basketball Doesn’t Do Anything Easily


Razorback Basketball Doesn't Do Anything Easily

Doc Harper Bio PageOf course Arkansas’ NCAA bid has come down to the SEC Tournament.

This Razorback basketball team wouldn’t have it any other way.

I don’t know why. I don’t know how. But these Hogs have seemingly been determined all season to take anything possible down to the last second. It’s uncanny, really.

There were 126 SEC basketball games played this year. Twenty-seven of those games were determined by four points or fewer or went to overtime. Of those 27 games, Arkansas was involved in eight. That’s nearly 30%. Nearly a third of all close games in the SEC this season involved Arkansas. Think about that. There are 14 teams in this conference.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration games in which the Razorbacks led, but allowed their opponents to make second-half runs to turn what looked like blowouts into pretty close games. Georgia cut a 15-point deficit to five with less than five minutes to play. South Carolina trailed by eight with 13 and a half minutes left. The Gamecocks tied the game with five minutes to go before Arkansas pulled away. The Hogs led LSU most of the game and won going away, but actually lost their lead to the Tigers midway through the second half. Never hurts to put on an interesting show for Bill Clinton and all the Razorback legends, though.

It’s just what Arkansas does for some reason. I don’t know if I buy into any of the old sports cliches about killer instinct or learning how to win or mental toughness. It may not be important at this point. The team has played over 30 games and formed its identity. The good news is part of that identity is an ability to nearly paint themselves into a corner and get out. Or as Mike Anderson might say, they’ve started winning those fights with the bears (even if sometimes a peaceful stroll through the woods would be easier on all of us).

It’s been nearly a month since the loss at Missouri, which is also the last time the Razorbacks lost one of those close games. Since then, they’ve gotten out of every jam they’ve gotten into, and they seem to like getting into them.

So it comes as no surprise that, facing a game that might have clinched their spot in the NCAA Tournament, the team played its worst half of the year (Mike Anderson said it might be the worst half he’s ever been associated with) against what’s really a pretty bad Alabama team. Winning would have made everything too easy. It might have meant avoiding the “First Round” in Dayton. I don’t know if this team would have known what to do with such a luxury.

Several times this season people have asked if a particular game was a “must win” game. For the first time this season we can definitively say yes. The Razorbacks must win on Thursday to have any chance at the NCAA Tournament. This is the bed they’ve made for themselves. They did the hard part in winning four games against top-50 teams and eight games against the top-100. That’s more than a lot of teams, like Tennessee (two top-50 wins), but Arkansas has a low strength of schedule rating partly because they scheduled four non-conference home games against teams whose RPI is over 300.

A more difficult December schedule alone may have been enough to push Arkansas into NCAA-lock status, but no, Arkansas had to ditch the game at Oklahoma and play Southeastern Louisiana and Tennessee-Martin in Fayetteville. Always the hard way.

As a result, the Razorbacks find themselves in a situation in which they must defeat either South Carolina or Auburn for a second time just to have a chance of making the NCAA Tournament, and if they win, they may still need to beat a Tennessee team who’s held their last three opponents to no more than 54 points. Don’t get me wrong, this is a task Arkansas has proven themselves plenty capable of, just as they’re plenty capable of disaster.

If the Razorbacks continue what they did in most of February and maneuver their way out of another tight spot – not unlike the crew of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou – they’ll be fine. It’s understandable why scoring sixteen points in the first half would freak out the fans. It is just sixteen points after all. But the forgotten part of that Alabama game is that the Hogs played pretty well on offense in the second half, scoring 42 points. That’s momentum they can carry forward.

It completely fits with this season that Arkansas blew a chance to clinch an NCAA Tournament berth early and must fight at the very end, the SEC Tournament, to claim it. This is what they’ve done all year.

Fairly or unfairly, how this season is remembered will likely come down to what happens in Atlanta this week. They were 2-6 in the SEC, and have found a way to still be in the discussion come the SEC Tournament. In and of itself, that’s a great accomplishment. They’ve got one shot now to claim their bounty, and that seems to be how this team likes it.

Can they win one more bear fight?


Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

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