Pressbox Roundtable – Jim, Pat & Crew Talk HawgBall

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We can officially put the college pigskin away and turn to basketball. And what better time that to bring our roundtable experts together for a look at the Arkansas Razorbacks as they begin Southeastern Conference play on the road at Texas A&M, the first of 18 league games.

Joining some of the regular group from the football roundtables is former Razorback shooting great Pat Bradley, who is part of “The Zone” every weekday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KABZ-FM, 103.7 The Buzz. Bradley (@pbradley22) is also the color commentator for UALR basketball and is part of the Razorback Fifth-Quarter Show following basketball games on The Buzz.

Also part of this week’s roundtable are featured columnist Jim Harris (@jimharris360), who we managed to roust from a winter slumber, Bradley’s compadre Justin Acri (@jacri7), KTHV sports producer Jessica Duff (@jduff84) and regular contributor Doc Harper (@doc_harper), who is the editor of

Join in the discussion. Add your thoughts in the comments section.

How would you evaluate Arkansas’ play through its nonconference schedule and reaching 9-4 before SEC play?

Pat Bradley: Up to this point, it’s probably recordwise where we figured they’d be. The trip out to Vegas was pretty disappointing. It was over a holiday weekend and it may have been hard getting the players totally focused. I like how Marshawn Powell has come out this season. I have to be honest, I thought some of the freshmen would have made more of an impact. Overall, though, the team is about where I thought they’d be. The one thing I thing that is lacking is with the newer guys. I know none of them are world beaters, but we need them stepping up in conference play.

Doc Harper: They’re pretty much where most people thought they’d be, record-wise. Going 0-2 in Las Vegas was a disappointment, but for the most part they’ve played pretty well. They hung in there against Syracuse and Michigan, and blew a lot of teams out over the past few weeks, so it’s hard to be very upset with them.

Jessica Duff: Arkansas has played well at home against nonconference opponents. It’s the road games that have proven to be a problem for the Razorbacks. The opening losses of the season came during an invitational in Las Vegas. So maybe you chop that up to being in Vegas … The game against Michigan was much closer than anticipated. But games are 40 minutes, not just 30… gotta learn to close out.

Justin Acri: There seems to be improvement week to week and they are starting to create offense off the defense. I still think they are a player or two away from being a top 25 team.

Jim Harris: The defense appeared to improve further into December, but the competition took a big drop from the first eight games. I did like seeing Hunter Mickelson work with Marshawn Powell well in these last five games on the offensive end off the double-post offense, and Mickelson showed a tougher side on both ends. Again, though, he wasn’t having to do it against Syracuse’s talent. He just has to keep improving. Mardracus Wade seemed to become more confident offensively in recent games. I love what guards Fred Gulley and Kikko Haydar bring to the team off the bench, as well as Coty Clarke and Jacorey Williams on the inside. It should worry Hog fans, though, that the team is only shooting 33 percent on 3-pointers. I thought they would have improved that area from last year.

What’s Arkansas’ biggest strength? What’s its weakness? What could still be improved to help the Hogs make a move to contend with the top half of the SEC?

Pat: The biggest strength is the numbers. They have a lot of guys they can run at you. With Coach Anderson that helps big time because you see a lot of guys still trying to learn his system … one day one guy may be feeling it, another day another guy is feeling. He can get a fresh group of guys in there and hopefully keep wearing a team down.

Rebound and shooting are probably the weaknesses but more so the shooting. When you have weakness like shooting, it’s difficult to win on the road. But there are guys  — Wade, Anthlon Bell, Haydar — there are so many guys he can put in there that might be feeling it, and that can help with one of their weaknesses. So, the strength is he has plenty of guys on the bench that can help with the weakness, which is the ability to shoot. And no question they can get better shooting the ball. I know Wade can shoot, I’ve seen him in practice hit a bunch of shots. Bell, I know he has the ability to shoot and I see him getting more comfortable and in rhythm and stepping into his shots.

Justin: The good thing about this team is you have depth finally and in addition you have a few guys who can create their own shot in the half court. They still have defensive lulls which will have to become more rare in conference play. I think this is definitely a top third of the league kind of team. That has something to say for the job Coach A and his staff have done, but a lot about the weakness of the league as well.

Doc: I think the biggest strength is the team’s depth. A lot of different players have come in and scored in double figures if different games and they’re able to rotate in enough different players that in the blowouts, the starters haven’t had to play more than 25 minutes. Anderson can even put five different bench players on the court at the same time without terrifying the fans. It’s a welcome change.

You’d like to see the team improve defensively. That’s supposed to be what Anderson’s teams hang their hat on and it hasn’t always been there. Half-court situations in general need to improved on both ends of the court.

Jim: I guess I just noted earlier and agree with Pat that outside shooting seems to be a question mark. I wouldn’t call it a problem, because the three best shooting games came starting with the loss at Michigan, so maybe it’s improving. Bench strength, particularly with tall inside players, and just the team’s overall length, would be a plus this year over last. Rebounding seems to be improving and can always get practice attention. I would love to see B.J. Young never take a minute off on either end. That would help this team move into the upper half immediately.

Jessica: Arkansas’ bench is definitely their biggest asset. The fact that there are players deep on the team’s bench that can offer something to the game at any point is a definite plus. Their weakness is also what can be improved upon to compete in the SEC – and that’s consistency. Playing a full 40 minutes is key. Hell, that’s Anderson’s whole philosophy. The players just need to adopt it. Play hard, play fast. From beginning to end.

The SEC’s RPI has taken a hit in nonconference with some bad out-of-league losses, and Kentucky isn’t the UK of last year. Will the SEC get more than 4 teams in the NCAA?

Jim: I saw a national column that said Florida, Missouri and Kentucky might be it for the league in terms of NCAA tourney teams. Amazing. And to think without adding Mizzou, the SEC would only rate getting two teams in, at this point? Again, amazing. Of course, there have been some amazing losses in the league. SWAC teams have beaten SEC teams. I’m surprised Alabama has played so poorly, and I thought Ole Miss would be better, from the old West teams. As great as the football in the league is viewed, the basketball is just the opposite. I believe the other leagues sell that to recruits, that the SEC teams outside of Kentucky only care about football. Maybe it’s truer than we think.

Pat: I still think they can because Kentucky may not be in the top 25 but there are a number of teams they can beat. Sam e with Florida, same with Missouri. Kentucky will be there at the end. Those three teams are going to be strong. When you talk about Arkansas and Alavama, if both of t hose teams have over 20 wins, it’s going to be tough, n my mind to keep both of them out. Arkansas with 22-23 wins. You can get five, but I can easily see four. I’d be disappointed if it was four and Arkansas was left out. The SEC, even n conference play, is going to gain more national respect over the next few weeks. Kentucky will improve and will get that respect.

Jessica: If you look at how the SEC has stacked up against other conferences so far this season, it’s pretty embarrassing. Now that conference play has begun, the SEC will only beat up on one another. But I think Missouri, Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss can continue to play hard come tournament time. A few other teams could sneak into the mix too, though.

Doc: They can get more than four in. So much depends on what happens around the country, but there are a few teams that could have strong bubble resumes. There are some really bad teams in the league, so it’s possible to pick up a few more wins than usual.

Justin: That seems to be the over-under. If you have a team that goes 10-8 or 11-7 without much in the way of quality wins like Florida or Missouri, I am not sure you get more than four in. The good thing (or bad if you lose them all) is that Arkansas gets two shots at each of those teams.

Join Jim, Pat, Justin, Jessica and Doc on the next page. Page Two

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