Any old win for Arkansas is beneficial


In the by-now common walkthrough of players and coaches that other sports adopted from hockey, Eric Musselman looked Saturday like someone who escaped with his life.

If it takes that to beat Georgia at Walton Arena, I wouldn't look for the Arkansas Razorbacks to be playing long in March, or at all, after the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Paying back the Bulldogs for a road loss in January, the Hogs ground out a 78-75 victory on a court where it is no longer bullet-proof and had lost back-to-back games. Nothing comes easy for Musselman's fifth and most puzzling Arkansas team, now 12-11 overall and 3-7 in the SEC, one game into the second half of the league season.

I would not check the postmarks carefully on certain games -- home defeats to Auburn, South Carolina and Kentucky, looking feeble against the Tigers, with a 26-point road loss to Ole Miss especially doleful -- even the 1-point Fayetteville game against Texas A&M after leading by 20. That, too, required a Houdini act by the Hogs. (Missouri, which Arkansas disposed of in Columbia, can't win anywhere.)

Razorback Nation is clinging to hope that Coach Muss and the Hogs get it worked out and make the Big Dance, twice reaching the Elite Eight in this decade after 25 years without a Sweet 16 appearance. A Wednesday home game against Tennessee should offer clues, though Alabama and Kentucky (return game at Rupp Arena) remain on the schedule.

Then again, this is not an SEC season like some we have known. Of the five league teams ranked in the top 25 last week, only South Carolina (21-3, 9-2) and Alabama (17-7, 8-2) won on Super Bowl weekend. Tennessee (17-6, 7-3) and Auburn (19-5, 8-3) lost on the road by double-digit margins, a curious day for coach Bruce Pearl's current and former teams. Kentucky was lowest ranked of the bunch, with more slippage expected this week.

It may be nearing panic time in Fayette County, Kentucky, where John Calipari's Wildcats (16-7, 6-4) have lost three straight home games. Decisions to Florida and Tennessee came in the same week, the Gators slipping through in overtime. This is not Mark Few's best Gonzaga team by any means but was good enough to win 89-85 Saturday in Lexington.

One wonders what calming effect Calipari can have, if any, on Big Blue Nation, whose fans consider it a divine right to win SEC and national championships (eight of the latter, second to UCLA). Calipari's lads have not cut down the nets in April since 2012 despite stocking the NBA with one-and-done classes.

The only thing worse for a Kentucky resident might be a Florida-bred horse winning the Derby at Churchill Downs. With Bob Baffert ruled off the Louisville track, speculation is rife that Derby 150 on May 4 is merely a Preakness prep, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown won last year by a Baffert trainee and a place (like the Belmont Stakes) that he still is in good graces. It's been 20 years since Pennsylvania produced the Derby winner, a nice colt named Smarty Jones.

The SEC picks up Oklahoma and Texas come football season, both schools trying to keep heads above water in their last Big 12 hoops campaign. Oklahoma zapped Arkansas at Tulsa in December, during a nonconference season that saw the Hogs beat Duke and lose to North Carolina-Greensboro, both at home (go figure).

But these are crazy times in the world of perspiring arts that is college sports. Who ever thought to see a UCLA head coach step down for a playcaller's job at Ohio State, like Chip Kelly last week? Or that the Westwood and Columbus schools would be conference rivals in the Big Ten?

Arkansas fans willing to consider football after a 4-8 season wonder how much impact Bobby Petrino, the Great Playcaller, can have in his second go-round in Fayetteville. First, let them get over basketball and cheer on Dave Van Horn's baseball team to inevitable victory. You might remember that was the war cry in November regarding UA hoops.

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