The Arkansas Razorback basketball team has stumbled out of the gates to a 6-5 start to the 2009-2010 season, and it is only going to get tougher as the Hogs continue their season.
The Hogs have been a roller coaster emotion ride for Razorback fans for the past decade, and as the first decade to the new millennium approaches its end, it appears things will get worse before they get better for the Hogs.
The Razorbacks are currently riding a four-game winning streak, but the wins have come narrowly and against competition far below the level they will begin to face the rest of the season.
Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey knows better than anyone that the Arkansas basketball team has a tough road ahead. Their early season struggles are mostly due to lack of depth and experience because of suspensions and injuries, but the Razorbacks have also shown to be inconsistent in all aspects of the game.
The losses have piled up, and Arkansas fans have begun to not come out to the games. The current attendance numbers are record lows, and for many, it seems winning is the only thing that matters.
Starting with Missouri State (10-0), who is one of only eight teams still undefeated in Division I basketball, the Hogs schedule is about to get brutal.
The Bears upset the Hogs last season at the opening of their new arena, as many Hog fans may remember. They will be one of the best—if not the best—team the Hogs have faced so far this season, according to Pelphrey.
Yes, better than Louisville and Oklahoma. The Bears already have an SEC win under their belt this season when they beat Auburn in their season opener easily.
Following Missouri State the Hogs face: Baylor (9-1), UAB (10-1), and No. 2 Texas (10-0).
That is a combined 39-2 record for the next four opponents, and then the Hogs dive right into SEC West play when they face off against Mississippi State (9-2).
The time is now for the Hogs to make that move to the next level in their play.
The mentioned injuries and suspensions have passed, with the exception of Courtney Fortson who is indefinitely suspended and Michael Sanchez who continues to struggle with plantar fasciitis in both feet.
The players who were missing to start the season (Stefan Welsh, Marcus Britt) have had some games to get back on their feet, and the newcomers have been a good surprise. The most notable newcomers have been Marshawn Powell and Jamel Farmer.
The team chemistry seems to be coming along, although it has not been evident to many observers at their games. The Hogs have had one thing or another it seems happening to them that has caused this chemistry to be very difficult to build over the last year.
Aside from the issues that this team has dealt with off the court, the team has to work on a large laundry list of things on the court if they want to keep from sinking as this season begins to get more challenging. For now, lets take a look at three areas that have to improve for the Hogs to be competitive this season.
First on that list is the fact that they have to improve on their defense. Improvement has been made and is a large part to their four-game winning streak. However, during that time they have shown that they are inconsistent with their intensity and have the tendency to let up. The Hogs rank near the bottom of the SEC in defense.
The let ups have caused the Hogs to have games come down to the wire against inferior opponents. The Hogs need to play tough-nosed defense for 40 minutes or their upcoming opponents will run them off the court.
Second, the Hogs must get into a better offensive rhythm. There are far too many times where two or more players are standing still on the offensive end waiting for someone to just shoot it or drive to the hole.
Some of this has to do with the large group of newcomers being thrust into starting roles, but the Hogs cannot afford excuses anymore.
More movement and better passing is essential. The teams they are preparing to face are far more talented defensively than those they have been facing to start this season. If the Hogs are not executing their offense and just standing around, they will not get anything going and will be run out of the gym.
The next area the Hogs must continue to improve is in their rebounding and hustle.
So far this season the Razorbacks have only outrebounded their opponents in a few games. More specifically the Hogs have been getting hammered by opponents on the offensive boards.
The fact is the Hogs will be out-talented by every team they face here on out. In order for them to get things going and be successful they must out-hustle and be more determined to win than their opposition.
If they can do that, they can make some of these games good games. So far this season the Hogs have not been able to do that even against their lesser competition, but they cannot afford to be the less emotionally driven and charged team anymore this season.
If the Hogs get traction in each of these areas, they can be competitive this season. That does not mean wins will pile up, and no Arkansas fans should expect that this season. It will be a long season and that is known.
However, if the Hogs show heart and determination every game for 40 minutes, they will win some games, but most importantly they can win back the Razorback fans.