Did the Arkansas Razorbacks Let an SEC West Title Slip Away?
It has been 15 years since the Arkansas Razorbacks have won an SEC West title in basketball. That feels like a lifetime for a program with a tradition of winning championships.
This season, the Razorbacks were expected to be at the bottom of the SEC West. Most experts picked the Hogs fifth in the division.
Less than a week ago, the Hogs were in the drivers seat with the SEC Western Division lead and heading into road games against the two worst teams in the division (Auburn and LSU).
Today, the Razorbacks have fallen a game behind Mississippi State in the West after losing both of those games; games that Arkansas fans had circled as wins and that most in and around the program probably expected to win as well.
The SEC West has not had the strength of the SEC East in quite some time. It has been a true tale of two divisions.
But no matter what your opinion of the Western Division, if Arkansas were to win the division, it would be the first positive sign around the basketball program in a long time.
Arkansas fans that have stuck loyally by while the program has faltered, need a light at the end of the tunnel. These fans are tired of saying, "maybe next year."
The Arkansas players and coaching staff need this for themselves as well. Only two players will be graduating after this season; Michael Washington and Stef Welsh.
The remainder of this young Razorback team will be wearing a Hog uniform for another two or three years. They need positive momentum and winning the SEC West could be just that.
Looking at the remaining schedule for Arkansas and Mississippi State, it appears that the Bulldogs have taken control of the driver's seat.
Arkansas' remaining games are all tough, and an 0-3 record in these games is possible. It starts this Saturday when the Hogs host No. 20 Vanderbilt at Bud Walton Arena. Next, the Hogs have to travel to face No. 17 Tennessee on the road, and then wrap up the regular season with a home game on March 6th against Ole Miss.
Mississippi State does have to go on the road for two of their final three games, but their three remaining games are more favorable than the Hogs. First, the Bulldogs head to South Carolina to face the struggling Gamecocks. Next, they continue on the road to face an improved Auburn Tiger squad and they finish their regular season with a home game showdown against No. 17 Tennessee.
From the looks of these remaining three games, the Razorbacks cannot afford to lose again, and that is going to be a tough task. Vanderbilt does come to Bud Walton, but they have been playing very solid basketball in the tough SEC Eastern Division. Tennessee has been up and down at times this season, but having to play the Vols on their home court is a bad omen for the Hogs. And finally, Ole Miss at Bud Walton is not a guaranteed win. The Hogs won the first matchup of the year, but the Rebels have had the Hogs number over the recent years and will come to win.
Realistically, the Hogs have a slim chance to go 2-1 in these three remaining game. So, the Hogs have to hope that Mississippi State drops one on the road and then the Bulldogs get beaten by Tennessee in their final game of the season.
There are a lot of ifs, ands, or buts in this scenario that the Razorbacks have left themselves to win the SEC Western Division. Coach John Pelphrey needs the success as much, or more, than his players. He has been taking heat for the struggles of the team over the past two grueling years although, he has recruiting on an up-swing that could really use a boost in the programs perception.
In the end, it appears that the Razorbacks let a title slip away. In just a little over a week we will know for certain. Between now and March 6th, a lot can happen and if the Razorbacks do find a way to win the SEC West, some bizarre events will have to unfold. Until then, it appears that the Hogs went from the driver's seat to the side of the road in a flash.
This article was written by Blake Stansbery of Born Hog Wild.
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