Given Chance to Play Basketball Hogs, Arkansas State Wanted None of That Smoke

When it comes to the two biggest universities in the state of Arkansas locking horns in the two most popular sports, a standard line of thinking is that in any such showdown, the Hogs would have more to lose and Arkansas State more to gain.

Arkansas has always been the big boy on the block, and it shouldn’t need to prove itself to the little dog nipping at its heels, the traditionalists believe. If Arkansas blows out Arkansas State in either sport, it’s simply doing what’s expected. If they win a close won, it gives Arkansas State a stronger case to play regularly. 

And if somehow Arkansas State won, the longtime fear was all hell would break out.

That’s a big part of the reasoning that kept the schools’ football and basketball programs from playing each other at any point since 1948, save for an NIT showdown in 1987 at Barnhill Arena. The Hogs barely won that game in overtime, and afterward Frank Broyles was so stressed out he swore such a showdown would never happen again, according to KATV’s Steve Sullivan. 

Granted, the Razorbacks and Red Wolves are now finally set to play in football, but that’s still four and half years away. The reality of actually losing to little brother is still very far off for Hog fans. 

Less far off is the Arkansas State-Arkansas basketball game that could have happened this weekend as a substitute for the Texas A&M-Arkansas game that had to be postponed

Both teams had unexpectedly open schedules this weekend after COVID-19 and winter weather breakouts, so why not?

But, surprisingly, it wasn’t the Red Wolves reaching out to the Razorbacks to play. It was the other way around, reports the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Richard Davenport:

Arkansas State, which has for decades itched such an opportunity, declined. 

Some may see this as cold feet, but likely a big reason Red Wolves chose not to receive a whuppin’ in Fayetteville on Saturday is because their next scheduled game is on Monday night in Jonesboro against Texas State (a make-up date for a previous postponement). 

Then, next week, Arkansas State will play back back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday at UT-Arlington. 

Still, cramming four games into eight games is definitely doable for young, healthy athletes.

But the other reason at play here is almost certainly the confidence of the Red Wolves players. Arkansas State (7-9) is No. 231 in the NET rankings while Arkansas (17-5) is No. 24. 

This isn’t 1987, when both teams were closer in talent and skill. At that time, Nolan Richardson was in his second season at the helm in Fayetteville but had struggled early on.

“Before the contest against ASU, Nolan had compiled a record of 30-29 at the school,” Stephen Ursery wrote on what’s now “Speculation was rampant that a loss to the then-Indians – whom, along with other in-state schools, Frank Broyles refused to schedule regular-season games against – would result in Nolan getting canned.”

Meanwhile, Arkansas State head coach Nelson Catalina had built A-State into a competitive program within the Southland Conference in his third season there. 

These days, Arkansas State is still competitive within its own league (currently No. 3 in the Sun Belt), but Arkansas is much better in Year 2 of the Eric Musselman era than it was in Year 2 of the Nolan Richardson era. 

No question, after seven straight SEC wins, Arkansas would have blown the doors off Mike Balado’s Arkansas State squad had the two teams played on Saturday. Since Balado knows his team can still win the Sun Belt if it beats Texas State, the league frontrunner, on Monday night, it’s understandable he would want to keep his players’ confidence unshattered.

Not all Hog fans see it that way.

“Very foolish on Wolves’ part,” Steven Sanchez Tweeted. “Anytime you are trying to advance recruiting you have to step up & play the top talent.  Just like hs bb kids playing travel bb they can either play against top talent like ‘Real Deal in the Rock’  & get better or play less talent & suffer….”

I would have loved to see this game, even if it ended up surprisingly competitive. 

Especially now that we know Arkansas won’t play at all this weekend, as Bob Holt reported. It sure would have beaten having to wait until Wednesday for the best Razorbacks basketball team in a long while to hit the court again.


See highlights of that electric 1987 game here:


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