Home Blog

Nick Smith Jr’s 2023 Final Four Swagger Hints at a Different Kind of No. 1

Nick Smith Jr

Not since Corliss Williamson has a freshman come into the Arkansas basketball program with as much anticipation and acclaim as Nick Smith Jr. The Little Rock area native skyrocketed up the high school basketball recruit rankings over the last couple years, ultimately ending up as No. 1 in the nation in the class of 2022, according to 247Sports.com.

“When the great Eric Bossi [247Sports recruiting analyst] told me that I was going to be No. 1, it was kind of weird, I ain’t going to lie,” Smith Jr. recently said on Pig Trail Nation. “Coming from sophomore [year], I was in the 50s/60s range, then being a top player in my class all of a sudden my senior year, just to see how the work – all the blood, sweat and tears – I put in.”

“At the end of the day, I still got to get better each and every day, come in college-ready, compete in practice.”

Expectations for Arkansas Basketball

As Smith and the rest of his high-touted freshman classmates step onto campus in the coming days, the Razorbacks will be gunning for a No. 1 that matters far more than anything a recruiting service can offer.

For Corliss Williamson, it took two seasons. An injury his freshman season dampened his impact a bit, but with the help of fellow freshman Scotty Thurman the Hogs still made the 1993 Sweet Sixteen. The next season, though, they won it all.

Nick Smith Jr. and fellow five-star Razorbacks like Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh probably won’t have two shots at the ultimate prize. All three are forecasted to leave as one-and-dones with Nick Smith Jr. a consensus projected lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft among major mock draft outlets.

So, in a way, it’s now or never for the phenom who averaged 26.5 points, 8 rebounds and 7.3 assists last season while helping lead North Little Rock to a second straight state title.

He relishes the challenge ahead. “Arkansas ain’t been to the Final Four in a long time [since 1995],” Smith told Pig Trail Nation’s Kevin McPherson. “That’s something I want to get to, because I feel like if I get to the Final Four, there’s no way I’m going to let us lose.”

That’s some ironclad confidence right there. The same kind you need to become the first Arkansan to ever win MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic, as Smith did in April:

In that game, Smith scored 27 points while shooting 7 of 13 from the field, 5 of 7 from beyond the three-point line and making all 8 free-throw line attempts. He threw in 3 rebounds and 4 assists for good measure, showing a rare ability to raise his game even as the level of competition rises too.

That certainly bodes well for Arkansas basketball should it return to deeper rounds of March Madness.

Nick Smith Jr on What Comes Next

“On a big stage, for some reason, I always play well. Just trying to get there, man,” Smith said on Pig Trail Nation. “But at the end of the day, nothing is guaranteed, nothing is promised, we got to go in and work for it. There’s other good teams out here that want the same thing, we have to be different. We have to buy to what Coach Muss has for us, because he’s one of the – if not the best – coach in the country in college basketball. So, we just have to go in and buy-in to the team and buy-in to what we have on that team.”

One of Smith’s teammates on an absolutely loaded Razorback backcourt will be Devo Davis, who grew up in the same north Pulaski County area in Jacksonville and is two two years older. Whether it was playing against Davis while growing up, and often losing, or various games around the house, Nick Smith Jr. always kept his competitive instincts sharp.

“It starts in the house, there’s five people in here always doing something competitive. It was either we playing a game, it was either we playing one-on-one on the official practice goal. We’ll be trying to see who gets to the door fast, just little stuff like that, man. It’s always being around that type of environment.”

“I really hate to lose. I just want to go out there and give it my all. If I lose and I know we give it our all, I’ll be fine with that, I would be fine with losing. But at the end of the day, if I feel like if I lost and I know I didn’t really give it all I had or my team to give it all they had, I’m going to be pretty upset.”

Razorbacks and Preseason Projections

Arkansas basketball fans are probably going to feel a bit upset to find out that ESPN has dropped the Hogs from No. 1 in their preseason rankings to No. 6 (one spot behind Creighton[!]) because of JD Notae and Au’Diese Toney leaving for the NBA. Jaylin Williams is also likely to announce he is staying in the 2022 NBA Draft.

ESPN’s ranking came out before the arrival of new transfer Ricky Council IV, however. The sports columnist at The Stanford Daily, however, believes that Council and the rest of the new transfers, along Smith and the freshmen, make Arkansas No. 1 at this point in the preseason.

“Even without Williams, this team has length and athleticism at all positions on the court and is likely the deepest team in college basketball going into next year,” Kaushik Sampath wrote. “The players’ skill sets complement each other well, as this team has elite distributors, scorers and versatile defensive players. The roster, combined with head coach Eric Musselman’s ability to coach defense, make me believe that by the end of the year, this will be the best team in college basketball.”

To win it all, however, teams generally need alpha scorers. Corliss Williamson filled that role to a tee in his sophomore year, providing go-to buckets again and again from the post.

Nick Smith Jr. should fulfill the same leading role soon. Smith may not score a post-up bucket all season, but he won’t need to given the devastating arsenal of NBA-ready face-up moves and shots from all ranges he has at his disposal. The below footage, which show one of his most recent practices, hints at a level of skill and athleticism that should terrify future opponents:

Looking ahead toward the 2022-23 postseason, there will be a few times where everything is on line for the Razorbacks. In those pressure-packed moments, there will be no question about where Arkansas should go first for a bucket.

***

See the full Pig Trail Nation interview here:

“Crazy Motivated” Hogs Face Pros and Cons of Losing to Alabama Yet Again

Arkansas baseball

For the first time since the 2015 season, the Arkansas baseball team may find themselves on the road for the first round of NCAA regional play. After faltering at Alabama, this past weekend and a substandard RPI, the possibility that Baum Stadium will be empty in June is very real. That would buck the recent trend of the Razorbacks having a national seed locked up before the conference tournament.  

Despite a similar conference record to past years (18-12) and a third place finish overall, the much talked about weak non-conference schedule is costing the Razorbacks respectability points with the computer. The Hogs currently sit at #33 in the final regular season RPI rankings according to NCAA.com. That is much lower than the recent seasons.

But hosting a regional isn’t totally out of reach given the SEC Tournament field is littered with darlings of the RPI computer. The Razorbacks have a first round bye by the virtue of finishing #3 overall in the league standings and will play Alabama, who beat Georgia in the first round, at 9:30 am on Wednesday. Sure, Alabama is playing for their baseball lives in what had been a rather blah season until the Razorbacks came to town last weekend. It’s win or “season over” for the Crimson Tide. 

But the Razorbacks are plenty motivated, too, after getting embarrassed by a score of 18-5 on Sunday in Tuscaloosa. It was the most runs an Arkansas team had given up since 2005.

“Arkansas is a great team,” Alabama baseball coach Brad Bohannon said after the 5-3 Georgia win on Tuesday. “They didn’t play their best at our place. They’re one of the best teams in the league.”

“You get into the SEC Tournament and the deeper you go, the better the teams are. Everybody you play is going to be really good. Some of the teams have different strengths and weaknesses, but at this point, we just have to go play.”

TIME FOR SEC TOURNAMENT

Yes, losing to Alabama three times in the span of a week would be embarrassing. But how much impact the SEC tournament will have for Arkansas or anyone else in the tournament is debatable. The Hogs may be the only ones jockeying for seeding positions as everyone should already be slotted before the tournament starts on Tuesday. Ole Miss may need a good showing as they are firmly on the bubble but D1Baseball.com had them as a #3 seed at Stanford as of Monday. They have Arkansas as a #2 seed at Stillwater with an Oklahoma State team that has also been faltering as the host. 

Around the league, Tennessee and Texas A&M are firm national seed material. Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina have to win the tournament to get into the NCAAs. Missouri is done and the defending national champs, Mississippi State, are finished since they didn’t qualify for the SEC Tournament. So for all those Hog fans up in arms over the Alabama series and any other loss…at least we aren’t the Bulldogs in 2022. 

But every coach internally debates with their staff as to how to approach conference tournament play. What’s the risk-reward for this individual team to try to win this thing? There are pros and cons that are legit considerations where coaches have to gauge the temperature of their team, what it means to the NCAA resume and what will be best to get the team right for the NCAA tournament. 

Because, in the end, that is what really matters. Ask a non-Razorback fan and they likely can’t name who won last year’s SEC tournament. Most casual Razorback baseball fans probably can’t even name whom the Hogs beat for the title (Tennessee).

ARKANSAS BASEBALL CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS

Last season was a solid example as the Razorbacks rolled through the regular season and the SEC tournament only to end up looking worn down in regional play. The Hogs barely escaped a scrappy Nebraska at Baum Stadium, then fell short of Omaha with two heartbreaking one run losses to a red-hot North Carolina State team. That was also at Baum. 

One has to wonder if Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn would have traded the school’s first ever SEC tournament championship for bowing out earlier, resting up and running through regionals to see what happened in Omaha. 

After the past weekend’s performance at Tuscaloosa, this team looked rather listless. Perhaps mentally and physically worn down. Mississippi State looked the same last season as they dropped a late series to perennial SEC doormat Missouri, swept a bad Alabama team then was bounced from the SEC tournament going 0-2. Those SEC tournament losses were 13-1 and 12-2.

Then boom…the Bulldogs caught fire and subsequently won the national championship for the first time in the school’s history. 

Conversely, this year’s Arkansas baseball team has some issues that an SEC tournament may allow to get right. Pitching has faltered in recent weeks, especially starting pitching. The lineup continues to get juggled while trying to find the right combination to produce big innings. The defense was uncharacteristically porous against Alabama. These are all obvious issues anyone watching the game can see.

RAZORBACKS IN SEC TOURNAMENT

But is a run through the SEC tournament necessary to get things worked out, or would quick 0-2, 1-2 and get back to Fayetteville to heal up, the mind and body, be better? Only Van Horn and his staff know the answer to that and that is why they are in the position they are in and the rest of us do something else for a living. Actual coaches have to go with their gut sometimes as only they know what goes on inside the locker room. As much as the keyboard coaches think they know what’s best for a team, there is so much more going on behind the scenes. What random fans put up on social media is usually just a pulled out of thin air guess as to what’s best. Sometimes on target, sometimes way off base. 

Do the pitchers need to get in the bullpen and work out what ails them – which from my vantage point is not being intimate enough with the strike zone?

Would the hitters benefit from getting back in the lab and finding their swings?

Does everyone on the team require some downtime away from a high intensity ballgame to get refreshed?

Or do they need to work all this out on the field of play against quality SEC competition?

Not that DVH would lose a game intentionally. But he may limit pitch counts for some guys. Possibly let catcher Michael Turner DH and rest his legs as he was far more shaky at Alabama than he had been previously this season. Maybe try some different guys to find a dependable right hand bat or reinsert a benched lefty hitters like Jace Bohrofen or Kendall Diggs to face what is surely to be a plethora of lefties in the postseason. Switch hitting Dylan Leach has gotten that shot recently with no production. The other right hand bats on the roster are freshman who haven’t played – touted recruits like Drake Varnado, Max Soliz, Jr., but that’s because they aren’t ready. Those things may not lead to SEC tournament wins but may pay off down the more important road.

RECENT HOG HISTORY

Looking backwards, the 2018 Razorbacks rolled all the way within one out from the national championship after going 2-1 in the SEC tournament. The 2019 Diamond Hogs went 1-2 then qualified for the CWS. The 2017 team went 4-1 losing to LSU in the Championship game then fell short of Omaha losing to Missouri State in the Fayetteville Super Regional. 

The point of saying all that baseball is very unpredictable and much like March Madness in basketball, the post season is all about matchups and getting hot at the right time…and, of course, a little bit of luck. Take the past two weeks for Vanderbilt who looked like they were righting the ship by taking 2 of 3 from the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. Then they get swept by LSU in Nashville to finish the regular season. Arkansas swept LSU earlier this season. 

Everyone wants to go ahead and hand Tennessee the trophy but history isn’t in their favor. Under the current format, the #1 overall seed hasn’t won the national championship since 1999 (Miami Hurricanes). Vandy went 26-3 in the SEC in 2013, which is better than the Vols’ 2022 run, and failed to even advance to Omaha. Tennessee has definitely stood out as the best team in college baseball thus far but the postseason can get a little wonky. Just ask the 2021 Hogs. 

If the Hogs don’t host, that isn’t the end of the world. The comparable 2015 Razorbacks, starring Golden Spikes winner Andrew Benentendi, were 35-22 (17-12 in the SEC) and were sent to Stillwater where they went 3-0 to advance to the Supers. By a stroke of luck, the matchup against national seed Missouri State was held in Fayetteville due to the minor league team they share a stadium with having home games. The Hogs won 2 of 3 and advanced to Omaha. 

I wouldn’t count on that scenario in 2022 but if the Razorbacks can win their regional, maybe the opposing regional host gets upset and a Super Regional lands in Fayetteville. But the Hogs have made it to Omaha without a home game in the postseason as evidenced by 1979, 1985, 1987, 1989 and 2009. Alternatively, Baum-Walker Stadium has hosted regional or super regional play in 2006, 2007 and 2017 without the Razorbacks advancing. 

WHERE ARKANSAS BASEBALL GOES FROM HERE

Regardless of the upcoming SEC tournament performance, don’t let go of the rope, Hog fans. Mississippi State proved you can lay a huge egg in Hoover and still go on a serious run in the NCAA tournament. But that takes a special team with solid leadership from the coaches and the players as well as finding that spark to kick things into overdrive. 

This year’s Razorbacks have a lot to play for. A fifth 40+ win season in a row (excluding the shortened 2020 season due to the pandemic) is in play. Playing on the national stage is great for current players as well as recruiting. An immeasurable amount of branding and marketing come from deep runs in the NCAA tournament. Then there is the internal motivation to rebound from a disappointing finish to the regular season and for some individual players, their lower than expected play either recently or all season. 

And it’s not like this is a team full of bum ballplayers. Despite no players named to the first or second All SEC team (Hagan Smith and Brady Tygart were deservedly on the All SEC freshman team), there is a collection of talent good enough to be playing for a divisional crown on the last day of the regular season. That kind of success in the SEC bodes well for tournament baseball. They are tested despite the weak non-conference schedule. Maybe they are saving up recognizable performances for the postseason?

Finishing third in the SEC is nothing to sneeze at and playing someone fresh and new with something on the line besides another SEC team should energize this squad. The talent is there to make a run. The question is if they can find that high level of play to add up some wins.  

Improved play by the Hogs may not lead to Omaha. Success can be found in other ways and that is where this team needs to simplify their focus to get back on track. Looking too far down the road and judging a season on Omaha or bust leads to undue pressure and playing tight. 

As coachspeak repeatedly quips, the post season is a fresh start. Everyone is 0-0. True, but there are a finite number of  teams in the NCAA tournament that can be a serious threat, most cannot. Those that can’t simply do not have enough weapons. And there will be some high end teams that falter. That’s what makes postseason tournaments so much fun. 

The Arkansas Razorbacks are one of those teams in the “can” bucket but don’t judge that based on their SEC Tournament results. It’s time to trust the coaches to handle the process and manage the team regardless of what their trip to Hoover ends up being. The pitching rotation, lineup card and in-game management are all designed to get the Hogs’ best foot forward when the NCAA tournament starts. 

 DVH knows best. And there is no close second. 

***

Feature photo courtesy of Baumology (via Rhett Hutchins)

Brent Birch was a four year letterman under legendary Coach Norm DeBriyn and including the Razorback’s 1990 Southwest Conference Championship team. Birch was also on the first Razorback team to play in the SEC in 1992. He won the Bill Dickey Award in 1993 that was traditionally awarded to the top senior at the University of Arkansas. Birch still ranks in the Razorback’s career top 10 for games started (42) and innings pitched (272.2). He currently is the Executive Director of the Little Rock Technology Park.

More analysis of Arkansas baseball and softball from Mike Irwin here:

Look Who’s Ready to Make No. 16 the New No. 5 Among Razorback Greats

Isaiah Sategna

Jersey numbers don’t become iconic in Arkansas all that often.

The Arkansas football program made Clyde Scott’s No. 12 and Brandon Burlsworth’s No. 77 obvious, noteworthy legacies. Those two numbers are the only ones in retirement for the Hogs, but that doesn’t mean 98 others lack panache.

Treylon Burks spent the last three years ensuring that No. 16 would be remembered. The prolific receiver not only inked a guaranteed rookie deal this week, but confirmed that he will be wearing that same familiar jersey number from Fayetteville for the Tennessee Titans, too.

Burks, of course, is being heavily counted upon in Nashville. The Titans pulled a draft-night stunner when they dealt their star pass-catcher, A.J. Brown, to Philadelphia to move up for the Burks pick.

Which, of course, was No. 16.

And now another touted, electric in-state prospect perhaps wants to “build the brand,” to use common parlance. Isaiah Sategna, the four-star receiver/sprinter from Fayetteville High, expressed his interest recently in taking the number next in an interview with Ty Hudson.

The Identity of Digits and Arkansas Football

Number-player associations are big in a little state like Arkansas. Even with only the two numbers actually retired, Arkansas football lore is heavy with players who took whatever was emblazened across their backs and made it memorable.

Darren McFadden wore No. 5 all the way back at Oak Grove High School, where he caught national attention as a two-way phenom in the early 2000s. From there, he authored a three-year collegiate career (2005-07) where he twice won the Doak Walker, twice finished second in the Heisman, and obliterated school and SEC rushing records.

He did it with such speed and flair that the “5” gained mystique quickly. Over that charmed time in the Ozarks, D-Mac’s jersey number got a lot of air time as he blasted through seams.

This one, for me, remains the most memorable of his many, many sprints to pay dirt:

If you stood in the stands for any of his games, you saw something magic, and that digit was often a blur. His successors to the position clearly respected the work, as Rakeem Boyd shined in the leanest years, and now Rocket Sanders clearly evokes D-Mac’s punishing style.

Other jersey numbers of note consistently bring old Hogs to mind. Matt Jones brought No. 9 into prominence prior to McFadden, and a litany of great Razorbacks have donned 3 or 22 or 34.

Dan Hampton and Steve Atwater both made lasting impressions—largely on opposing ball carriers—en route to the NFL Hall of Fame. Hampton’s yielded his 86 as a Hog for a Chicago Bear 99, though; Atwater kept No. 27 from Fayetteville on his way to Denver.

Few connections are as strong as Burks’ new link to 16, though. And after a shaky first day of camp, the NFL rookie seems ready to establish himself and his number on the biggest stage.

Treylon Burks Trying to “Re-Brand” the Number

The “16” in the NFL isn’t commonly plastered on the No. 1 wideout’s togs. Unquestionably, Joe Montana ranks as the most prestigious pro to wear the number, but even that legend was in a different digit in college:

Joe Montana is clearly the top NFL player to wear 16, but wore 3 in college at Notre Dame (photo credit: University of Notre Dame Athletics)

Because 16 has been the dominion of quarterbacks over the years, Montana, Len Dawson, and part-time punter George Blanda wore it. In recent years, some receivers like Seattle’s Tyler Lockett managed to make it a receiver-compatible number.

Burks, though, seems to be the only one sticking with the numerical horse that brought him, so to speak. He wore 13 at Warren High but arrived in Fayetteville to find that one taken by then-senior Deon Stewart. So he selected “16” and made history with it. And it’s realistically quite difficult to assess the measure of Burks’ accomplishments for a couple of obvious reasons.

In 2019, Burks came in to rescue a moribund Chad Morris offense. Thanks to woeful, indecisive quarterbacking and general ineptitude, he never scored as a freshman despite 475 yards on 29 grabs.

In 2020, Burks missed one of the ten scheduled SEC games. Without benefit of non-conference patsies to inflate his stats, Burks still logged seven receiving scores and 820 yards.

Burks’ 2021 campaign mirrored the Hogs’ flourishing. His 1,104 receiving yards were third-best in Hog single-season history, and he tied the single-season mark of 11 touchdown grabs. Had he played in the Outback Bowl, he might’ve forced himself into a tie for the most 100-yard games ever (11, Anthony Lucas), or perhaps nudged into second place behind Cobi Hamilton for single-season yardage.

Yet doubters still exist, and when Burks was unable to finish his first practice, they started flooding social media. Anytime a team swaps out its best talent at one position for an untested rookie, the expectations balloon accordingly.

It’s sort of insulting, too, a point that Deadspin properly underscored, to draw such extreme conclusions. Though selected 16th overall, as this NFL Draft’s receiver depth was historically unmatched, Burks was only the sixth pass-catcher off the board so the motivation for him to outperform not just Brown, but all of his classmates, should be ample.

Isaiah Sategna’s Commitment Solidifies Pittman’s Chops

While Sam Pittman obviously figured heavily into Burks’ ascent to first-round gem, Chad Morris does warrant credit for securing the Warren product. Sategna, however, represents a big-time entry into the fold.

The offspring of two gifted tracksters, Sategna dominated the state track and field championships this year. He’s a different type of receiver than Burks, comparable more to former Arkansas football star Jarius Wright in build and skill set.

If transfer Jadon Haselwood also thrives in the Kendal Briles attack, then Burks’ production might be more replaceable than originally thought. Wright, Joe Adams, Greg Childs, and Chris Gragg unified Bobby Petrino’s 2008 class, but Haselwood was a five-star out of high school and Sategna is, like Burks, the top-rated Arkansan in his class.

For a guy who loves the thrill and challenge of taking down wild game in the woods, Burks presumably doesn’t mind the pressure foisted upon his shoulders in Tennessee. And if Sategna ends up pairing his world-class speed with No. 16, too, then expect those familiar red and white jerseys to keep selling.

(Author’s Projections for Sategna in 2022: 40 receptions, 653 yards, six touchdowns. WPS.)

Sam Pittman on Isaiah Sategna

The Arkansas football coach recently hopped onto The Buzz 103.7 FM’s “The Zone” and shared his thoughts on Sategna’s potential role with the team in 2022. For one, Pittman believes Sategna could absolutely crack the rotation as a true freshman. “I mean, he’s got speed. He’s really, really well coached,” he said.

Pittman added that Sategna was well schooled in high school playing for former Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick. “I mean, really, really well coached, played at the highest level of football here in the state of Arkansas. Obviously, comes from a coaching background. Mother was an All-American in track*. So yeah, I think, certainly. I had Andrew Thomas when I was at Georgia. He moved three positions and started as a true freshman and came in June. Then he played three years and was the fourth pick in the draft. But yes, it can be done. If it can be done at offensive line, it sure as heck can be done at wide receiver.”

*Sategna’s mother, Dahlia, was a star sprinter at LSU and participated in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. His father, Mario, was a three-time All-American decathlete and 1995 NCAA champion.

Reality Check for a Suddenly Reeling Razorback Baseball Team

Dave Van Horn

A couple days ago Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn made a point to remark about Arkansas’ season. More specifically, he remarked about how the Razorbacks were in the midst of a season vying for a fourth straight division but were feeling a bit miffed with some of the external chastising. They were tied for first in the SEC West with Texas A&M entering the weekend, after all. Not long before, former pitcher Patrick Wicklander had tweeted the same thing: Arkansas fans are spoiled.

Neither Van Horn nor Wicklander were wrong. But a few days later, after the Diamond Hogs dropped the final regular-season series of the year to one of the worst teams in the league, Van Horn was at a loss for words. The Razorbacks were waylaid by Alabama in the series finale, 18-5, ensuring no fourpeat. Texas A&M had made it moot with a win, too, but Arkansas losing two of three to the Crimson Tide, who finished 11th in the SEC, is quite a sting heading into this week’s SEC Tournament.

“It all started on the mound,” Van Horn said following Saturday’s loss. “That’s what changed everything. It’s a big concern. Disappointed in two out of the three starts this weekend.”

Arkansas’ best attribute is a concern? That means everything that comes next is a concern. The Razorbacks absolutely rely on pitching, leaving no one with any idea what to expect in the SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament that follows.

Half Glass Full for Arkansas Baseball

The glass half-full glance comes first.

Arkansas finished third in the SEC. Van Horn’s team won 18 league games for the fifth straight season. Two of those seasons resulted in Arkansas finishing the whole of the year in Omaha at the College World Series. Another season, last year, the Diamond Hogs spent nearly the entire year ranked as the No. 1 team in the country before falling in the Super Regionals. This year’s Razorbacks team spent practically the whole season ranked inside the Top 10. They were in the conversation for a potential national seed, as unlikely as it might have been given their lower RPI, entering the final weekend of the regular season. In other words, Arkansas was Arkansas and Van Horn and Wicklander were justified in their frustration with a certain segment of the fan base that thought the Razorbacks simply weren’t good enough.

The other perspective is less glamorous. 

Arkansas’ data isn’t that of a team one would figure on being a potential national seed. Of course, that’s out the window, probably, after the weekend’s series loss to Alabama. An unbeaten run through the SEC Tournament culminating with a win over the nation’s No. 1 team, Tennessee, could see the Razorbacks enter the conversation, but even that likely isn’t enough. Third-place-in-the-SEC teams would be borderline in the best of years. This wasn’t the SEC’s best year. 

Reality for the Razorbacks

The reality is Arkansas, during SEC play, didn’t exactly set the world on fire. The Diamond Hogs were 11th in the league in batting average (.254), eighth in slugging (.444) and sixth in on-base percentage (.356). Those aren’t numbers generally conducive to a top-three finish in the SEC, though they achieved it, anyway. A big part of that is because they don’t strike out at the plate. Their 251 strikeouts were the second-best mark in the league. That means they’re putting the ball in play, giving them the ability to score even on outs. It isn’t sexy; it isn’t even ideal, but it’s a big part of why Arkansas’ record is better than the batting statistics would suggest at a first glance.

That, plus pitching. The Arkansas baseball staff, namely its bullpen, helped the Razorbacks finish second in the SEC in runs allowed and third in opponent batting average. Even when opponents did hit the ball, it wasn’t hard. The staff finished second in doubles allowed, triples allowed and home runs allowed. If the Razorbacks want to make a run in the postseason, it will almost certainly count on its pitching.

It was the pitching that let them down on Saturday, though. Only two of the eight pitchers who took the mound in the season finale kept the Crimson Tide off the board. Those sorts of results are incredibly rare and almost certainly won’t happen again. They’re an aberration. But with Arkansas’ lineup doing typical Arkansas baseball lineup things (five runs on 11 hits with four walks), better-than-average performances will be required in both the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament that follows, wherever it is.

Arkansas, barring a disaster at the SEC Tourney, stands in good shape to host a Regional in Fayetteville. Entering the weekend, Baseball America had the Razorbacks pegged as the No. 11 seed in the nation, meaning a Fayetteville Regional. The Hogs were 11-4 in conference play at Baum-Walker Stadium during the regular season. The note of conference play is mentioned only because the quality of teams Arkansas will face in the NCAA Tournament are closer to SEC quality, as opposed to say, your Arkansas-Pine Bluffs and Arkansas States of the world. Arkansas’ weak nonconference schedule certainly went a long way in the discrepancy in the Hogs’ poll ranking (top-10) and RPI rating (hovering around 30). Those same fans who were anxious or annoyed a week ago are certainly more so now. A 4-6 finish to the regular season isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring. 

Whichever perspective you choose – full or empty – is yours. But don’t be that guy. Don’t become the fan Van Horn and Wicklander alluded to. This is Dave Van Horn after all.

In DVH, we trust. 

***

More on Arkansas baseball here:

In Wake of Texas A&M’s “Gutless Move,” Arkansas Baseball Bows Up for Pivotal Weekend

Texas A&M baseball

Just how important is RPI in college baseball? As the Arkansas baseball team plays its final weekend of the regular season, the question was never more timely. The #7 Razorbacks (38-14, 18-10) are tied atop the SEC West with smoking-hot #6 Texas A&M (34-16, 18-10). The Hogs, who are 8-7 since sweeping LSU and ASU a month ago, beat Alabama in the first game of the series this weekend while the Aggies beat Ole Miss 10-5 in a series opener that saw Rebels coach Mike Bianco get thrown out for being way too cheeky.

Despite being second in the overall SEC standings since the first conference weekend, the Razorbacks are fighting an uphill battle in terms of rectifying their top 10 ranking with a substandard Ratings Percentage Index or, as it’s more commonly known, RPI rating. The Hogs are currently #27 in the NCAA’s published RPI which puts them behind Tennessee (1), Vanderbilt (3), Auburn (4), Georgia (11), Florida (13) and Texas A&M (17). 

This actually reflects a drop from #26, which somehow happened after the Razorbacks’ Game 1 win at Alabama on Thursday night.

The Razorbacks have a better conference record than all of those teams besides the Volunteers and Aggies. The Hogs lost two of three to Vandy, at A&M and at Florida with a series win at Auburn. For reference, Alabama is currently #53 and A&M’s opponent, Ole Miss, is #39.

Arkansas Baseball Has Paid a Price

Arkansas has paid the price with their non-conference schedule which ranks #250 out of 301 D1 teams according to D1baseball.com. Strength of schedule (SOS) accounts for a big chunk of the RPI calculation and deals with opponents’ winning percentage and opponents’ opponents’ winning percentages. For reference, Arkansas was #1 in the rankings and #1 in RPI with the #1 SOS in 2021 but of course ran into a buzzsaw in North Carolina State, losing two one-run games in the super regionals.

In 2022, Tennessee is #1 in the rankings and RPI but has the #39 SOS according to D1baseball. They’ve played their share of chumps, too, but have won and won a lot, regardless of opponent including 28-6 versus the RPI top 100. The Razorbacks are 16-10 and A&M is 19-14 against the same metric.

IN-STATE DAMAGE

As much as everyone likes playing in-state schools, the volume of games against those teams hurt the Razorbacks. Bad. Despite not even losing a game against them. UALR’s RPI at #176 is the highest ranked of those opponents with UCA at #195, ASU at #234 and UAPB at #299. Toss in Grambling at #280 and those games didn’t do Arkansas any good. 

One could even argue that facing the substandard pitching of those schools may be the cause of some of the Razorbacks’ offensive issues in league play. It is safe to say that the Hogs didn’t face a single arm that could pitch for a SEC program in any of those games. And, if I recall, Grambling threw one or two guys with fastballs under 80 MPH. 

The Arkansas baseball program made its schedule well in advance and early-season games against Southeastern Louisiana (127) Illinois State (179), Omaha (209) and Illinois-Chicago (196) were all thought to be worthwhile as those teams typically compete at the top of their respective leagues. But as 2022 has played out, none of them have had the season they expected. 

The same could be said for name-brand schools like Indiana (117), Mississippi State (108) and Missouri State (100), against which the Hogs went 3-2. Each is having a substandard season, especially the defending national champs. They have lost nine SEC games in a row and were annihilated 27-2 at home on Thursday night thanks to Tennessee. From national champs to not even making the SEC tournament is a likely destiny for the Bulldogs. Talk about an “epic fail,” as the kids say. 

Texas A&M Baseball Saves Its Own Hide

The Hogs’ midweek loss to Missouri State a couple weeks ago put a real dent in the Hogs late season RPI. That red flag forced Texas A&M to cancel a midweek game against Incarnate Word this week and Ole Miss to dump a game against Arkansas State in Jonesboro.

Wins in those games would have marginally hurt each of those teams in terms of dinging their strength of schedule, which impacts their NCAA tournament slots. Losses would have been irreparably damaging this late in the season. Texas A&M, just like Arkansas, is playing for the SEC West crown, hosting and seeding while Ole Miss is scrambling to get in the tournament after a lackluster first two-thirds of the season. As lame as that is to backpedal out of those games, I can see why those respective schools chose that route. 

Ducking opponents and games for self-centered reasons doesn’t make it right and, as Jen Bielema would make sure we all know, karma has a way of integrating itself into these kind of situations. In reference to the Texas A&M baseball cancellation, Kent Smith, while writing for SI.com, stated, “It was a gutless move that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen, and it’s an embarrassing black eye to the university and the conference.” 

I am not sure I would call the cancellations a “gutless move,” but they are definitely selfish.

Arkansas State actually had a SEC school coming to play on their campus which would have drawn some fans, given some attention to the program and Ole Miss yanked that rug right out from under them. But I’m not sure how important that is as the Rebels have come to Jonesboro before and the Red Wolves haven’t improved their program much, if any. 

It’s intriguing the Aggies and Rebels play each other this weekend with so much on the line for both schools. When and how will cosmic comeuppance rear its ugly head? Karma may not rectify anything this weekend but the baseball gods have a funny way of sorting these kinds of things out. Stand by. 

Looking ahead to Arkansas vs Alabama

Would Dave Van Horn do the same? Possibly, but the Hogs don’t have a midweek scheduled so we may never know. I’d like to think he would play the game and get pitchers some work and try one more time to get this lineup clicking before a big conference series at Bama. Still, who’s to say?

Do not be surprised if the SEC West remains unsettled until Saturday when the season wraps up across the league. The Aggies own the tiebreaker over the Hogs due to winning the hotly contested series in College Station earlier this season. If the Hogs can win the West, that would make four in a row for the Razorbacks coupled with an overall SEC title in 2021. 

As much stock as the NCAA Selection Committee puts in RPI, it is not the end all, be all. Any team that goes through the gauntlet that is the Southeastern Conference and finishes second overall should be a national seed. Nobody can tell me Oregon State (RPI #2), Virginia Tech (5), Dallas Baptist (10) or Georgia Southern (6) would have the same success if they played in this league. 

The Selection Committee cannot and will not simply rely on a computer to determine tournament seeding. RPI is calculated by adding three components: the team’s winning percentage, opponent winning percentage and opponents’ opponent winning percentage. Opponent winning percentage counts for 50% of the score, and the other two components count for 25%. 

But there is the eyeball test too and the SEC runner-up should be highly seeded. That includes a national seed with the potential to host a super regional. The only wrinkle in that would be the SEC is considered the second best conference in 2022 RPI wise behind the ACC

Vying with Texas A&M for a Crown

Arkansas’s weak non-conference schedule doesn’t and shouldn’t matter if they finish as a standalone runner-up to Tennessee. If the Hogs end up tied with Texas A&M, the Aggies will likely secure that national seed and the Hogs would get a top 16 seed, host a regional, and then possibly be put on the road for supers. A series loss to Alabama may slide the Hogs down to a #2 seed and on the road for the remainder of the 2022 season.

All of the above is possible. Fans are waiting to see the Razorbacks play their best baseball, and nobody believes they have actually done that yet. But the clock is ticking.

Still, the Razorbacks’ body of work has put them in an overall enviable position. They are left with a pretty simple charge to resolve all these issues involving RPI, SOS, seeding, hosting and division championships. 

As former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis famously said, “Just Win Baby!”.

***

Brent Birch was a four year letterman under legendary Coach Norm DeBriyn and including the Razorback’s 1990 Southwest Conference Championship team. Birch was also on the first Razorback team to play in the SEC in 1992. He won the Bill Dickey Award in 1993 that was traditionally awarded to the top senior at the University of Arkansas. Birch still is ranks in the Razorback’s career top 10 for games started (42) and innings pitched (272.2). He currently is the Executive Director of the Little Rock Technology Park.

Make sure to get notified of future articles by Brent Birch here:

Mike Irwin on Texas A&M Baseball

“There almost should be an unwritten rule,” the Aransas sportscaster recently said on “Ask Mike.” “And coaches should know that as you approach postseason play, just don’t play midweek games anymore. You play them early in the season because you’re trying to get better and you’re trying to pitch young guys. And we’ve already seen a couple of midweek pitchers now pitching out of the bullpen on the weekend.”

“There’s a reason to play those midweek games early in the year into the middle of the year. But as you get to the end, what’s the point?”

Irwin also had a good time ragging on Aggies and Longhorns alike:

“I do think it’s hilarious that the bashing of Texas A&M baseball is mostly coming from Longhorn morons. And I say morons because they are morons. I mean, A&M beat them in Austin. You’re going to sit there and throw shade on them for not doing this and act like they’re scared to play Incarnate Word, when they whip your butt in your place? Shut up. Just shut up, Longhorn fans. And so, it is funny when Aggies and Longhorns argue with each other.”

God bless you, Mike Irwin. Irwin also diagnoses the Razorbacks’ recent struggles at 8:30 below:

See our latest post here:

Arkansas vs Alabama: Hogs Can’t Catch Break with RPI, Drop Despite Win

Arkansas baseball

With the SEC West race coming down to the wire between Arkansas and Texas A&M, the Hogs are looking to sweep the rug from under the Aggies’ feet in a high-stakes weekend. Texas A&M won its Game 1 on the road in a series with Ole Miss, while the No. 7 Razorbacks (38-14, 18-10) did their part by winning the series opener vs the Alabama Crimson Tide (27-25, 10-17).

Behind Peyton Stovall’s two-run tater and Cayden Wallace’s go-ahead three-run shot in the fifth, the Hogs overpowered Alabama (27-25, 10-17 SEC) with seven unanswered runs on its way to a 7-3 win on Thursday night at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

With the victory, the Arkansas baseball program has now won 18 or more conference games for the fifth consecutive season. SEC East foe Florida was the last team to achieve the feat, doing so from 2014-18.

Arkansas and the No. 6 Texas A&M baseball team remain tied atop the SEC Western Division standings with two games left to play. The Hogs are seeking their fourth consecutive division title (2018, 2019 & 2021).

Meanwhile, the RPI rankings continue to short hand the Hogs. Even though the Razorbacks are competing for the SEC West title and overall No. 2 seed in the SEC, they entered the series as the seventh ranked team in the SEC RPI. RPI will play a role in which the all-important seeding come NCAA Tournament, and wins normally translation into higher seeding.

So, predictably, Texas A&M’s victory over Ole Miss on Thursday night helped it go from No. 19 to No. 15. Not so predictably, Arkansas actually dropped despite its victory – going from No. 26 to No. 27.

No time to worry, though. The Hogs are right back at it tonight (details below).

Arkansas vs Alabama Game 1 Recap

Will McEntire made his first career SEC start on Thursday night and gave the Razorbacks four innings of three-run ball. The redshirt sophomore struck out four while allowing eight hits and issuing two walks before giving way to the bullpen.

Alabama mounted a 3-0 lead after four innings of play, but Arkansas turned it up a notch offensively in the fifth. The Hogs broke through for five runs, thanks to Stovall and Wallace’s rally-igniting home runs. 

Stovall’s two-run homer to right center was his fourth of the season, while Wallace’s three-run tank to over the playground in left was his ninth of the year. Wallace is now slashing .306/.399/.526 with 46 runs batted in, which ties for the team lead.

Ahead 5-3, Arkansas turned to Kole Ramage, Evan Taylor and Brady Tygart to preserve the lead. The trio did exactly that, combining for eight strikeouts over five scoreless innings in relief of McEntire.

Ramage fanned two in his 1 1/3 innings out of the bullpen, while Taylor punched out a season-high four over two frames to improve to 5-0 on the season. Tygart locked down the final 1 2/3 innings, striking out two and securing his team-leading eighth save of the year.

The bullpen’s job was made even easier in the top of the ninth after Jalen Battles’ two-run double to the gap in left center extended the Hogs’ advantage to 7-3. Battles finished his night with a pair of hits, tying him with Wallace for the team lead in multi-hit games (17) this season. (via Razorback Communications)

Arkansas vs Alabama Game 2: 

Time: Friday, May 20 (7:00 p.m.) 

Watch: SEC Network – Listen – Live Stats

Starting Pitchers: 

Alabama: RHP Jacob McNairy (5-2, 4.60 ERA) 

Arkansas: RHP Connor Noland (5-3, 3.38 ERA)

Game 2 Prediction: 

Alabama has lost four of McNairy’s last five starts, but it was mostly because of the lack of run support. He got an average 1.8 runs of support in those losses. He has not allowed more than three runs in his last five starts. 

Until this weekend, Noland has been the series opener. Game two generally belonged to freshman Hagar Smith. As the season closes and the SEC West is as tight as it can get, Van Horn had to make an adjustment.
Noland is coming off his two worst starts, allowing eight runs over nine innings against Auburn and Vanderbilt. This slight step down in competition might be the key to Noland getting back on track.

Score Prediction: Arkansas wins 4-3

Arkansas vs Alabama Game 3

Time: Saturday, May 21 (1:00 p.m.) 

Watch: SEC Network+ – Listen – Live Stats

Starting Pitchers: 

Alabama: LHP Grayson Hitt (4-3, 5.02 ERA)

Arkansas: RHP Jaxon Wiggins (6-2, 5.31 ERA)

Game 3 Prediction: 

Hitt had a 1.26 ERA in non-conference games, but has struggled against SEC lineups to the tune of a 6.45 ERA. Bama has lost three of his last four starts after a 7-1 start to the year. He has a 15.68 ERA in those losses. 

Wiggins was in a rough patch earlier in the season, but his last two starts have been pretty good, allowing three runs over 9.1 innings. In his last start, the 6-6 righty went four shutout innings with seven strikeouts before being replaced in the fifth with two runners on base who came around to score. 

This could be a wild game with two pitchers who had had their recent struggles. But Wiggins appearing to be back on track could be the difference Arkansas needs. 

Score Prediction: Arkansas wins 7-6

Arkansas vs Alabama Series Prediction

Arkansas is playing to win the SEC West and Alabama is playing to stay in the SEC Tournament. Both teams need to win. 

Arkansas has been the better team all season and are coming off a few tough series in a row with Vanderbilt and Auburn and before them, they played a recently surging Ole Miss and Texas A&M.  The Hogs should keep their foot on the gas and build momentum against Alabama, even though the series is on the road.

The Razorbacks do have the extra motivation of the SEC West title hanging in the balance, which should hopefully carry them to a sweep against a faltering Crimson Tide club.

Alabama Baseball Background

The below published before the series began

Alabama has a high team batting average at .280 but a low home run total with 57. Arkansas, meanwhile, is hitting .272 with 77 home runs. 

The Crimson Tide are led in batting by sophomore right fielder Andrew Pinckney and senior left fielder Tommy Seidl. They both are hitting .318 for the year with Pinckney knocking six home runs and 26 RBIs while Seidl has three home runs and 22 RBIs. 

Pinckney is hitting .409 with two dingers and nine RBIs over the past 11 games. Seidl is 6-13 with a home run and three RBIs over his last four contests. 

Senior first baseman Drew Williamson leads the team in RBIs with 42 while batting .298 and swatting eight long balls. Junior third baseman Zane Denton leads the team with 12 round-trippers to go with 41 RBIs. 

Williamson is hitting .333 with a home run and five RBIs over his last five contests, but Denton is 3-42 over the past four SEC series. 

Alabama also has former Razorback catcher Dominic Tamez in their starting lineup. Tamez played in 2020 for the Razorbacks, then transferred out and killed it at McLennan Community College for a season. McLennnan is the Texas junior college where Dave Van Horn and Jalen Battles both played as well.

Tamez now hits .292 with five home runs and 30 RBIs. 

Trend with Arkansas Baseball

For the current Razorbacks, the offense is slowly trending upward despite the 0-5 loss to Vanderbilt in seven innings. Going into that game, Arkansas was scoring 7.6 runs over the past five contests.

Junior second baseman Robert Moore has struggled all season, but over the past two series, he is batting .292 with two home runs and seven RBIs. Following a 2-26 stretch, senior shortstop Jalen Battles went 5-9 with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs over three games before the seven-inning shutout against Vanderbilt Sunday. 

Sophomore third baseman Cayden Wallace has been killing SEC pitching as of late, hitting .351 over the past three series, with six doubles, two home runs and seven RBIs. 

After a 10-20 stretch against Ole Miss and Auburn, Vanderbilt refused to pitch to senior center fielder Braydon Webb. He was 0-6 in the series but drew five walks. Always with a rough series, senior catcher Michael Turner took a tough 1-13 against Vanderbilt. 

Junior left fielder Zack Gregory is behind on the upswing, going 1-18 over his last 11 games. Freshman designated hitter Kendall Diggs has gone 3-25 with four walks and two home runs since being thrust into the starting lineup. 

The Razorbacks have had a tough schedule to end the year, playing at Texas A&M, vs Ole Miss, at Auburn and vs Vanderbilt in four consecutive weeks. This schedule has brought them to a 7-7 record over their last 14 games. The last Arkansas team to have a .500 or worse stretch that lasted 14 or more games was in 2019 when Arkansas lost eight games in a 15 game span, but still made the trip to Omaha.

More on Arkansas baseball here:

After Nick Saban Fracas, Framing Sam Pittman as an Anti(sh)-Jimbo Fisher Has Never Looked Better

Jimbo Fisher

The full dysfunctional glory that is the Nick Saban-Jimbo Fisher feud has recently come to outshine almost everything else under the sports sun. For good reason, too, considering it’s not everyday that you see two veteran national title-winning coaches, one of whom is the best in the game’s history, publicly go at it like squabbling children.

There was, of course, Saban’s initial accusation that Texas A&M football has “bought every player” on its team on the way to signing the greatest signing class in the sport’s history. Then came Jimbo Fisher swinging back on Thursday to drop this doozy: “It’s despicable that a reputable head coach could come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way, or things don’t go his way. The narcissist in him doesn’t allow those things to happen. It’s ridiculous when he’s not on top. The parity in college football he’s been talking about, go to talk to coaches who coach for him. Go dig into to wherever he’s been. You can find out anything.”

Oh, and this:

Fisher, who served as offensive coordinator under Saban at LSU, has clearly taken the gloves off when it comes to his old boss. This moment feels like it could be an inflection point in the culture of big-time college football coaching, banishing any last remnants of stuffiness from the profession.

Just look at these perspectives on the feud via ESPN from two anonymous coaches:

Big Ten assistant: “I think there was like a universal 90 minutes where no one got s— done because they were just laughing their asses off, us included.”

Group of 5 head coach: “It’s like the sequel to the best movie ever. [Fisher not calling] is going to offend Saban more than Jimbo saying stuff, that he won’t pick up the phone. … I was in a meeting and we had a break. I looked at my phone and I couldn’t stop laughing.”

Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek got into the fray, too, with his own Razorback-branded admission of being thoroughly entertained:

Sam Pittman, Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher

This wouldn’t be all fun and games, from the Arkansas football perspective, if it was Yurachek’s coach warring in a feud instead.

While Pittman has shown he can be chippy at times when fans attack him, it’s hard to imagine him going after one of his mentors from previous stops (e.g. Butch Davis, Kirby Smart) with the same level of vitriol. Previously at Arkansas, Pittman worked for a head coach in Bret Bielema who absolutely would publicly feud with opposing coaches, but it doesn’t seem to be in Sam Pittman’s personality to launch into such personal attacks as Fisher did while refusing to take the offending coach’s calls.

That is, while Jimbo Fisher was right to defend himself from Saban’s accusation, he went overboard in the way he shot back. The result has become something of a runaway circus act that will only build speed heading into the start of SEC Media Days on July 18.

While this fracas is fun to follow, it will ultimately hurt both Saban and Fisher on the recruiting trail. It makes both coaches look small, and that is good news for teams like Georgia and Arkansas who are ready to take advantage of a post-Nick Saban SEC landscape whenever he should retire.

“If anyone wins this wild mid-May debacle between two of college football’s most well-known coaches, it’s Smart,” Fansided’s Savannah Leigh wrote. She should have thrown Pittman in there, too, because everything else she writes also applies to Arkansas: “He is already an elite recruiter, but this gives him an angle to take. While these two coaches are bickering like school girls, he can make up some ground with guys looking at both Texas A&M and Alabama.”

“The smartest thing to do is not comment on this situation and let it work itself out. Georgia isn’t [ignorant] to the NIL and how it’s affecting college football, but if coaches are imploding and crying, use it to your advantage and keep recruiting at an elite level.”

Sam Pittman as a Kind of Anti-Jimbo Fisher

Last fall, AL.com’s John Talty wrote about the potential of SEC athletic directors going beyond “in-the-box” thinking during the head football coach hiring process by focusing on splashy, big-name coordinators and former head coaches. In terms of coaching background, Jimbo Fisher represents this conventional career lineage to a tee, considering his background as an offensive coordinator under Saban and then taking the helm at Florida State.

To that end, plenty of other head coaches in the SEC have similar backgrounds. Sam Pittman, and to a lesser extent Shane Beamer at South Carolina, represent something closer to the opposite side of the spectrum – a head coach without the experience of a coordinator or head coach, but the ability to check off boxes in so many other ways.

“Pittman might not have been a universally acclaimed hire like some other coaches at the time, but most importantly, he looks like a smart hire and that’s because of Arkansas’ willingness to think differently,” Talty wrote.

For all of Jimbo Fisher’s success on the field and on the recruiting trail, at this point he has a record of only 1-1 versus Pittman. They are on equal footing, for now at least, which is notable since the king of college football clearly considers Fisher such a threat. Saban is mad because yes, Fisher beat him last fall, but more importantly he sees the way the landscape of college football has been tilting toward programs like Texas A&M with access to more NIL riches.

Texas Football Blessed With More

States like Texas, Florida and Arkansas gave the green light to NIL collectives early on, but Alabama’s state law didn’t allow them until more recently. The ability to form multi-booster backed collectives has helped Texas A&M legally “buy” its hordes of five-star recruits, but it also gives Arkansas a way to close the gap between itself and Alabama – at least until Alabama catches up – by becoming a more enticing transfer destination that it would have been without the new J.B. Hunt family NIL collective.

Saban referred to this dynamic on Wednesday night when he said: “Now, in recruiting, we have players in our state that grew up wanting to come to Alabama that, they won’t commit to us unless we say we’re going to give them what someone else is going to give them. My theory on that is everything that we’ve done in college athletics has always been equal. [Saban refers to scholarships, cost of attendance, etc.] … I told our players, ‘We’re going to have a collective, but everyone is going to get the same amount of opportunity from that collective.'”

One place where the two biggest Texas schools outpace the programs in other states is donations.

“Texas and Texas A&M’s athletic departments have routinely grossed more in donations than any other schools in the country,” SI.Com’s Ross Dellenger writes. “Just last year, the Aggies pulled in $47.7 million in donations—one-fifth of the total donations to the 13 SEC public schools combined. And Texas? The Longhorns led everyone with $60 million in giving.”

The sheer amount of oil money flowing into the coffers of these schools hasn’t yet led to national titles, or even a spot in the College Football Playoffs, but Saban sees the tide turning for Alabama and the rest of the SEC as the Longhorns are set to join the conference in the coming years.

As long as Sam Pittman and Kirby Smart stay steady in their current paths, their programs can only gain from the ego-fueled theatrics enveloping College Station and Tuscaloosa. Indeed, the 2022 schedule lines up for Arkansas to take advantage of this feud since Alabama will almost certainly be looking forward to hosting Texas A&M on October 8 even more than would have anyway for a revenge game. The week before, the Crimson Tide must travel to Fayetteville for an Arkansas vs Alabama showdown that now has a bit more of a trap type feel to it than before the Fisher-Saban blowup.

Meanwhile, as Lane Kiffin does whatever it is he does, other coaches on the periphery like Pittman get the benefit of looking like actual adults. That perception will be all the more valuable in the coming weeks.

As one major college athletic director told ESPN, “my initial thought was our profession has hit an all-time low. This makes coaches look like a bunch of buffoons. It’s like no wonder we have the issues we have, when we have adults and people in leadership positions handling stuff this way.”

The Former Razorback Best Suited to Become the Next Charles Barkley (of Broadcasting)

Patrick Beverley

Professional basketball isn’t, anecdotally, at the top of Arkansas sports fans watch list. Obviously college sports come first, but rare is the time I’ve heard while out-and-about a Razorbacks fan chatting NBA. They’re missing out.

The league is as skilled as it’s ever been with a number of Hall of Fame-caliber players putting on showcases just about every night. Now, into the playoffs, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Luka Doncic, Jimmy Butler and Jayson Tatum all dot the rosters of surviving playoff teams. Nevermind the Lebron Jameses and Kevin Durants of the world who didn’t make this far around this postseason. Whether you like them or not, they’re two of the best to lace up the sneakers.

One thing that has drawn a bit more NBA attention from those of us in the Natural State these playoffs is the success of former Razorbacks. For a couple weeks, Bobby Portis took centerstage in this realm as a critical piece of the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. 

Patrick Beverley Reps Arkansas Basketball

With the Bucks’ exit courtesy of the Celtics, however, Patrick Beverley has stepped into the limelight — even though Beverley’s Timberwolves exited in round one. As Arkansas basketball fans recall, Beverley’s two seasons in Fayetteville ended on an ignominious note, but he still stands out as a bright spot in an awkward time for Arkansas basketball. The Razorbacks made the NCAA Tournament both years of Beverley’s stay, though they came at the end of the Stan Heath era (which was considered a disappointment) and the beginning of the John Pelphrey one (which was soon to be a disappointment). 

Beverley has ignited a brouhaha across the league in recent days for his, erm, analysis of the final game of the Phoenix/Dallas series in the Western Conference semifinals. Mostly, it’s a scathing takedown of, yes, a future Hall of Famer in Chris Paul. 

Beverley is one of the league’s best defenders and has been since he entered the NBA in 2012-13 after two seasons playing overseas. Never one to shy away from controversy, Beverley eviscerated Paul in the roundtable discussion, claiming it wasn’t just Paul’s offensive disappearance that hurt the Suns, but his inability to defend. The torches came quickly for Beverley, who has long been a lightning rod because of his outspoken nature. Paul, after all, is a nine-time All-NBA Defensive Team player.

But the last time was in 2016-17 when he was in his early 30s, closer to the age Beverley is now. And for the record, Bev was honored as such just two seasons ago. Point being, he has standing to make an argument.

Here’s the kicker, though:

If you haven’t noticed (you’d have had to have cut the cord a decade-plus ago not to) roundtable discussions aren’t exactly thoughtful critiques. They’re often antagonistic, built to create heated discussion not just by the panelists, but out in the public, too. Beverley, as anyone who has watched him on the court the last 15 years, is a king at such irritation.

The Next Charles Barkley

He could be, in a fashion, the next Charles Barkley. Barkley is almost 60 and has his job as analyst for TNT just about as long as he wants it. He has earned that with his style. But as years pass, someone will need to take up that mantle. Beverley’s on-camera persona hasn’t been built yet – heck, he’s still playing – though it’s easy to see it becoming a possibility.

Ex-stars generally get the first run at jobs like that, but they don’t always pan out. Jalen Rose was hardly a star, even if he was a good player for more than a generation in the NBA, and he’s found himself a steady hand in the world of TV analysis now for as many years on TNT and ESPN as he actually even played in the NBA. Consider, too, JJ Redick, whose days as marksman in the NBA ended just this season but was co-hosting the show on which Beverley made the remarks.

Personalities get people to tune into those shows. Durant almost certainly won’t be an analyst as his personality doesn’t naturally lend itself to the medium. LeBron has better things to do. Beverley’s stiffest competition when it comes to a potential second career as a Post-Playing-Days Provocateur is perhaps Draymond Green, who reminds many of Beverley in the way he carries himself. Butler could also do it as he isn’t one to shy away from the cameras, even if he’s not as Heated (sorry, pun) as the other two. 

Frankly, the question of wondering who might make for a quality analyst in their post playing days had me leaning the other direction. Who has the personality with a potential for vitriol but one who might not use it as his calling card? Thinking the way we do, given this website’s title, I landed on one name.

Let’s Hand it to Bobby Portis, Too

Bobby Portis.

Can you imagine? Long beloved in the state of Arkansas, Portis has made fan after fan in every stop he’s landed in professional career, including New York, where it isn’t exactly easy to win over a perpetually disenfranchised fan base. Portis is energetic, skilled, experienced and not afraid of a microphone. When he left Chicago, he was quick to say the Bulls won’t find another player like him. So far he’s been right, too, as he helped the Bucks to the title last year.

That isn’t to suggest Portis will go anywhere any time soon. He and the Bucks may have just flamed out in the second round against the Celtics, but the Little Rock native could have another 10 years of playing left in the tank. 

For now, let’s hope Beverley continues to get the calls. On-court and off. He’s just the sort of player the public wants to see, something most of us down here have known for the last 15 years.

***