Jimmy Dykes Needs to Make Room for Arkansas Basketball in His Teams That Can “Win It All”

For someone who has played for the Razorbacks, and has coached the Razorbacks on two separate occasions, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes is nowhere near the homer you’d expect him to be.

In fact, he sometimes seems to go out of his way to appear to be the opposite of a dyed-in-cardinal red Razorback.

That was evident during the Alabama-Arkansas telecast on ESPN2 when Dykes threw out a couple “Roll Tides” on air. He’d occasionally counter with a “Woo pig” here and there to balance things out. 

One Alabama fan even complained that Dykes’ commentary was over the top in leaning pro Arkansas. “I’ve always enjoyed games Jimmy Dykes calls but having an Arkansas alum calling a big Arkansas game saying ‘we ain’t going away’ isn’t the best look for ESPN,” Tweeted Derik Anderson.

Raising more eyebrows, however, was his assertion a bit over halfway through the game that Arkansas forward Justin Smith was having “zero impact on the game.” 

Sorry, Jimmy.

Smith might have not scored up until that point of the game, but he was nonetheless still having a big impact.

Smith is Arkansas’ best rebounder and frontcourt defender, and he came through huge against Alabama’s talented athletic, mobile big men. The first time Arkansas played Alabama this season, Smith had just come back from an injury and was limited to 18 minutes. 

This time around, however, he came out on a mission and it showed up early in the stat line outside of scoring.

Later in the second half, though, Smith started air-raiding the rim. His 11 points and 12 rebounds ultimately help propel Arkansas to an 81-66 win.

Arkansas Basketball Among Nation’s Most Dangerous Teams

At the start of the broadcast, Dykes reminded everybody he also works as an SEC Network sportscaster when he pumped up Alabama, then the SEC’s best team, to a national audience.

Dykes laid out the eight teams he felt were the most capable of winning the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Not the teams he feels are best right now, but the teams who he projects should be the most dangerous come tournament time and have what it takes to “win it all.”

His teams:

  • Gonzaga
  • Baylor
  • Alabama
  • Florida State
  • Michigan
  • Ohio State 
  • Illinois
  • Iowa

Most of those programs, especially Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan, are no-brainers. 

But Dykes needs to make room for Arkansas after its definitive, 15-point win over No. 6 Alabama. The Hogs are no longer just a potential Final Four threat.

They are now a legit threat. 

Sorry, Iowa Basketball

Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks should replace Alabama or Iowa among Jimmy Dyke’s top 8 most capable teams. Iowa is reeling after Michigan destroyed it 79-57 on Thursday night. Although the Hawkeyes  have now lost half of its last 10 games, it’s still a superb offensive team (Top 5 in adjusted offensive efficiency). But it’s lacking on the defensive end (only No. 75 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency). 

That’s a bad recipe for March Madness success. “In all, from 2002 to 2019, 25 teams went into the NCAA Tournament ranked in the top five in adjusted offense and worse than 75th in adjusted defense,” Jake Lourim writes for FiveThirtyEight.com.

“Though the list includes three No. 2 seeds, seven No. 3 seeds and six No. 4 seeds, only one of the 25 teams — Marquette in 2003 — reached the Final Four. Fifteen of the 25 failed to reach the tournament’s second weekend.”

Iowa basketball superstar Luka Garza will always make the Hawkeyes a very dangerous team. Just like Alabama’s improved defense and prolific shooters still make it a strong Final Four threat. 

But Arkansas, which has won eight straight SEC games, looks like it could be the hotter team three weeks from now when March Madness begins. “We’re peaking at the right time,” Hogs guard Moses Moody told Andy Katz on Thursday.

“I believe in each and every one of my teammates, that they’re gonna come out each and every day and give me everything they got. When we’re clicking on all cylinders, we can do anything.”

When Justin Smith is playing healthy, Arkansas is 14-1 this season. He turns the Razorbacks into the SEC’s top rebounding team. With Smith, Arkansas is also one of the nation’s most versatile teams.

Plenty of squads, like Alabama, Baylor, Iowa and Florida State, are more deadly than Arkansas from the three-point line. But the Hogs are increasingly showing they have the defensive versatility to scheme against such teams, which could take Arkansas very far in a tournament.

Moses Moody notes how Arkansas’ defense improved from the first Alabama game on January 16 to now: “First matchup, we allowed way too many threes, and that came from allowing them to drive middle, which caused help in an easy kick-out three.”

But on Wednesday night against the Tide, “we just took the three away completely. We had a guy sitting at the rim to help, and then just to slow them down and not have to help as far from the guards to get away from the shooters. We just kept the hand up the whole time.”

That versatility is critical when one of Arkansas’ centers, the 7’3” Connor Vanover, lacks the quickness to stay on the floor long against teams with fast, athletic bigs. 

Jaylin Williams 

The stout 6’9” freshman out of Fort Smith is playing his best ball of the season when Arkansas needs him the most. 

In the last four minutes, Williams has averaged 24.2 minutes, 7.5 points, and 6.7 rebounds and  formed a formidable one-two punch with Smith in the second half against Alabama. Williams totaled 13 points and eight rebounds. He also showed off his nimble feet in taking two big charges. 

 “I want to be a guy that comes in and can change the game if we need it, WIlliams said. “That’s a great feeling.”

He’s also flashing a high IQ on the offensive end. “Y’all might not realize, but when J-Will sets the screen, the guy he’s setting it for is going to be open,” Moody said. “Small stuff like that shows all he does for the team that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.”

Against Alabama, Moses Moody took it upon himself to manufacture points by expertly deploying the pump fake and tactically taking it hard to the rim. He wound up nailing 16 of 19 free throw attempts.

“I anticipated that they were probably going to be guarding me pretty tight, face-guarding me,” he told Andy Katz. “We watched a lot of film, so I knew they were going to be anxious leapers, and just wanted a blocked shot, so I figured I could pump fake and draw a lot of the contact.”

Now, the Razorbacks are drawing a lot of national attention.

Currently slotted as a No. 5 or No. 6 seed by most bracketologists, the Hogs could move up to a No. 4 seed with a win over LSU on Saturday and/or strong run in the SEC Tournament.

That would give it a clear roadway to the Sweet 16, where anything could happen with the right matchups. 

When it comes to the elite eight of the nation’s most dangerous teams, however, Arkansas has shown it now deserves a spot. 

Get it done, Jimmy Dykes.

And let the nation know about it when you do.

***

Jimmy Dykes
“Roll Tides” aside, a Hog through and through.

Ready for some Eric Musselman interviews?

Below are a couple of recent good ones that have flown under the radar:

4:30 – On whether Moses Moody is the best player in the SEC

4:50 Why Moody compares favorably to the Warriors’ Klay Thompson

10:58 – Talks about Jalen Tate’s value to Arkansas and his potential as a pro player

13:05 – Why Pac-12 basketball has struggled relative to the SEC

21:10 – Why at Nevada they used 16 different styles of uniforms

5:06 – Gives favorite story about Ron Artest and coaching Jeremy Lin months before the onset of “Linsanity”

10:05 – Details on why he moved from Nevada to Arkansas

12:00 – Why he started his own basketball blog

20:15 – Answers a exceedingly surreal question about preventing floods with a “big-ass wall” built on the beach

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