Ask Mike: Hogs NCAA Bracket Challenge, The SEC is Flat Brutal in Baseball & No, Mizzou is Not a Rival But OU Will Be

By Mike Irwin
on 2023-03-13 20:00 PM

Q. Our first question is from mousetown who asks: Did Arkansas pay the price for that late season slump or what? Illinois and Kansas? A nine an one seed? two years ago in was a 13 and 12 seed. Last year a 14 and 6 seed. Forget the Elite Eight. I say one and done.

A. I disagree with the one and done part. I think they have an even chance of beating Illinois. Nobody prepares a team better for the NCAA’s than Eric Musselman but beating Kansas two days later? That’s gonna be really tough. Especially in front of what will be a huge Kansas crowd in Des Moines.

But Kansas has been beatable. Baylor beat them by six in Waco. Arkansas lost by just three in Waco. Kansas also lost to Tennessee, Iowa State and got curb stomped by TCU.
Maybe whatever was going on against the Frogs will happen to Kansas against Arkansas, if that game is played.

Q. muss_enthusiast says: Yet Another loss after having a large lead at some point in the game. Do you think this is fixable? Why do you think this year’s second half adjustments haven’t worked compared to last year’s where we might have been the best second half team in the nation.

A. Fixable in terms of one game, maybe. Enough of a fix where this team can win multiple NCAA Tournament games, probably not. Generally this late in the season what you see is what you get.
Nothing is written in stone but I don’t feel good about Arkansas chances to advance to the Sweet 16 because of the inconsistency of play we’ve seen all season.

Fans on social media like to blame everything on coaching. Like this year Muss suddenly forgot how to coach. To me the difference is a lack of mature players in leadership roles. Guys like J.D. Notae, Stanley Umude, Audise Toney and Jaylin Williams that Muss leaned on last season.

To me, when you see this year’s team follow the game plan with a tight defense, blocked shots and rebounds with inside scoring, that team usually has the lead. When they stop doing those things, it starts coming apart. This is a common problem with younger players who are used to winning on the high school and AAU level even if they don’t play their best basketball. They develop bad habits that you can’t get away with at the next level.

Three of the final four teams standing in the SEC tournament (Missouri, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M) had average talent. But those guys took to coaching and it paid off. If all you needed was a lot of talent to win you would not need coaching. Some players don’t react well to intense coaching when they move from AAU to college basketball.

Q. razorboo says: True upperclass leadership is missing from this years team. Tons of young talent but every season (pre-season, conference, SEC Tourney and soon NCAA Tourney) is a first for them. Do you believe they overcome the jitters and play to their talent here at the end of the year? I would love to see all the freshman back for their sophomore year rather than most set on the end of a pro league bench.

A. I don’t think jitters is the issue. What I just pointed out, youth, is the main problem. As for everyone coming back, no. Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black are gone. Jordan Walsh will probably come back. I keep hearing that injured forward Trevon Brazile will be back. I’m not sure about Devo Davis, the Mitchell Twins or Jalen Graham. Some of that may depend on them, some of it on who Muss plans to bring in.

If I had to guess I’d say next year’s team will be very different. Clearly Muss needs to go out and get a couple of shooters. There’s also his plans for freshmen like Joseph Pinion, Derrian Ford and Barry Dunning Jr.. Do they take on bigger roles in 2024? Do any of them transfer?
These days there’s not a lot of stability from year to year.

Q. RazorRunner asks: Do you think that the second half collapse against A&M could have been from tired legs? The Hogs had a hard fought game the day before, while the Aggies had last played 4 days earlier. And Muss has a short rotation. The Hogs hit 5 of 12 (42%) 3 pointers in the 1st half, and 0 of 8 in the 2nd half. Smith was hitting in the first half, but missed his last 7 shots in the 2nd half. He played 39 minutes, and is he maybe not fully back in shape from his layoff?

A. Three guys on this team have played a lot of minutes: Anthony Black, Ricky Council IV and Devo Davis. Maybe there’s some second half fatigue with them but that doesn’t explain what’s happening to the other guys. Nick Smith Jr. has missed over half the season and is averaging just 26 minutes a game since he came back.

The forwards? Jordan Walsh is at 24 minutes a game, the Mitchell brothers, 20 minutes and 14 minutes.

I don’t think running out of gas is the issue.

I do think there could be be an issue with the strength program for basketball. I got a call from a guy I trust who’s pretty plugged in with what’s going on over there. He pointed out that Devo came in at 180 pounds, was still at 180 his sophomore year and went up to just 185 for this season. That’s five pounds in three seasons.

He asked me if I’ve noticed a change in any of the freshmen’s body structure from last summer?

His point is, that Arkansas got pushed around by physical teams like A&M and Tennessee.

There may be something to that but again, to me, the real reason we’re seeing inconsistent play is that these guys stop doing what they’re coached to do and start doing what they’re used to doing.

Q. WVHogfan says: I do not like the one and done for college basketball players. I would like for the NBA to adopt MLB’s model where a player can be drafted in high school and then not be eligible to be drafted again for 3 years. What is your opinion?

A. I think it would be great. But the NBA is not major league baseball. Their annual draft is much, much smaller. Rosters are smaller and they don’t worry if a one and done doesn’t work out. They just load up the next year. The bottom line, one and done is going away. In the future a lot of these McDonalds All Americans will go straight from high school and AAU ball to the NBA G league. The guys who head for college will be more likely stick around for two years, three years or even four.

Q. Hogdogger says: Muss says they are all young and that’s been a problem for them winning games. But these same young men were touted 5 stars and All Americans. If youth is the issue how will they fare playing in the pros ?

A. Just like at the college level it will take them a while to adjust to the NBA. But unlike at Arkansas, they won’t be one and done. They’ll likely be around long enough the realize their potential. My guess is, Nick Smith Jr. will go back and forth from an NBA roster to a G league team like Jaylin Williams has done in his rookie NBA year. Smith Jr. will probably get more NBA time than Williams. The same with Anthony Black with maybe less NBA time than Nick Smith Jr.

Jordan Walsh would do well to stay in college for another year.

Q.RKB1961 says: Like it or not, Mizzou is now a formidable late season rival. Neither Tex or OU will view Arkansas as a rivalry game.

A. Missouri will never be a rivalry team for Arkansas fans. Texas is and always has been a rival and Oklahoma has been a rivalry waiting to happen for 129 years. It’s going to be great. Google search the 2021 Texas-Arkansas football game from 2021. Go to the end and take a look at that drone shot with wall to wall fans on the field. There’s no way anything like that will ever happen by beating Missouri.

Now look up the 1978 Orange Bowl game between Arkansas and Oklahoma. It’s the same thing. Arkansas fans went nuts when that game was over.

You can’t manufacture a rivalry. The fans decide that.

Q. I see where a lot of fans are worried about Diamond Hogs. Let’s see, they’re 13-2, averaging just under 9 runs a game, the team ERA has dropped to under 5 and they’re averaging less than one error per game.

A. Looks good right now. They just swept a good Louisiana Tech team. Outscored them 38-11. They have two more midweek games with UNLV before starting SEC play at home against Auburn. Auburn was an impressive 11-1 before losing two of three to 9-4 Southeastern Louisiana at home over the weekend. It would be nice to open up with a series win or even a sweep.

But the Hogs fans you mentioned are worried about Arkansas’ bullpen. With four current injuries, one of them season ending, there is one experienced reliever who is pitching well right now.

Also as impressive as Arkansas’ hitting and home run hitting has been, right now the Hogs rank 10th in the SEC in batting and 8th in home runs. We’re about to find out but the SEC looks to be scary good this season

Q. Carolyn Hofman wants to know: What’s happened to the softball team? They started the SEC by getting beat bad by the Aggies? I thought we were going to the world series this season.

A. The biggest problem is hitting. They are currently 12th in the SEC out of 13 teams. The pitching is down from last year too. Right now they’re 6th in the SEC in team ERA and their fielding percentage needs or improve. They’re 6th in that category too. It’s early. Nothing to freak out about but last year Arkansas didn’t lose a single SEC series. This year they’ve already lost their first one at home.

Hitting, pitching and defense. They have to improve in each of those areas quickly. They’re headed to number 9 Alabama this weekend.

Q. Marty Byrde’s proxy wants to know: Who are a few of the guys or gals you’ve worked with over the years who were “characters or cut ups?” Either print or broadcast media.

A. I’ll start with Nate Allen. Nate and I are a lot alike in that both of us have no tolerance for people in the media who see themselves as stars and approach their jobs as a way of calling attention to themselves. Years ago there was a guy like that who kept making Lou Holtz mad in post practice group interviews by asking dumb questions. If Lou got mad, it was bad for all of us. One day the guy got fired and he disappeared. None of us knew what happened to him.

There was a TV show in those days called “Finder of Lost Loves.” For a fee some detective type would find a lost high school sweetheart for you or somebody important that you lost track of years before. Stuff like that.

The show was awful and Nate was always making fun of it. So one day he said in the Broyles Center media room, We need a show called “Finder of Lost Morons.” The detective could tell us what happened to a few of these media dopes (he mostly meant TV guys) who come and go.

Not long after that, in Broadcast Magazine, I saw a short clip indicating that the TV guy who drove Nate crazy had been hired at a small station in Oregon. So I clipped it out and showed it to Nate at football practice the next day. “Look, I said, “I found a lost moron.” That started something that lasts to this day. When either of us sees or hears about some long departed media person that drove us crazy it’s, “Look, a lost moron.”

Then there is Grant Hall. Another sportswriter that dates back to the early 70’s. He’s constantly sending me text messages. About a coach who resigned he texted, ‘He’s resigning for health reasons. His coaching is making everybody sick.’

From a baseball game where Razorbacks were down by 9 runs I texted him, ‘They need some more hits.’ He texted back, ‘They’re getting good at hitting the other teams bats.’

I texted him about another game that I wasn’t able to see. From the pressbox at Baum-Walker he texted back: I think we may have tried to steal once but the Outlaw Josey Wales got thrown out.

He was referring to Tavian Josenberger.

Then there was Mike Burrows, another sportswriter from the late 70’s, early 80’s. The guy ate nothing but meat. At media events where food was served like at NCAA Basketball tournaments or the College World Series, he would take his plate to the trash and dump out everything but the meat. To those that noticed what he was doing he would say, “HEY I’M A CARNIVORE. STAY OUTTA MY WAY.”

Burrows would wear shorts on frosty days when the rest of us were wearing coats. “I’m insulated from all that meat I eat,” he’d say.

He kept us laughing.

(Last updated: 2023-03-13 20:00 PM)