After a rough and rugged start to the conference season this fall, the Arkansas Razorbacks are back in the driver’s seat, coming on the strength of a six-game win streak in SEC play. After a tough win in Columbia on Saturday, the Razorbacks enter the top 25 in the AP Poll.
Razorbacks Enter the Top 25
It has been a long time coming for Eric Musselman and the Hoop Hogs. After a strong start to the season, finishing non-conference play with a perfect record, many thought they would see the Razorbacks enter the Top 25 after a win at Auburn.
However, that dream was short-lived as Arkansas dropped the following game to a surging Mizzou squad on what might be the worst shooting performance in Bud Walton Arena’s history. After that game, the Hogs had entered the toughest stretch of their season so far.
Recapping The Roller Coaster
Directly after their dismal loss to the Mizzou Tigers in Fayetteville, the Hogs traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, to face the Volunteers. The shooting woes seemed to fade away, but once again, the Hogs couldn’t close it out and dropped their second in a row; however, there was reason to believe that things were looking up after an emphatic 30-point win at home against Georgia.
After that game, there was optimism around the program. The team seemed to be getting into a groove offensively, was playing aggressive defense, and turning that defense into transition offense.
The roller coaster went down again, though, and this time it plummeted. Back-to-back 30-point blowout losses to LSU and Alabama had some fans calling for Coach Musselman to be fired. Thankfully, Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek didn’t pull that trigger too early because the most considerable upswing was just about to take place.
The Streak Begins
It started around the 7-minute mark of the home game against Auburn. The Hogs had found themselves in a similar situation as the previous two games, down by 19 to Sharife Cooper, who had been torching them all night. What happened directly after that started the entire streak and helped the Razorbacks enter the top 25. A strong comeback ended with the Hogs winning a close one, 75-73.
Following that win, Musselman’s squad traveled to Nashville, where they defeated Scotty Pippen Jr. and the Vanderbilt Commodores, 92-71. A few quick conference wins can do the team well, and the following Wednesday they won a runaway game against Ole Miss, 74-59.
The Streak Heads on the Road
After a quick 1-game skid to non-conference opponent Oklahoma State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and a rocky win at home against Mississippi State, the Hogs went on the road to Rupp Arena to face the Kentucky Wildcats. While Coach Cal’s squad has been struggling lately, the Wildcats at Rupp are always a hard out. In fact, the Hogs hadn’t won there since 2014, and it was their first win against Kentucky in eight tries.
From there, the Hogs traveled to Columbia, Missouri to face the #10 Missouri Tigers. The Hogs hadn’t beaten a top 10 team on the road since 2006, and midway through the first half, it looked as though the Tigers would run away with it, taking a 10-point lead. Freshman Moses Moody, plagued with foul trouble in the first half, came in and picked up the offense a bit, and by halftime, the Hogs had cut the lead to four.
A strong second-half effort gave the Hogs a seven-point lead with under 10 minutes to go, but the Tigers fought back to force overtime, thanks to a barrage of threes from Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson. Justin Smith made a slew of good plays for the Hogs, including a pair of levitating alley-oops, and the Hogs won the game in overtime, 86-81.
Razorbacks Enter the Top 25
After their strong play over the last few weeks, the AP rewarded the Hogs by giving them their first ranking in the top 25 since 2018. Coming in at #24, Arkansas will look to move up in those rankings this Tuesday against Florida. The last time we saw the Razorbacks enter the top 25, they were in for one week, when they lost two straight directly after receiving the ranking and found themselves unranked again.
This late in the season, breaking into the top 25 means a lot less than it does earlier in the year. At this point, the Hogs are a lock to make the tournament, and barring an absolute collapse; they will see themselves dancing this March. The ranking does do something, though. It’s proof that this team is on the rise. It’s proof that Eric Mussleman is for real. It shows recruits that they don’t have to go to a blue-blood school like Duke or Kansas to make it to the next level.
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