Razorbacks Find Missing Piece, Snap Losing Streak
Razorbacks Star Makes his Return
The Razorbacks welcomed the Missouri Tigers to Fayetteville for a rematch of a game the Hogs lost earlier in the month. This time would be different however. The Hogs were coming off of a five game losing skid in large part due to the injury of their star shooting guard, Isaiah Joe. Fortunately for the team, Joe’s surgery and rehab went smoothly enough for Joe to return after only five missed games. Joe has missed six games total this season, leaving the Hogs with a 1-5 record in his absence. Joe’s return to the court Saturday was a visible breath of fresh air for Musselman, the team, and Hog fans everywhere.
Joe’s Widespread Impact
By a score of 78-68, the Razorbacks put themselves back in the win column. Clearly, Isaiah Joe was a huge factor in turning the team’s fortunes around, but his impact was felt in more ways than one. Joe’s return allowed the Hogs to play pretty basketball, much like they did early in the season. His five made threes stand out on the stat sheet as a huge factor in the win, but let’s take a look at some other, less noticeable ways that Joe’s return helped the Hogs win.
An underrated aspect of Joe’s game is his ability to take charges. A charge fires up a team like few plays in basketball can, and Joe still leads the team in charges taken even after missing six total games this season. This unusual skill combined with his 6’5 frame playing the passing lanes makes the teams’ defense better when he’s healthy. When Joe was hobbled, he was a liability on defense, but with Joe playing his usual 37 minutes against Mizzou, it seems that his knee is recovered enough for him to be a positive defensive addition again.
Jones has been carrying the weight of nearly the entire team for much of the season. Joe’s absence with injury did nothing to ease Jones’s pressure. He scored, rebounded, and assisted night in and night out, doing everything he could to keep his team afloat without his running mate in Joe. This came to be evident as Jones writhed on the ground in pain due to leg cramps late in the teams’ most recent loss. With Joe back on the court, Jones was not leaned on nearly as much to score all of the teams’ points. He still had a respectable 12 points, but Jones got some much needed weight lifted off his shoulders.
Sills has been a welcome addition at times, but has struggled mightily at others. He is fourth on the team in scoring at exactly 10 points per game after his 17 point outing off the bench against Mizzou. Joe’s presence forces the defense to space the floor more than ever, allowing Sills to play the aggressive brand of basketball he loves.
However, Joe’s return affects Sills in a different less notable way. Last season, as a freshman, Sills came off the bench for the majority of the season and excelled in his 6th Man role. This season, especially during Joe’s absence, Sills has been asked to start most of the Hogs’ games. While I’m sure neither the team nor the fans have issue with Sills being on the court, he seems to shoot the ball dramatically better when he comes off the bench versus when he starts. This was evident as he came off the bench to score his third highest point total of the season, along with a season high in 3Ps made and 3P%.
Joe’s return affected no one more positively than Jimmy “Midrange” Whitt. Whitt’s inability to shoot the long ball and space the floor forces him to play much of his game inside the three point line. Without Joe’s floor spacing, defenses have been able to face guard Mason Jones and sag off of everyone else. This has clogged the lane so much that Whitt couldn’t hit his midrange shots that he’s famous for among Hog fans. Joe’s return allowed Whitt to shot 50% from the floor, his highest since the Hogs’ last win against Alabama.
Razorbacks Tournament Hopes
It has been made clear by multiple tournament experts that player injuries will be taken into consideration come selection Sunday. This is especially the case when the player returns from injury to greatly improve his team. Isaiah Joe led the Razorbacks to their first home win in four weeks in his first game back. With four games left in the season, the Hogs’ tournament hopes are slim, but not dead yet. If they can rattle off four wins in their last five games, and continue their success for a couple rounds in the SEC tournament, keep an eye on those last few at-large bids. The Razorbacks have the opportunity to make a strong case for a bid, but they control their own fate.
Razorbacks Road Ahead
Tennessee – 15-12 (7-7)
@ Georgia – 14-13 (4-10)
LSU – 19-8 (10-4)
@ Texas A&M – 14-14 (8-6)
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