LITTLE ROCK — A sanity-saving suggestion for fans of Razorback basketball — forget the final week of the regular season.
In Atlanta, the Razorbacks won’t duplicate their shooting performance against either Ole Miss or Alabama, once again supporting the theory that stats from one game don’t predict next-game performance.
Only to make a point, some illustrations of the ups and downs of shooting the ball:
• Against Ole Miss, Anthlon Bell made 8-of-11 from the field, including 7-of-10 3s. Against Alabama, he was 0-of-5, 0-of-3.
• Against Ole Miss, Mardracus Wade made 6-of-8 from the field, including 5-of-7 3s. Against Alabama, he made his only shot, a 3.
• Against Ole Miss, Alandise Harris was 4-of-6 from the field. Against Alabama, he was 1-of-5.
• Against Ole Miss, Arkansas made 17 3s. Against Alabama, Arkansas missed 16 3-point attempts, including 10-of-12 in the first half. The Razorbacks’ percentage was decent only because they made 5-of-6 3s when the game was out of hand.
Arkansas shooters are not the only ones afflicted with an inconsistent stroke — in the three games after he scored 61, LeBron James was 3-of-27 outside the paint. The malady also strikes the best golfers in the world.
On Saturday. Tiger Woods made birdie putts of 10, 12, 16, 22, and 35 feet and a 10-footer for par. All told, he used only 25 putts and recorded eight birdies in a tournament-best 66 that moved him within two shots of the lead.
Twenty-four hours later, on the same greens, he started with two misses from 15 feet and failed on a 4-foot par putt. Putting for eagle on No. 8, he put an awful stroke on his short birdie attempt and settled for par. By then, he was eight strokes behind eventual winner Patrick Reed.
Woods’ back pained him, but not early in the round when he couldn’t buy a putt.
For the Razorbacks and Woods and all other athletes, confidence is a tenuous thing.
Arkansas became a confident team in the final seconds at Vanderbilt on Feb. 8 when Michael Qualls made a 3 with four seconds to play and the Commodores’ Rod Odom missed an open 3 and the question is whether the performance at Tuscaloosa will shake that confidence.
The loss, Georgia’s win at LSU, and Tennessee’s thrashing of Missouri put the Razorbacks in a bind in the SEC Tournament. Anticipating a Georgia loss, I figured Arkansas would be a No. 4 seed and have an edge against the Bulldogs on Friday. Instead, as the No. 5 seed, the Razorbacks must beat the Auburn-South Carolina winner on Thursday and then play No. 4 seed Tennessee 24 hours later.
The short turn-around for a team that rotates players like Arkansas is not the problem; matching up with the Vols is at the heart of the matter.
The first time around, Arkansas could not handle Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, both listed at 6-foot-8 and 260, inside and had no answer for Jordan McRae. The three of them had 22 rebounds and McRae made half of his 18 shots on his way to 34 points. Noting the earlier statement about the lack of carryover from one game to another, I do not expect a repeat performance by McRae. Preventing putbacks by the big men is the key.
Some, including the analyst on the Albama telecast, say the Razorbacks are in the NCAA Tournament no matter what, but I disagree.
To me, it’s all about Friday’s game — the winner of Tennessee-Arkansas is in and the loser is out.
The wild cards are Georgia and the conferences in which quality teams are upset in the league tournament and receive an at-large bid. The what-if includes Georgia getting to the finals of the SEC Tournament, not an impossible task since Florida is on the other side of the bracket and Kentucky is in something of a funk.
Sorting this out will continue into the weekend.
Harry King is a sports columnist. His email is HLeonK42@gmail.com.