Greetings from College Station, where the Razorbacks open SEC play tonight. They don’t always pay a lot of attention to basketball down here, but the Hogs and the Aggies have waged some battles on the hardwood over the years. The Aggies play in a shiny new arena now, but it wasn’t that long ago that first Epie Sutton, and then Nolan Richardson waged some knock-down dragouts with Shelby Metcalf at the old G. Rollie White Coliseum. The Aggies are always tough at home, and tonight will be no exception. Classes haven’t resumed yet, so there won’t be as many students on hand tonight. They’re selling tickets for 5 bucks a pop to try to make up for their absence. &With the completion of the football season Monday night, basketball takes center stage, and the Razorbacks are wasting no time jumping into the fray. By this time next week, the Hogs will have played a road game at Texas A&M and home matchups with Florida and Kentucky. We’ll learn plenty over those three games.
It starts tonight in College Station. A year ago the Aggies battered the Razorbacks in the second half. Arkansas lost by 18 and the dye was cast for a season of road woes. That shouldn’t happen tonight. The Hogs are simply better than they were this time a year ago. Newcomers like Bobby Portis and Alandise Harris have infused a level of toughness missing last season, and holdovers like Michael Qualls and Ky Mapen are playing their best basketball. And steady Coty Clarke is doing all the little things that are required of a winning team.
Most impressive, perhaps, is the fact that everyone is buying into Mike Anderson’s concept of "team". Twelve players average between 11 and 25 minutes per game. Six players have scored at least 15 points in a game for a team that leads the SEC in scoring and assist to turnover ratio. They have the look of a post season team, but it’s going to take some road victories to get them where they want to go.&More and more each game, Bobby Portis looks like a program-changing player. The way Corliss Williamson was. Like Corliss, Portis knows how to play the game. His basketball IQ is off the charts, and there’s a mental toughness to his make up that gives him a chance to be one of the Hogs’ all-time greats. One could argue that the key moment in Portis’s first season as a collegian came in the tropical paradise of the Maui Invitational. By his own admission, he stunk it up in the opener against Cal. He scored only five points and was never a factor in the Hogs’ loss to the Golden Bears.
After a night of soul searching that included a conversation with his head coach, Portis scored in double figures the next day as the Razorbacks beat Minnesota. He’s scored in double figures in each game since, and has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week twice. He’ll be an All-American soon and an NBA player later. In the meantime, he’s going to help the Razorbacks win a lot of ballgames.