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This season, the Arkansas Razorbacks are doing things no Hogs basketball team has done for a quarter of a century.
In reeling off 12 straight wins against SEC opponents and ascending to No. 8 in the nation, Eric Musselman’s team has ignited passion among a new generation of fans who weren’t yet born the last time Arkansas scaled similar heights.
In that last golden era, from 1993 to 1996, the Hogs made four straight Sweet 16s, two national championship games and captured one national title. Under head coach Nolan Richardson, those Razorbacks employed a “40 Minutes of Hell” defense that often resembled a school of piranhas bearing down on an unsuspecting victim.
Richardson, now 79 years old, sees a lot of what made those mid-’90s defenses so special in Musselman’s current squad.
“His half-court defense is as strong or as good as any defense I’ve ever seen,” he recently told sports radio host J.B. Bertaccini.
“When you talk about ‘40 minutes of Hell’, ‘40 minutes’ means that we’re going to bust our tails for 40 minutes, whether it’s half court, full court, run and jump — it doesn’t matter what it is.”
With outstanding individual defenders like Clint McDaniel and Corey Beck, Richardson’s mid-’90s teams regularly ranked among the nation’s leaders in steals. Musselman’s squad has a similar caliber defender in Davonte Davis, while J.D. Notae has made huge strides on that side of the ball in recent weeks, but overall the team delivers elite intensity in a different way.
Musselman’s Hogs don’t gamble on passing lanes as consistently, and as a result rank “only” No. 41 out of 340 Division I teams in steals per game. But these Hogs still do well at creating havoc and block shots at a higher clip — good for No. 11 in the nation in blocks per game.
7’3” Connor Vanover, who anchors the middle on defense, usually alters multiple shots a game as well.
The ‘20-’21 Hogs are also outstanding at taking charges, averaging two a game. Amazingly, they drew nine fouls in a single game against Missouri in the SEC Tournament. It says a lot about the unselfishness Mussleman has cultivated in his program that the team’s best player, Moses Moody, drew five charges by himself in that win.
For these new Razorbacks to close the loop between the best of now and yesteryear, they should make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament that starts this week. Most fans will be disappointed with anything short of a Sweet 16 appearance.
With a first-round game against Colgate on Friday and then a possible matchup with Texas Tech in the second round, the Hogs will need to mix up their defensive strategies.
Fortunately, that shouldn’t be an issue. Arkansas has already proven to be one of the nation’s most versatile teams.
“They can play you at any speed and do it very, very well. And that puts you ahead of the rest of the teams,” Richardson told Bertaccini. “There are a lot of speeds to the game and a lot of kids can’t run [all] those types of speeds.”
Most importantly, he added later, “their man to man defense is treacherous. You have to work extremely hard to get a shot off against them.”
“And that is ‘40 minutes of Hell.’”
The No. 3 seeded Razorbacks will play Colgate, the region’s No. 14 seed, on Friday. Tipoff is set for 12:45 p.m. (ET) / 11:45 a.m. (CT) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which is the home of the Indiana Pacers. The game will be televised on TruTV.
The showdown features two of the top 10 scoring offenses in the nation. Arkansas is No. 7 in the NCAA in scoring (82.4 ppg) and Colgate is No. 2 (86.4 ppg).
Photos courtesy of Razorback Communications.
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