LITTLE ROCK —
Part of a morning line produced for a daily newspaper, the comment on every horse running at Oaklawn Park on a particular day was vague and usually tinted with encouragement.
Oaklawn’s meet lasted 50 days at the time and electronic delivery of the past performances was only a dream, so the selections were based mostly on info gleaned from hand-lettered index cards.
Right after the post position, horse’s name and jockey came the not-so-insightful comments. Mostly, they were catch-phrases like: "Might wake up, has some talent, due for a big effort, hard-trying sort, on the improve, and legitimate excuse last race."
One-third of the way through the basketball season, the want is to label the Razorbacks with one of those ambiguous but encouraging comments. The thing is, an accurate assessment of these Razorbacks may not be available even two months down the road.
Arkansas looked better on TV against Texas A&M than it looked up close against UA-Birmingham.
To find the good, the bottom line must be overlooked.
Despite the overtime loss, there were positives, particularly on defense. Slow to get back against Mississippi Valley State in the first half and vulnerable to dribble penetration vs. UAB, Arkansas improved against the Aggies. That said, it must be noted that A&M did not push the ball like the Devils and their guards were not as nifty as UAB’s Aaron Johnson.
The Razorbacks went the final 6:40 of regulation without a field goal and still had an opportunity to win, partly because Delvon Johnson and Glenn Bryant continued to challenge shots. Including overtime, the Razorbacks were one of their last seven from the field and 0-of-5 from the free throw line.
That malady also affects others.
Ranked No. 6 at the time, Kansas State missed 19-of-20 shots during one stretch and lost to Florida. No. 12 Illinois led by eight, but scored five points in the final 7:30 and lost to Illinois-Chicago.
Nothing dooms a team quicker than poor shooting and turnovers. Identified as a solution at point guard after he transferred from Iowa, Jeff Peterson had six of Arkansas’ 24 turnovers in 19 minutes.
At 7-2, the Razorbacks are right where they figured to be, maybe even a "W" to the good with the victory over short-handed Seton Hall. Arkansas should be 10-2 before traveling to Austin to play the nationally ranked Longhorns on Jan. 4, a game that will be ignored by many Razorback fans because of the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State that night.
At this point, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are probably the best in the Western Division and the Bulldogs will get better when Renardo Sidney gets in shape.
Arkansas looks as good as everybody else in the division, but nothing will come easy. The Razorbacks will have to win the way the Aggies did, by playing defense and getting the game into the final minutes.
Other teams will chase Rotnei Clarke all over the court, just as the Aggies did. Unexpectedly, Clarke missed two free throws in overtime. A&M coach Mark Turgeon thought Clarke was exhausted; Clarke disagreed.
If you think Arkansas is a mystery, consider Tennessee. The Vols handed Pittsburgh and Villanova their only losses, but lost to Oakland and Charlotte. Tennessee is Arkansas’ SEC opener Jan. 8 in Fayetteville.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.