OPINION — Like It Is

OPINION | WALLY HALL: No matter what, it’s still Hogs vs. Wildcats

It is hard -- make that impossible -- to explain how the Arkansas Razorbacks can beat No. 2 Purdue and No. 7 Duke then lose five SEC games by an average of more than 20 points.

This is not a young team. The average age is 22 and eight of the top 12 players are seniors.

They don't lack experience. They average 2.2 years of college experience and six players have played in a total of 10 NCAA Tournaments.

There does appear to be a chemistry problem, which has forced Coach Eric Musselman to use 12 players during a game several times.

In six SEC games, the Razorbacks have had 64 turnovers but only 59 assists and they have been outrebounded by an average of 11 per game in conference play.

With Arkansas sitting at 10-9 and 1-5 in the SEC, the main reason ESPN's "College Gameday" is coming to Fayetteville on Saturday has to be for Kentucky, which is currently No. 6 in the Associated Press poll with a 14-4 overall record and 4-2 in SEC play.

Although, the history of the series may have something to do with the attraction.

When Arkansas joined the SEC, the Wildcats were the undisputed kings -- having won 40 conference championships -- and were almost as much of a constant in the NCAA Tournament as the month of March.

They had five NCAA championship banners and have added three more since.

Yet no one really knew what to expect from the Razorbacks, who had started to dominate the old Southwest Conference under Nolan Richardson.

In 1991-92, Arkansas' first season in the SEC, the Razorbacks went into Rupp Arena and beat the Wildcats 105-88. The respect was enough that Richardson told his team not to celebrate on the floor, to get to the locker room immediately after the game.

Weeks later -- when the Hogs walked into what was then named Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala., for the SEC Tournament -- the Hog call reverberated and notice had been paid the Kentucky Invitational was open to visitors.

Rick Pitino and Kentucky didn't back off, and the rivalry grew to the point it was played on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon.

Since Richardson's departure there have been a few good games, but Razorback basketball fell on some hard times and lost eight straight until Musselman stopped the bleeding in 2021 with a 81-80 road win.

Musselman notched two more wins over the Big Blue until last season when Kentucky got an 88-79 win at Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

According to Hogstats.com, Kentucky has an all-time 34-14 lead in the series that dates back to 1945.

Since becoming conference foes, Kentucky holds a 22-10 edge, but 10 games were settled by four points or less and five have gone into overtime.

Maybe Musselman's 3-1 record against John Calipari and Kentucky was enticing to "College Gameday." Whatever the reason, they are coming and many times with these teams, records don't count until the final buzzer.

While the Razorbacks are struggling to find answers, the Wildcats are only favored by 6 points, which seems low.

One thing is certain -- and Calipari will have spent some time on preparing his team for it this week -- Bud Walton will be rocking, at least at the start.

Through thick or thin, wins or losses, the crowd in The Basketball Palace of the Mid-America will be loud and proud.

History dictates anything can happen Saturday, but performance favors the Wildcats, who are currently ranked No. 22 in the NCAA Net. Arkansas fell 10 spots to No. 127 after its 77-51 loss to Ole Miss on Wednesday.

Expect Kentucky to attack any and all weaknesses and for Musselman to try and stop them no matter how many players he has to use.

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