Hoop Hogs red hot coming into late part of the season

The Razorback men's basketball team have been on a roll lately. They have won seven SEC games in a row and have gone 7-1 in their last eight outings. After knocking off #10 Missouri, the Hogs were ranked #24 in the AP poll. After being ranked, they knocked off a solid Florida team, 75-64. After the updated AP poll dropped yesterday morning, the Hogs are now ranked #20. The Hogs have found their rhythm in SEC play, and have met the number of SEC wins that they had overall last season. Which indicates that Eric Musselman's second season is a big step forward in the future of his tenure at Arkansas. The Hogs have three real tests on their schedule to finish out the regular season schedule. They have two straight home games against Alabama and LSU, then an away contest against South Carolina. Lets take a look at how the rest of the season could turn out for the Hogs:

The #20 Razorbacks face the #6 Alabama Crimson Tide tomorrow at Bud Walton Arena. Alabama, who currently sits atop the SEC, would be the hardest test for the Razorbacks out of those three games. The Crimson Tide are currently the highest nationally ranked team in the SEC, sitting at #6. They have racked up a 18-5 (13-1) record. They are led by sophomore Jaden Shackelford, who averages 14.5 points per game. This will be a tough test for the Razorbacks, as the Crimson Tide is arguably the best team they have played against this season. When the Hogs met the Crimson Tide earlier this year, it was an ugly landslide as the Tide won 90-59. However, I think we can pull away in this game if we can catch Alabama on a cold streak. Many times this season, the Crimson Tide got to where they just couldn't knock down a shot. Reason why they dropped games against Stanford and Clemson. If we can force Alabama to take tough shots, then we can slow down their offense. We have a healthy team going into the matchup, with Justin Smith being the key player for this game in my opinion. We will also need huge contributions from freshmen guards Moses Moody and Davonte Davis. This is a game we can steal from the Tide, and it would be a huge Quadrant I win for the Razorbacks, adding to our tournament resume. If the Hogs indeed beat Alabama, it would keep them alive for atleast clinching a share of the SEC regular season title.

After a tough test against Alabama, the Hogs have another hard home contest against the LSU Tigers. LSU has yet to be ranked this season, but it is a solid tournament worthy team. Arkansas and LSU have the same conference record of 9-4. The Tigers are led by Freshman Cameron Thomas, who averages 22.8 points per game. LSU is a tough team to play against, as their driving abilities as a team may be the best in the SEC. This is a must win game for the Razorbacks, as it would most likely secure them the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament. Securing the #2 seed means that Arkansas gets a bye in the tournament until the quarterfinals. Just like an Alabama win, this victory would give the Hogs a Quadrant I victory, adding to their tournament resume. To beat LSU, we need our bigs to have a great outing. Meaning production from Justin Smith and Connor Vanover. This is a game the Hogs can win if they can control the game from the tip.

The third and final test for the Hogs will be against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia. Although the Gamecocks show a mediocre record, they are a dangerous team. The Gamecocks are led by Junior AJ Lawson, who averages 18.2 points per game. Its college basketball right? Anything could happen. The Razorbacks cannot go into this game thinking its an easy win. South Carolina is a streaky team, their hot and cold streaks can decide a whole game. The Hogs defense needs to be on point in this game. Force Carolina to miss shots, and you have the game locked in. Jalen Tate would be the right defender to guard Carolina's AJ Lawson, the best on the Gamecocks roster. Tate's perimeter defense could shut down Lawson from driving into the paint. It will be an interesting game, but ultimately it is a must win for the Razorbacks.

If the Hogs win out, they can clutch the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament. Which puts them in great position to take home its first SEC Tournament Championship since 2001. They can share the SEC regular season crown with Alabama, only if Arkansas wins out and Alabama loses out. When it comes to March Madness, victories in all of these games would be huge for the Hogs. The Hogs currently stand at #6 in Joe Lunardi's latest bracketology. If they win out, they can possibly be jumped up to a #5 seed. This team has improved so much this season. Hog fans are looking for Arkansas' first trip to the Sweet Sixteen since 1996. March Madness is coming up fast, and the Hogs are looking better than ever. Woo Pig!

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