While its non-conference schedule won't ever be dubbed a killer, Arkansas has managed to avoid something that the other SEC Western Division basketball teams have not.
That would be to lose to a so-called mid-major, something Arkansas did three times last season in non-conference action and has already happened to the five other Western teams at least once this season.
While Arkansas (8-2) was rallying to beat visiting Texas Southern, 67-59, last Wednesday, Auburn (4-7) – who had already lost home games to Samford, Campbell and Jacksonville - was falling to Presbyterian.
On that same night, LSU (7-5) was dropping a home game to North Texas after previously losing games to Nichols and Coastal Carolina in Baton Rouge.
Alabama (6-6) has lost in tournament play to St. Peter's, Mississippi State (8-5) to both Appalachian State and Florida Atlantic in Starkville and Ole Miss (9-3) a home game to Dayton.
"There are too many Division I-A basketball teams," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "I don't think everybody really understands how hard it is. There are good basketball players everywhere working hard. There are good coaches.
"Shoot, you can get out and win several games in a row and the next thing you know you could be losing two or three games in a row," added Pelphrey, likely referencing Tennessee's hot start and then struggling with smaller schools. "We play so many games that is it a very challenging thing for a coach and very challenging thing for a student-athlete who is young to understand that it is never easy and it really is a reflection of life."
Pelphrey noted that the reduction from 15 scholarship players on a roster to 13 back in the 1990s has allowed more teams around the country to grab better talent.
"You have to show up every single day and the moment you think you are good, the moment in time you think you have arrived, you can just get punched right in the mouth," Pelphrey said. "The whole BCS and this league and that league doesn't really mean a whole lot in college basketball. You can really pick up the paper any night or look on the computer and it is real."
The Razorbacks will try to avoid that fate Wednesday night when North Carolina A&T (5-6) invades Bud Walton Arena.
The Aggies were blown out by Ohio State (102-61) and Florida (105-55) early in the season. They rebounded to win four straight before losing at Mississippi State (74-58), at Stanford (76-59) and at Arizona State (56-50) in a game they led most of the contest.
"My kids played with a lot of guts," said N.C. A&T head coach Jerry Eaves after the Arizona State game. "My team is getting closer and closer to being able to play and compete with the type of players that attend the Arizona State's and Stanford's. It's a shame we couldn't get this one."
Nic Simpson, a 6-3 junior guard, led the way for North Carolina A&T in that last loss with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists while 6-6 sophomore forward Adrian Powell had 10 points and 6-9, 220-pound senior center Thomas Coleman 9 points and 12 rebounds while battling foul trouble.
Coleman averages a double-double with 14.6 points and 11 rebounds a game while Simpson (13.5) and 5-8, 160-pound junior guard Marc Hill (10.5) also averaged in double figures and join Powell and 6-8 forward Austin Witter (6.9) in the starting line-up.
Arkansas will counter with 6-0 junior guard Rotnei Clarke (14.6) and 6-9 senior center Delvon Johnson (10.2, 8.3, 41 blocks this season) and has rotated the other three spots.
"We feel good about it (the season)," Clarke said. "We know the two losses are tough games, but games we could have won. We are not going to win every single one of them, but we are just trying to get better as a team. We know we have work to do."
The Hogs may be at less than full strength on Wednesday night. It wasn't clear if sophomore forward Marshawn Powell would be available when Pelphrey met with the media on Monday afternoon. Powell was involved in a weather-related, one-car crash on Christmas night and was having trouble making it back to Fayetteville.
Powell, a preseason all-SEC selection, wasn't injured in the accident in his home state of Virginia. He and his girlfriend were the only people in the car, Pelphrey said.
Because of the accident, Powell missed Arkansas' morning practice Monday and will likely miss the second of the two-a-day workouts.
"He's not back yet," Pelphrey said. "With that being such a great distance, we'll have to see when he gets back. The good news is nobody was hurt."
Pelphrey said the accident was due in part to a winter storm that hit the United States east coast over the weekend. Powell was one of a few Razorbacks who had difficulty returning to Fayetteville because of the weather. Others had plane flights delayed or canceled, Pelphrey said.
Powell's role for Wednesday's game against North Carolina A&T isn't known, Pelphrey said. Powell played only one minute in Arkansas' last game – a 67-59 win over Texas Southern last Wednesday.
Pelphrey said forward Michael Sanchez, out with a broken foot, returned to practice on a limited basis.
"He was out there this morning for 10 or 15 minutes," Pelphrey said. "We'll see how it feels this afternoon; we probably won't do a whole lot more with him. It's going to be a time issue with him. We'll start out putting him out there for 10 to 15 minutes a day and try to build on that."
Pelphrey said Sanchez went through some shooting and full-court team drills during the Monday morning workout.
"It was exciting for me and the rest of the team to see him out there," Arkansas guard Jeff Peterson said. "Mike is going to be able to help us out when he gets back full-strength. He's very optimistic about everything and says he feels better. He looked fine today."
Sanchez started 28 games two years ago, averaging 5.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
Pelphrey said freshman guard Rickey Scott is doing well after missing the Razorbacks' last game with a foot injury.
"I kept asking if he was experiencing any pain this morning," Pelphrey said. "He said he was fine."
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