Why Can't Hogs Win On The SEC Road?

MEMPHIS -- It's not nearly so serious, of course, but these Arkansas basketball travels are beginning to seem like trips to the gallows.

We've come to know what to expect.

Bad shooting, slowed offense, confusion, passive defense, and by about the middle of the second half, yep, hanging heads.

Arkansas (14-7, 2-6 in Southeastern Conference play) has not won an SEC road game in its last 13 tries. Third-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath is 1-19 on the SEC road and the Hogs have dropped all four of this season's SEC tries. In fact, Arkansas is one of only four SEC teams that have failed to notch an away win in conference play.

Joining the Razorbacks in SEC road futility are Auburn (0-3), Georgia (0-4) and South Carolina (0-4).

That's bad company.

Not much was expected from any of those rebuilding programs (especially Auburn and Georgia), but expectations were high among the Hogs and their fans that Arkansas would - finally - return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.

After Wednesday night's shabby 64-52 loss at South Carolina, that seems an impossibility.

And that 63-61 last-second loss against Georgetown in Boise almost four years ago seems like forever ago.

No way to expect a win at Ole Miss today, when Arkansas goes for its first SEC road victory since winning at Vanderbilt, 60-50, way back on Feb. 26, 2003.

At 12-10, the Rebels are lousy, although the Hogs would love to have their 3-6 SEC record (heck, that's what they're shooting for today) and a conference road win like the one Ole Miss got at Auburn in mid-January.

Ole Miss is short on size, talent and depth, and the patience given seventh-year coach Rod Barnes may be getting that way, too, among Rebels boosters.

As was and is the case at South Carolina, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee and LSU, there's not a great homecourt advantage for Ole Miss in dark, dank, small, old Tad Smith Coliseum.

"It's not Kentucky or Florida, but it has its flavor," Heath said. "We have to realize Ole Miss players at home go to another level, just like our players do here. We have to match that."

The Rebels do seem pumped up at home, but Ole Miss basketball fans are about as listless as Barnes' offensive sets.

Doesn't really matter.

Arkansas has not won at Ole Miss since Nolan Richardson's Hogs escaped Oxford with a 63-62 win on Jan. 10, 1996.

Long gone are the days when the Hogs could strut into Rupp Arena and slam-dunk Kentucky as they did right after joining the SEC.

You old enough to remember that?

Kentucky had not lost a home SEC game in forever, but Richardson's ninth-ranked frantic bunch all but ran the No. 8 Wildcats out of Rupp Arena during Arkansas' 105-88 win on Jan. 5, 1992.

Of course, that was a l-o-n-g time ago. Before baggy shorts and knee socks.

Speaking of such, Arkansas' best player, sophomore guard Ronnie Brewer, was 6 at that time.

These days, the Hogs just hope to keep it close to have a late shot anywhere on the SEC road.

Only close encounter on another conference campus this season was the 66-63 overtime loss at LSU on Jan. 19 when the deeper Hogs inexplicably ran out of gas during the extra period.

As usual, Mississippi State ran Arkansas to pieces early in the Bulldogs' 80-55 rout in Humphrey Coliseum on Jan. 15, and Florida dominated the Hogs on Jan. 8 more than the 82-74 score might reflect.

South Carolina coach Dave Odom disdains the notion that the SEC road is an almost impossible place to survive. He said they didn't think that way when he coached Wake Forest of the ACC.

Like lots of us, Odom can't figure out what the big deal about the SEC road is. Yeah, some places (at Kentucky, at Alabama, at Florida, and, yes, at Arkansas under the right circumstances) are loud, downright intimidating.

But all the other dimensions are the same.

For whatever reasons, Arkansas just can't seem to measure up.

"It's amazing the juice and energy we play with here," Heath said. "We have to bottle that up and take it on the road. We need to get some easy baskets. We need energy plays at Ole Miss and throughout the rest of the season."

After this, the Hogs have SEC road games at Alabama (Feb. 16), at wacky Vanderbilt (Feb. 19) and at Auburn (March 5).

Then they'll head to the SEC Tournament in Atlanta, needing to win that whole shebang to net an NCAA Tournament bid.

Won't happen.

But Heath, of course, isn't giving up.

"I know our team has a winning streak inside of it. It's my job to pull it out of them," he said.

Arkansas could get a National Invitation Tournament nod, although playing in that thing should excite absolutely no one.

More likely, the young, still too-often wide-eyed Hogs will spend the postseason at home.

Oh, well. That's obviously their favorite place.

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