State of the Hogs: Road Trip

Gary Ervin won't be at Saturday night's SEC basketball opener between Arkansas and Mississippi State. He's elected to watch on television from his new home in Fayetteville instead of visiting his old home and good friends in Starkville, Miss.

A regular at MSU the last two years, Ervin is sitting out at Arkansas this year to regain his eligibility after leaving the Bulldogs last spring. By rule, he could attend the game if he paid his own way. He doesn't think that would be right since it might cause too many distractions for his new teammates.

"I'd rather wait until next year when I can play in the game to go back there," he said Thursday after the Hogs finished a mid-day workout. "I still know a lot of those guys and I stay in constant contact with them by telephone. I'd like to see them, but not in this situation.

"For me to go back for this one might cause a crowd reaction to me and take away something from the game. No use in doing that to my teammates. I'll stay here and take it as just another game."

Ervin didn't mind discussing the game and he came close to handicapping it since he knows the most about the inner workings of both programs than anyone on this planet.

"I know what to expect from them, lots of zone," Ervin said. "That's what they play almost all the time. So if we come out and knock down a few shots, we'll do fine. If not, it will be a hard-fought game and go down to the end."

Ervin's given his teammates a more intimate scouting report on the Bulldogs, but it's not clear how much help that will be since most of the stars Ervin played with the last two years are graduated. Among those gone are Lawrence Roberts, Winsome Frazier and Shane Power.

In fact, the only names I really recognized on the MSU roster are the Delk twins, Richard and Reginald. Arkansas was involved with both early in the recruiting process. I remember those names mainly because they are the younger brother of former Kentucky star Tony Delk.

The Delks are among nine players to have started games for MSU in a 10-3 start. The Bulldogs have been up and down because of all of that inexperience. Two of their losses have been at home, something that rarely happened while Ervin was at Starkville.

"Traditionally, that's one of the toughest places to go and win," said UA coach Stan Heath. "We've struggled there, but it's a little different this time. In the past, you look at it and the team we were playing was more talented and more experienced. They had some absolute studs on the inside like Lawrence Roberts and others. And, on the other side, we were going there every time with about two freshmen in key spots were flat out nervous. That's a bad combination on the road."

Some of the Razorbacks admitted Ervin has provided some tips on what they'll see in Starkville from some of the older Bulldogs.

"We've been given some clues from Gary," said UA center Darian Townes. "But the main thing we need to do in this game is take a strong mindset. You need that on the road. You must lift your intensity, do something a little different because they will have scouted you, too. You give them a little extra, maybe run the floor a little better, or make your moves just a little quicker."

Ronnie Brewer said he's asked Ervin questions, but he noted that there were so many new faces at Starkville that it probably won't help the Hogs that much.

"He's told us some tendencies, but that's about it," Brewer said. "They are just a lot different and so many of their players are new that Gary doesn't know them that much."

Heath laughed about that and pointed out that it was the UA staff's job to prepare the scouting report.

"I think the best thing I can say about Gary helping us would be that we don't have to play him anymore," Heath said. "You may not think I'm telling it to you straight, but the two things we worried about most in the past was Lawrence Roberts. You might think the next guy would be Winsome Frazier or a Shane Power, but the second guy we worried about was Gary Ervin pushing the ball up the floor. He just got the ball up so quickly that it was a real problem. We are glad we don't have to face Gary this year.

"I will say that Gary has helped us a little. We were watching tape of Mississippi State and he was quick to throw in his two cents on a couple of things. He knew the terms they use for certain sets and calls. So he told us what they call them. That is good to know. Helps in recognition.

"I do think Gary brings confidence to his teammates for this game. He is a confident person. He will tell his teammates they can do this in this or that situation and be successful. I think he's done that and it can be a positive."

Like Ervin, Heath knows the Hogs will face a lot of zone. It's become the way to defend the Hogs after they struggled against it last season. But, the Hogs have worked so much against zones this year, both in games and in practice, they are starting to play well against them.

"No question, they will play zone," Heath said. "That's their number one defense and then when you look at our team, I'm sure they think that will be their best defense against us.

"But I think if you talk to our players, they look forward to seeing zones now. They like it. I think Ronnie Brewer prefers it. He doesn't get face guarded and he doesn't get checked across the lane as much. I think our players are afraid of zones at this point."

And, they aren't afraid of going on the road despite limited success there in SEC play over the last three seasons.

"We are excited," Brewer said. "It's a whole new season and something to get excited about. We've prepared extremely hard and had some great practices this week. We have prepared extra hard for this."

Brewer has looked sharp this week in practice after battling the flu and a head cold last week.

"He's ready and has had some of his best practices," Heath said. "He's shot his in-between shot extremely well. He seems to be cutting extra hard. He knows that is going to get him more freed up. He's ready."

So are the Hogs, thanks to some extra help from Gary Ervin.

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