PTN’s “Ask Mike” – January 11th, 2021

It is time once again for our weekly segment “Ask Mike” where our veteran analyst Mike Irwin answers your questions about Arkansas Athletics.

Q. Our first question comes from CowHog32 who asks: How would you fix the lack of interest in bowl games?

A. I think we got this question last week but I will answer it again. The minute we got a real playoff in college football, even if it’s only three games right now, the bowls were diminished. COVID accentuated the problem this season. We had teams turn down bowl games. We had players opting our of playing in their team’s bowl. We had bowls canceled because of COVID. The ultimate answer is to incorporate more bowls into an expanded playoff system. If player knows he is playing in a game that could lead to a possible national title he’s less likely to opt out even if it’s a long shot. As far as fans are concerned, there’s something about watching a game where you know that the losing team’s season is over, while the winning team lives to play another game, that’s beats a scenario where two teams are just playing an extra game, which is what non playoff bowl games are these days.

Q. PorkSoda wants to know: How bad is the loss of Justin Smith affecting the basketball team?

A. watching the Missouri game I think a lot of fans were remembering the stretch of games last years where Isaiah Joe was injured and Arkansas could not win without him. But I’ve said all along that this team had more depth and is better able to deal with an injury like Smith’s. What we saw was Coach Muss start using grad transfer Vance Jackson Jr. more, Jaylin Williams more and Devo Davis more. Arkansas played a lot better against Tennessee. Had a chance to tie the game with a three with six seconds left. Missed the shot but that’s a top 10 team.

Then, against a good Georgia team it all clicked. Those four players combined for 65 points and 20
rebounds. Also Williams has done a really good job of providing the kind of interior defense that they were missing in the Missouri game. So the adjustment has been made and the good news is, it looks like Smith will be coming back sooner than expected. He’s already got the boot off. When he comes back he’ll find a better team overall than the one before his injury.

Q.AlabamaHog says: I enjoy watching the Women’s basketball team but they struggle when playing teams with height. I know we will be losing a lot of talented young ladies from this year’s team, but do we have any taller “high star” young ladies coming into the program next year?

A. Mike Neighbors signed Emrie Ellis, a 6-3 forward out of Oklahoma. He also signed a couple of tall guards. Ashlyn Sage, 6-2 out of Weatherford, Oklahoma (OK) and Jersey Wolfenbarger, a 6-5 guard from Ft. Smith Northside. One of the top players in the country. There’s a question as to whether Neighbors will ever go after the bigger inside players. He likes a speed game with lots of three point shooting and that’s what he recruits. Not saying he would turn down physical 6-6 post player but the way Arkansas plays it might be tougher to land that kind of player.

Q. If a Covid vaccine is imminent why would the NCAA agree to play all their tournament games in one place?

A. The NCAA started working on that plan a couple of months ago. At that time it wasn’t clear when a vaccine would be available. They put the Indianapolis bubble plan in place last week. I’m sure they would tell you that it’s still not clear how soon athletes will get the vaccine and for everybody concerned it’s better to have the entire tournament in one manageable place. The problem I have is, why Indianapolis? Seems to me they picked it out of convenience because that’s where the NCAA offices are located. If you gave the players a choice I’m pretty sure they would not have picked Indianapolis.

Q. austin.hogfan wants to know: Have you ever been around a basketball coach that knows more about basketball and how to adjust personnel, styles and schemes both between games and during a game? Don’t you enjoy hearing him talk about his players game?

A. I assume you mean Eric Musselman. I like him because he coaches like a football coach. Different game plans for each opponent. Very detailed game plans. That’s really different from what I’m used to and different is good when you’ve covered as many coaches as I have. The mental stuff he requires from his players is amazing. I also like he way he interacts with the fans on social media and he’s very good with the media on these Zooms. He is a breath of fresh air but he also wins. That’s a ways the bottom line with coaches. Win games.

Q. tusked asks: With all the 6th year seniors on the hogs football team coming back, do you think they have enough talent to beat Texas this fall in Razorback stadium? Chances are it could be Sarks first loss as the longhorn coach.

A. Yes I do. The only question I have about that game is at quarterback. K.J. Jefferson did an amazing job in the Missouri game but that’s one game. Can he play consistently like that? Spring football will give us some answers on that but I feel good about the rest of the the team. Almost all of the starters are coming back with some good young plays coming into the mix next fall along with some transfers.

Q. The_Bionic_Pig wants to know: Winning which game would elevate our football recruiting Footprint in the Lone Star State more, Texas on September 11th or Texas A&M on September 25th?

A. I don’t look at it like that. I say win ’em both. That would be a huge recruiting statement in Texas and don’t think this staff doesn’t understand that. Beating Texas and ending that A&M streak would send Hogs fans into orbit. I say it’s going to happen. It’s time this program made its own breaks. They need to start with beating the Aggies and Longhorns in the same season. Just do it.

Q. Lanny says: What happened at the end of the Arkansas-A&M women’s basketball game on Sunday? It looked like the refs let the Aggies get away with a foul at the end, Arkansas could have won the game on free throws.

A. There was .4 seconds left when the ball was inbounded. The only way to get a shot off and have it count if it went in, was through a deflection. Jailyn Mason bounced the ball to Chelsea Dungee with Dungee’s back to the basket. That was a mistake because all Dungee could do was catch the ball and turn around to shoot it. There was a foul but it was after Dungee caught the ball and turned to shoot. By that time the clock had expired.

Sadly Arkansas had set that play up perfectly on a first try at the last second shot. Mason lofted the ball high to Taylah Thomas who went up high and was in perfect position to deflect the ball to the basket but the horn sounded before she touched the ball. Whoever was in control of the clock jumped the gun. So they had to do it all over again and that time the ball was bounced on the floor. There was no chance of a win when that happened.

Q. ArkansasRedNeck says: I haven’t heard anything about Hog baseball. Is the season starting on time? Will they play SEC games only like football? What will the crowd limitation be like?

A. There’s good news. I’ve been told that a crowd size of up to 4,000 may end up being allowed during baseball games at Baum-Walker this season. That’s almost 40% of capacity which is a much higher percentage than what was allowed at football and basketball games, Apparently the way Baum-Walker is laid out, it’s easier to socially distance fans. Also it looks like the schedule of games will be normal. There will be non conference games to start with. The SEC schedule will be 10 three game series. Thirty games total. It hasn’t been announced yet if a pad will be added to the end of the regular season to make up for cancelled games like in football. The best information I have on a vaccine for players is that it will likely happen in March. That’s right about the time conference play starts. Once the players are vaccinated these COVID postponements should be over.

Q. sowmonella says: There is a new development in the court fight between the Razorback Foundation and Bret Bielema over how much the Foundation will have to play Bielema. Can you talk about it?

A. The Razorback Foundation is asking for documents from the New England Patriots which it says will show that Bielema was underpaid as an assistant coach with the Patriots in order not to go over the $150,000 annual compensation Bielema was allowed to earn under his contract without taking away what the Foundation was obligated to pay him. The judge in the case has now specified which documents requested have to be turned over to the Foundation and which don’t. How that will play out in court is unknown. A trial is set for June. Everything I am hearing indicates that there will eventually be a settlement and that Bielema is more likely to settled for a smaller amount now that he’s the head coach at Illinois and making about a half million dollars a year more than he made at Arkansas. About 4 million a year. As it stands right now Bielema claims that the Razorback Foundation owes him 7 million dollars.

Q. Lanny is back with a second question: Recently you indicated that Jack Lindsey would either come back for an extra year with the football team or would end up as a grand assistant coach. Clearly he’s decided otherwise when the announcement that he’s transferring to play. What’s up?

A. He does want to coach. I do look for him to come back as a grad transfer at Arkansas. But he has decided to try to go somewhere where he can start at quarterback. I think that’s a good decision. I think he can help a team win. Jack can throw the ball. He’s a good runner and his football IQ is off the charts. He’s talked with UT San Antonio where Barry Lunney Jr. is the offensive coordinator. He’s also has talked with Florida International. He might well end up at a school where he had a really good shot at being the starting quarterback. Arkansas Tech in Russellville is a possibility for that reason.