En route home from the golf course, a friend called to share too many details of his round.
He recounted the big drive on a back nine par five, his lone birdie, multiple par putts missed, and a double bogey from the middle of the fairway with wedge in hand.
Waiting for the 18-hole score, the listener heard blah, blah, blah.
Finally, the player mentioned 79 and received a “good playing” in response.
The personal attitude is the same about Arkansas basketball in December.
Eight and one. Solid.
Despite the record, some fans insist Arkansas is somehow falling short. Prior to the season, the Razorbacks were believed capable of finishing in the top four in the SEC and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. Nothing has altered that perception.
Doubters seem fixated on the 14-point loss at Minnesota and victory margins in the teens against opponents lacking marquee names. Regarding the latter, a “W” is a “W.”
Against Minnesota, the Razorbacks’ ineptitude in so many areas and the Gophers’ proficiency left Arkansas without a path to victory. Duplication of such a performance by Arkansas is unlikely.
The Razorbacks’ 21 turnovers were their most since an NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina in March 2015 and led to the Gophers’ huge edge in points off turnovers. In addition, Arkansas managed only six fast-break points, fell far behind after shooting 28 percent in the first half, and didn’t make a 3-pointer until Dusty Hannahs did so with four minutes to play.
Such poor shooting from long range, including 0-of-5 from Daryl Macon who made 5-of-9 3s last week, is inexplicable for a team that is third in the SEC in 3-point percentage.
Although almost unnoticed at 10-1, Minnesota shot 52 percent from the field against Arkansas, including 9-of-15 3s.
Plus, that trip to Minneapolis was in November and projecting a team’s status in March long before the Times Square ball bottoms out is risky at best. Anybody who predicted Villanova would win the NCAA title after losing to Oklahoma by 23 last December and by double digits to Virginia 12 days later should reside in Las Vegas. Along those same lines, the North Carolina team that Villanova defeated in the finals lost to Northern Iowa in November 2015 and Syracuse lost 13 games before making the Final Four.
Thumbs up or thumbs down for a college basketball team in December is as dubious as predicting Tiger Woods’ 2017 performance based on his play in a recent restricted event following a 466-day absence. In the first round, Woods’ flushed 5-iron was cited as a sign that his game was not gone, just rusty. He went on to shoot 74. The next day, he made seven birdies, carded 65, and pundits gushed. Woods closed with a 76 and beat two players.
Maybe his status will be clearer by the end of summer. There is no rush.
By the same token, Kentucky is supposedly loaded with future NBA players and, yet, the Wildcats recently lost to UCLA 97-92 when the Bruins shot 53 percent from the field. UCLA won’t do that every game and is not as likely to make the Final Four as Kentucky.
Acknowledging the disclaimers about a rush to judgment, there is an obligation to note two teams with so-so records in December might provide hints about Arkansas.
Saturday, the Razorbacks play Texas in Houston. The Longhorns are only 5-4, but coach Shaka Smart is a proven winner. Extremely successful at Virginia Commonwealth, he replaced Rick Barnes in Austin in 2015 and guided Texas to the NCAA tournament.
On Jan. 3, Barnes’ Tennessee Vols are home against Arkansas in a game sandwiched between the Razorbacks’ SEC opener vs. Florida and a trip to Kentucky. The Vols are 4-4 after losing by two at No. 7 North Carolina on Sunday, but they led by as many as 15 and had a shot blocked at the end.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org