Best byes are not falling Hogs’ way

Arkansas men’s basketball Coach Eric Musselman’s team is the only one in the SEC this season that is playing two road games against teams coming off a bye week, including today’s game at Mississippi State.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas men’s basketball Coach Eric Musselman’s team is the only one in the SEC this season that is playing two road games against teams coming off a bye week, including today’s game at Mississippi State. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

Only one SEC men's basketball team is playing two road games this season against opponents coming off a bye week.

That undesirable distinction goes to the University of Arkansas.

The Razorbacks (12-12, 3-8) play Mississippi State (16-8, 5-6) today at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss., after the Bulldogs had a mid-week bye while No. 8 Tennessee beat Arkansas 92-63 on Wednesday night at Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Two weeks ago, Arkansas won 91-84 at Missouri on a Wednesday night, then played at LSU, which was coming off a mid-week bye.

LSU coasted to a 95-74 victory over the Razorbacks after jumping out to a 32-14 lead in the first half.

On Arkansas' pregame radio show that morning, Razorback Coach Eric Musselman brought up the challenge of finishing back-to-back road games against a team with a full week to prepare.

"Well, seeing how we lost by the margin we did, I'm not going to comment on that," Musselman said after the 21-point loss to LSU when asked if he believed the SEC schedule was unfair to his team. "I don't want to get fined or anything.

"But I alluded to it before the game because I thought that it was semi-important. ... We lost because LSU completely outplayed us. No way, shape or form, has nothing to do with the results other than the fact that it was a quick turnaround."

In Musselman's news conference after the Tennessee game, he brought up the quick turnaround for today's matchup at Mississippi State before he could be asked about it.

The tipoff times for the Razorbacks in both scenarios added to their degree of difficulty.

When Arkansas played at Missouri, the game started at 8 p.m. Tipoff time for Arkansas' game at LSU was 11 a.m.

Tipoff for the Arkansas-Tennessee game also was 8 p.m. The Razorbacks played the Volunteers at home, but the Arkansas-Mississippi State game starts at 1 p.m.

"The schedule hasn't done us any favors," Musselman said. "No excuses, it's the schedule we have.

"But why couldn't we play on a Tuesday? Not sure why we're the last game on Wednesday and then have another early game -- not a late game -- on Saturday.

"A very, very quick turnaround for our team."

This season would be tough enough for the Razorbacks without the added scheduling challenges.

Arkansas is 12th in the SEC standings after being picked to finish third in the conference in a preseason media poll. The Razorbacks were ranked No. 14 nationally in both The Associated Press and coaches polls.

"I know they're not having the season that they want in terms of wins and losses," Mississippi State Coach Chris Jans said Monday when he talked with members of the media in Starkville, Miss. "But I know there's not going to be any give up with their staff.

"They're going to be ready to go. They've got a lot of talent."

SEC teams with byes are 4-1 when playing teams that didn't get a break.

In addition to LSU winning at home against Arkansas, other teams winning after a bye against an opponent that didn't have one include:

Arkansas beating Georgia 78-75 in Fayetteville.

Florida beating No. 13 Auburn 81-65 in Gainesville, Fla.

Texas A&M beating Florida 67-66 at home.

After Ole Miss had a bye, the Rebels lost 75-63 at No. 22 Kentucky.

The Wildcats technically had an SEC bye the previous weekend, but Kentucky chose to fill that date with a home game against Gonzaga, which won 89-85 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

Tennessee and Vanderbilt both had byes when the Vols beat the Commodores 75-62 in Nashville, Tenn.

Auburn lost at Florida in a Saturday afternoon game after beating No. 15 Alabama 99-81 at home in a Wednesday night game.

"Florida obviously had the bye week. They played last Saturday at Texas A&M. Saturday night, they're thinking about their next game," Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said after the Tigers lost to the Gators. "It's Auburn. Sunday night, their next game's Auburn. Monday night. Tuesday night. Wednesday night.

"Those guys, they had five nights to think about their next game against Auburn, and they looked like it. They were ready to go."

Pearl said the Tigers were totally focused on playing Alabama -- as they should have been -- until after winning the in-state rivalry game.

"And then the guys come in Thursday," Pearl said. "Can't really do much after such a hard-fought, hard-played game Wednesday night, so we get a little bit done Thursday.

"We leave, fly out at 3 o'clock in the afternoon Friday, so we practiced a little bit on Friday, a couple hours. So we had Thursday night and Friday night. We had two nights, they had seven nights.

"I just think from the standpoint of emotions and being ready, it did look like we were a little fatigued and weren't quite as sharp. But that's the grind of the schedule. You've got to embrace the grind.

"I would say the team that has the bye weeks should travel."

Pearl said it also would be better if the team that didn't have a bye week played on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.

Musselman was asked for his thoughts on Pearl's comments.

"I don't want to get fined," Musselman said.

But Musselman added that playing a morning or early afternoon game on Saturday after playing the late game Wednesday night is tougher than some might believe.

"Unless you play the game or coach the game, an extra four hours does matter when you have a short turnaround," he said. "You get the schedule that people give you and it's not an excuse. We've got to go play the game.

"But looking at the numbers on what's happened around the league, it's a hard game and we've got to go get ready for the team that's been prepping for us for a week.

"So it is what it is. We had it with Georgia and now this will be our second time doing it."

Arkansas senior guard El Ellis said the Razorbacks need to put a complete game together today after they trailed Tennessee 46-40 at halftime, then were outscored 46-23 in the second half.

"We can't play for 20 minutes like we did tonight," Ellis said. "We've got to play for a full 40. We have to compete the whole game.

"Mississippi State is a tough place to play, so we've just got to come out ready to play."

Arkansas-Mississippi State is one of four SEC games today involving teams that had a bye playing a team that didn't.

Georgia (bye) plays at home against Florida, Alabama (bye) plays at home against Texas A&M and Missouri (bye) plays at Ole Miss.

Ole Miss plays No. 11 South Carolina on Feb. 24 with the Gamecocks coming off a bye, but like Missouri, it's a home game for the Rebels.

Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina don't have a game against a team coming off a bye.

An SEC spokesman said teams had an open date in the midst of their conference schedules this season because the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge games were played in November after the Big 12/SEC Challenge games were played in January.

Musselman was asked if it would be worth having SEC officials address basketball scheduling at the conference's meetings so other teams don't have such quick road turnarounds against opponents with byes as the Razorbacks have faced this season.

"Yeah, well, they've got bigger things to worry about," Musselman said, "than playing a late game and then an early game."

  photo  Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman (left) said that playing a morning or early afternoon game Saturday after playing a late game Wednesday night is tougher than some might believe. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

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