LITTLE ROCK — Abbreviated on one version of Texas A&M’s schedule, the opponents are as obscure as many of the teams that have played in Fayetteville.
The Aggies have defeated BUFF, MVSU, PV, SHSU, ARPB, MCNS, and UTPA, among others. They lost to MOSU, which turns out to be Missouri State.
The point is that 9-4 A&M is as much a mystery as 11-2 Arkansas, which has beaten Savannah State, Tennessee-Martin, South Alabama, High Point, and UTSA in its last five games. A back-handed compliment, Arkansas won like it was supposed to, by a total of 165 points.
As for recognizable opponents, at least, the Clemson and Minnesota teams that Arkansas defeated have put together decent records vs. the so-so achievements of the Rice and Houston teams that lost to the Aggies.
To try and get a feel for the Aggies, I checked the box scores in their losses to Missouri State, SMU, and North Texas. They made 2-of-16 3s vs. MOSU, shot 34.7 percent from the field vs. SMU, and 30 percent against North Texas. In basketball, inconsistent shooting is the permanent wild card.
People scratching their heads about a North Carolina team that beat Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky while losing to Belmont, Texas, and UAB need only check the Tar Heels’ free throw shooting. In those three loses, they made 50 from the stripe and missed 56. Piling on, factor in 3-of-19 3s vs. Belmont and UAB.
Common to both the Aggies and the Razorbacks is SMU, a team Arkansas beat by 11. Against the Mustangs, Arkansas made 11-of-22 3s.
If Arkansas makes half its 3s on Wednesday night in College Station, a victory is guaranteed, but Arkansas doesn’t need such hot shooting to record a road victory and begin to change the perception that the Razorbacks cannot win outside of Walton Arena.
Arkansas has won more than 90 percent of its home games under Mike Anderson, but has won only one road game per year in Anderson’s first two years. Last year, the disparity between the winning percentage home and away was the highest in Division I, according to a report published last March, but the lousy road record started long before Anderson returned to Fayetteville.
Anderson could take a page from Sean Payton’s playbook and make light of the trend. Dealing with a bombardment of questions about the New Orleans’ poor performance on the road and in cold weather, the Saints’ coach cited changing to heavier sweat suits five times during a news conference. He called switching the color of the team’s Gatorade a "big deal" and twice referred to spicing up the recipe for Drew Brees’ traditional pregame meal of beefy macaroni.
Lo and behold, the Saints won in the cold at Philadelphia.
Anderson could have invoked outlandish options. For instance, he could have banned dunks by any player over 6-feet tall at Wednesday’s shoot around in College Station.
Payton’s gimmicks were a diversion; the Saints won the same way Arkansas can win at A&M.
The Saints limited LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, to 77 yards on 21 attempts. Quarterback Brees shook off two first-half interceptions to lead New Orleans to four second-half scores. Mark Ingram carried the ball a season-high 18 times and ran for 97 yards, his second-best production of the year. Robert Meachem, who only caught 16 passes during the regular season, grabbed one for 40 yards to set up a fourth-quarter field goal.
So, the Saints did it with defense, a team leader who bounced back from a bad stretch, a better-than-expected performance from a solid starter, and an important contribution by a role player. That recipe would produce a victory in College Station, a giant step toward a much-needed 3-2 start in SEC play.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.