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Beyond the box: Arkansas proves it can go toe-to-toe with the best still

The phrase goes “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” But if you don’t think the Arkansas basketball team took a step in the right direction on Saturday against Kentucky, think again.

No, the Razorbacks aren’t a very good basketball team currently. The key is the adverb. Currently, the Razorbacks aren’t very good. That doesn’t mean they will be next time out or by the end of the season, even.

What it does mean that when Arkansas plays up to its capabilities, the Hogs are still the team that was preseason Top 25 and beat Duke in November, plus knocked off Purdue in exhibition.

The numbers against Kentucky are evidence the Hogs aren’t dead. They have serious offensive problems and a lack of consistency has plagued the program more than a year.

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers beyond the box score and examine what’s holding Arkansas back and, really, just how close the Razorbacks could be to turning the corner.

Tramon Mark and who?

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

For a while, Khalif Battle was putting up points. Then it was Keyon Menifield. Now? Now it’s just Tramon Mark. The Houston transfer has scored in double figures in every game he’s played but three, but he’s in dire need of a lieutenant. Kentucky focused all its efforts on slowing him Saturday and came away with the win.

Battle scored 11 against the Wildcats and has put up double figures for back-to-back games for the first time since early December. He’s the only other player on the roster averaging more than 10 a game. If he can step up for 14 a night consistently in SEC play, that will go a long way in fixing Arkansas’ offensive issues.

Battle

Arkansas' big-man trio does work

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

With Trevon Brazile out because of knee soreness indefinitely, Arkansas’ frontcourt might have been manhandled by Kentucky. Not even close.

The trio of Makhi Mitchell, Jalen Graham and Chandler Lawson not only held their own, but they combined for 25 points, 22 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Expecting such production every time out is folly, but they’re showing it can be done.

Who is running the point?

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Devo Davis’ absence means Arkansas does not have a consistent primary ball-handler. El Ellis is built like one, but is better off-ball. Mark played a bit Saturday, but is best when others feed him. Keyon Menifield is in the doghouse and didn’t play at all against Kentucky.

Arkansas committed 12 turnovers against the Wildcats – not a crazy high number – but too many against a good team. And they came at the worst times. Ellis’ bad pass with about 13 minutes left resulted in Kentucky taking its first lead. Two minutes later, Graham’s giveaway gave the Wildcats another lead. And on back-to-back possessions with about two minutes left, Kentucky iced the game by scoring five points on the Hogs’ two turnovers.

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire