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Hogs Will Speed Up Eventually, but Not Yet

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Shocked that the Arkansas-Alabama game will not be televised, the man asked who Kentucky was playing.

"Kentucky played Georgia -- last night," he was told.

"Then why aren't the Hogs on TV? Nobody else is worth watching."

Before the season began, that seemed true. But somehow -- either by crystal ball or the Psychic Friends Network -- the TV types at Jefferson-Pilot saw fit to schedule Ole Miss tonight.

Ole Miss at Mississippi State is not a game that excites people outside the borders of the nation's most destitute state. Still, Ole Miss is the surprise team of the SEC, so Jefferson-Pilot got lucky.

For the first time in school history, Ole Miss is ranked in the Associated Press poll. The Rebels are 20th, and 25th in the USA Today coaches' poll.

After beating league powers Arkansas and Kentucky, it's obvious the Rebs are more equipped for battle than their namesakes were 136 years ago.

Ole Miss leads the SEC West, with a 3-1 record prior to last night's game. After stumbling, Arkansas has won two straight to even its mark at 2-2. Alabama is 1-1, with Auburn and LSU tied with Mississippi State (before last night) at 1-2.

Clearly, the SEC West is up for grabs.

Arkansas can take a huge step towards claiming that crown with a win at Alabama. Interested Hog fans can huddle by the fireplace and listen to their radio. Even ESPN won't have highlights, since neither team is ranked.

UA Coach Nolan Richardson doesn't mind his team toiling in obscurity. In some ways, he prefers it.

Too much publicity can contribute to selfishness. That's the last thing Richardson wants to see in his team, so he didn't mind that no Razorback was listed among the top 10 players of the week in the SEC.

South Carolina sharpshooter Larry Davis -- a transfer from North Carolina -- copped top player honors. Nine other schools had a player cited.

Richardson doesn't care; his team was 2-0 last week. Every other school in the SEC lost a game last week, except for South Carolina.

It's all about team, Richardson has told his players. Points don't matter. Rebounds don't matter. Assists don't matter. Steals don't matter. It's all about team.

Defense does matter, and it comes first.

"The most important role to me -- for everybody -- is to play defense," Richardson said. "You've gotta guard folks."

He benched players last week to get their attention. He slowed the game down, emphasizing execution and control.

Most coaches do that when too many turnovers occur. It's not something Richardson invented, but it does seem to be working.

The Hogs are also getting the message about defense. On both offense and defense, they're understanding the difference between being quick and being in a hurry.

Eventually, Richardson will increase tempo and once again turn the Hogs loose. It won't be tonight, or Saturday at Cincinnati -- it's tough to play fast on the road -- but expect the Hogs to slowly turn up the heat.

Meanwhile, Richardson will continue to teach his players about decision-making in the open floor.

"The (fullcourt) press is about playing the lanes," Richardson said. "It's about reading and rotating. In halfcourt, the basics are the same. Deny the passing lanes. Deny the pass to the post."

Against LSU, the Hogs were aggressive while playing solid halfcourt defense. Late in the game, it resulted in LSU turnovers and easy Arkansas baskets. The blowout came -- as usual -- when the Hogs were scoring in transition.

"I liked our halfcourt defense against LSU," Richardson said. "Eventually, we can move it on up the floor some."

As the Hogs gradually play faster, UA fans can monitor their progress. The next 12 games are on TV -- and worth watching.

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