While the Arkansas basketball team was touring Brazil playing exhibitions last May, the Southwest Conference pulled a fast one. It changed the rules. It voted to eliminate all jump balls in conference competition.
Now teams in the SWC simply alternate possessions on jump-ball situations. A minor change to some, but not to Arkansas; the Razorbacks won 80 percent of the jump balls en route to a 16-0 conference record a year ago.
Nothing, however, seems to slow the Razorbacks. After a routine, 82-56, victory over visiting Baylor Monday night, Arkansas has a 24-1 record, the best in the nation. The Razorbacks are ranked No. 1 in the country by The Associated Press and No. 3 by United Press International.
The Razorbacks have their critics, however. Many basketball experts feel the SWC is one of the weakest basketball conferences in the nation with only two good teams, Arkansas and Texas (20-3).
Outside the conference, however, Arkansas has beaten the likes of Mississippi State, Kansas and Memphis State. It may not face top-flight competition night after night, but it plays enough good teams to warrant its lofty national ranking.
The Razorbacks aren't a one-season flash, either. They were 26-2 last season, which give them an impressive 50-3 record for the last two years. Their only loss this season which they avenged last week, was to Texas.
The Razorbacks have a dynamic coach in Eddie Sutton. They love to play for him but most important, they have talent. Few teams, if only, can match the Hogs' fearsome threesome of Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph. All are 6-foot-4, all were born and reared in Arkansas and all take the ball to the basket.
Moncrief is the second-leading scorer and the leading rebounder as a guard. Brewer is the point guard and leading scorer and Delph is the third-leading scorer and many feel the best shooter in America from beyond 25 feet.Brewer averages 18 points, Moncrief 17.8 and Delph 16.6.
All can leap like Franklin Jacobs and have blended their talents to come up with an offense that is virtually unstoppable.
"Coaching a team is like baking a cake," Sutton said. "You have to have the right mixture or it just doesn't taste quite right."
One of the things that sets Arkansas apart from many of the other good teams is that, despite its individual talent, it plays a very discipline game, but not discipline in the way most people look at discipline.
Sutton hasn't put restraints on his players and they play to their strengths.
"Discipline is learing to play within oneself," Sutton said. "It's learining what you can and can't do. We aren't a good shooting team, but we led the nation in field-goal percentage last year and we are leading it again this year.
"You could line us up in a game of horse and there are 150 teams that could beat us. We just don't shoot shots we can't make. We don't want anyone to take a shot that he hasn't proven he can hit 50 percent in practice."
Sutton is very selective in the type of player he recruits, and says that athletic ability is often overemphasized.
'You can't win the Kentucky Derby with jackasses, you have to have thoroughbreds, but it is a team game and the guys have to know their roles," he said. "Otherwise, they are useless to you."
The current Razorbacks know their roles well.
Brewer runs the offense, Moncrief usually takes his man low and Delph roams the perimeter, looking for a shot. The other starters, 6-11 Steve Schall and 6-7 Jime Counce, provide the muscle and the strength underneath.
The Arkansas offense is basically a four-man passing game with Schall in the post. When Sutton wants more quickness, he replaces the Schall with 6-2 freshman Ulysses Reed. The Razorbacks then go to a five-man passing game with no post man. "Anyone can post his man up if he thinks he can," Sutton said.
The cover of last week's Sports Illustrated magazine shows Moncrief going in for a dunk, the hall cocked behind his head and an intense, yet gleeful, look on his face.
He is a showman, has the inside moves and is perhaps the best of the three. he was a star on the United States team in the World Games last summer after the Razorbacks returned from Brazil.
"I thought that was a great picture on the cover," Moncrief said. "I thought to myself, 'Man, that guy is really up there ready to jam it.'"
Moncrief downplays his individual contributions and flair and says he is just trying to fit in.
"Everything I do I'm sure someone else has done before," he said. 'I wish I did have a more that I could call my own, but I don't."
He says he hasn't patterned his game after anyone in particular.
Brewer, on the other hand, has. His idols are Walt Frazier and Jerry West and he says he has tried to blend the best of both. He plays with Frazier's cool demeanor and control and when the games get tight he pretends he's West - Mr. Clutch.
"He (West) always came through which the clutch basket, and that's what I try to do," Brewer said. "In clutch situations I am the one who wants the ball. I want it in my hands."
Sutton keeps preaching that character is as important as anything and his players haven't let him down yet. The composite grade-point average of the team is 2.9 or a B-minus.
Talking to Brewer is like talking to someone who has been cloned from Sutton.
"You've got to be patient to be successful in any basketball program," Brewer said. "The mental adjustment can be tough, but you have to stick with it.
"I feel I can go around or jump over anybody who tries to guard me man to man. I'm not trying to brag, but that's just the way it is. Sidney and Marvin are just as unstoppable as I am and any of us could average 30 points a game if we tried. But if you want to win, I mean win it all, you have to do more than just score."
They have been taken the No. 1 ranking rather calmly here. They say it's nice, but doesn't mean that much right now. The entire state has caught the basketball fever, however, and Fayetteville has turned into a fairly sophisticated basketball town.
But if you don't live in Arkansas, Texas or New Mexico, you probably have never seen Arkansas play basketball. The Razorbacks have never been on national TV and have been on regional TV (to Texas, Arkansas and New Mexico) only once this season. They will make their second regional television appearance Saturday at Houston.
There are three conference games left before the SWC tournament and Arkansas and Texas are tied with 12-1 conference records.
It is important to be first in the conference going into the tournament because the team gets a bye all the way to the final.
Last season, the Razorbacks waltzed through the conference, then bumped off Houston in the tournament final only to lose to Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"We did have too easy of a time in our conference last year and we weren't ready for the NCAA pressure," Sutton said.
"We'll be ready this time though. At least we should be, we're No. 1 aren't we?"