The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

SEC Tipoff Blog: Arkansas locks in to take next step up

344 days ago
Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: Jimmie Mitchell/SEC

Welcome to the SEC Basketball Media Days Blog, your online home for the big news, behind-the-scenes notes and quotes and special moments that make this annual event, held this year in Birmingham, Ala., the unofficial start of college basketball season. Check back for updates each day throughout the week.

Call it a keychain. A carabiner. Each one might cost 25 cents. Each Arkansas player got one to decorate, personalize, make her own. The value went to another level when the players put them together to form the Locked In Chain.

Every player has a chance to earn that chain at the end of every practice. The last player to win it awards it, and something special happens when they do.

"You would've thought they won a Grammy," Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said. "They give acceptance speeches. They dance. They take pictures."

That chain sends a message, and senior Makayla Daniels said she and her teammates have bought into the meaning of the Locked In: "We all want the same end goal."

The goal is to go from good to great. Neighbors said there's a clear dividing line between the top three teams in the SEC - defending national champion South Carolina, surging LSU and returning to glory Tennessee - and everyone else. Who's next? In the league's preseason poll released Tuesday, Arkansas was picked fourth. It's the highest the Razorbacks have finished in that poll since 1996.

"It doesn't mean everything, but it doesn't mean nothing," Neighbors said. "We have changed the expectations."

To raise the bar, to toughen their defense to complement their typically potent offense, the Razorbacks have gone big. Six of their 12 players stand at least 6-feet tall. One of them, 6-2 redshirt senior Erynn Barnum, inspired last year's late-season surge to earn an NCAA Tournament berth by coming back from a knee injury. She's fully healthy and ready to close her college career on a high note.

"This year," she said, "we're going to make a statement that we belong at the top."