FAYETTEVILLE - The head coach is gone, fired midseason to the dismay of the college basketball world outside Baton Rouge, La. The assistant coach is promoted, after 22 seasons as second chair. And the talented center is back, fully recovered from a broken hand that stole six games of his season.
All that's missing is a return for their preseason All-Southeastern Conference candidate. Even without Tasmin Mitchell, though, the LSU Tigers are about as different as could be compared to the last time Arkansas saw them.
Back on Jan. 26, the Hogs won 68-52 in Baton Rouge. But so much has taken place in 25 days.
"Their basketball team was close (to being good)," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "Certainly they've had a lot of adversity and with coach (John) Brady not being there now, I think obviously it has brought them closer together.
"I was surprised by (Brady's firing). But I'm not surprised that LSU is still fighting and scratching and clawing."
LSU fired Brady on Feb. 8, just more than two years removed from a Final Four appearance. The school immediately tagged longtime assistant and associate head coach Butch Pierre as its interim coach, and the Tigers haven't been the same since.
The next day, they nearly knocked off Tennessee, losing by two points. They then went to Florida and drilled the Gators. This past Saturday, they led Kentucky for most of a four-point home defeat.
There's a simple explanation from Pierre, who accepted the job with the blessing of Brady and his players.
"I think what has happened is they've really rallied around themselves and rallied around this staff," Pierre said. "They're starting to believe in some of the things that were stressed to them before, but they're really starting to believe what it takes to win a basketball game at this level."
Chris Johnson's return hasn't hurt, either. The 6-foot-10 junior center didn't play in Arkansas' win in Baton Rouge. But he has logged 66 minutes in LSU's last two games and had 19 points and six rebounds at Florida. Ultimately, however, the main differences about the Tigers have been a change in attitude and an increase in consistency.
Sounds a bit like the Hogs. Arkansas won't be the only team feeling like it's facing a new-look squad tonight. LSU encounters a group of Razorbacks that has steadily grown since Jan. 26.
Back then, Arkansas had lost two consecutive games to South Carolina and at Georgia. And there was some valid panic in Fayetteville. Pelphrey had put his Hogs through a statement-making practice at 1:30 a.m. immediately after the Georgia loss, trying to make his disapproval as evident as possible.
No such act was needed this week, despite back-to-back defeats that snapped Arkansas' four-game winning streak. Yes, Arkansas did drop a couple of games this past week at No. 2 Tennessee and Mississippi State. But Pelphrey senses his Razorbacks are changed.
Sophomore guard Patrick Beverley says Arkansas has a "different mindset," and Pelphrey embraced that this pair of losses was nothing like the last pair.
"It's different," Pelphrey said. "We're more of a team today than we were back then. I don't think either one of those games were lost from an effort standpoint or a competing standpoint."
LSU AT ARKANSAS
WHEN: 7:05 p.m. TV: Raycom (Cox Ch. 7)
WHERE: Bud Walton Arena
RECORDS: LSU, 9-15, 2-8 Southeastern Conference; Arkansas, 17-7, 6-4
RADIO: KXIO-FM 106.9; KEZA-FM 107.9; KKEG-FM 92.1; KFPW-AM 1230; KQBK-FM 104.7; KHGG-AM 1580; KHGG-FM 103.1; KDYN-AM 1540; KDYN-FM 96.7; KTTG-FM 96.3
COACHES: LSU, Butch Pierre (1-2, 1st season; 1-2, 1 season); Arkansas, John Pelphrey (17-7, 1st season; 97-74, 6 seasons)
SERIES: Arkansas leads 27-18 (13-4 in Fayetteville)
LAST MEETING: Arkansas beat LSU 68-52 on Jan. 26 in Baton Rouge, La.