Hawg Ball’s 5 Questions Moving Forward

ESPN Classic TV replay
Arkansas basketball guard Roger Crawford celebrates after the Razorbacks’ 1994 National Championship win over Duke.

Holy molasses. The on-again, off-again, high school relationship, soap opera-esque drama that was “is Mike Anderson staying at Missouri or going to Arkansas?” is finally over. Forget about who broke the story first. Don’t worry about media outlets from both states (and more) looking like fools while reporting both scenarios and citing sources. And you can forget about the past nine years of basketball at Arkansas — or at least try to.

Today is a new day.
Today is a new coach.
Today is a new system.
Today is a new Razorback team (hopefully) of old.

Most everyone in Arkansas is ready to welcome Mike Anderson back home with open arms, and some with open pocketbooks (ahem, Jeff Long). It’ll be a grand return home for Coach Anderson, a return that will almost assuredly sell more tickets to Bud Walton Arena. And while we know Coach Anderson will probably implement a hard-nosed, 40 Minutes of Hell system, there are some lingering questions about next year before this year of college basketball is officially over.

5. Will Arkansas be able to retain all of our heralded incoming class of freshman?

One of the biggest changes when a coach leaves a team (other than the coach leaving) is how will the cupboard remain stocked? Lucky for Arkansas and Coach Anderson, former coach John Pelphrey did quite the job in assembling what would be his last recruiting class.

Nationally ranked in the Top 10 from various recruiting websites, Arkansas stands to have a nice shot in the arm when those five make it to campus. That is, if two things happen:

A. The recruits stay committed to Arkansas and Coach Anderson.
B. The recruits academically qualify to play.

Aaron Ross has said that he’s an Arkansas man. Hunter Mickelson has said he wanted to wait and see who the new coach was and what his style of play is. I would guess that BJ Young will stay committed (even though Missouri DIDN’T offer him a scholarship to play there). Devonte Abron, like Mikelson, wants to talk to the coach first. Rashard “Ky” Madden might be the only wild card considering he switched his commitment from Ole Miss at the last second.

I’d be willing to wager $1 that at least four stay committed. Now, as for qualifying academically? The jury is out and the rumors are aplenty:

One of the recruits, maybe the one with the best basketball future and the most commitment all along to Pelphrey and Arkansas, is a near certainty not to be eligible. Two are said to be set academically, another may be but also had enough of a jump in his ACT score to be flagged by the NCAA Clearinghouse, and the fifth player is supposedly a point shy on the ACT from qualifying. —ArkansasSports360.com

Time will tell if we get those kids on campus. I’m thinking that Coach Anderson hopes they arrive on time and ready to play. Oh, and rumors that PG Phil Pressey is coming with Coach Anderson doesn’t hurt, either. Though, Phil was a freshman this year and would have to sit out one year.

4. What exactly is going on with Rotnei Clarke?

Amongst all of the turmoil about Coach Anderson resigning or re-signing, this little bomb was dropped today about Rotnei Clarke MAYBE not returning for his senior season. Uh, what?

Honestly, I don’t think this is going to happen. The article talks about how under-utilized Rotnei was in Coach Pelphrey’s offense — which we all knew. Even most commentators made statements about it during games. The bigger problem was, Arkansas’ opponents also knew that he was the main focal point and that a sure way to beat the Hogs was to stop Rotnei.

I can understand Clarke’s frustration and alleged desire to leave. But now, I think this is a moot point and that he’s going to stay. First off you have Marshawn Powell back and more than likely at full strength. Secondly you have, hopefully, five NCAA-ready recruits. And third, you have a new system that thrives on speed, trapping and a motion offense with multiple players that can make plays.

If you ask me, Rotnei stays and hits more threes next year, than he did this year, en route to setting the school record.

3. Will 40 Minutes of Hell still work?

Our friends over at Razorbloggers.net have a wonderful article about this very question. Well, it apparently worked when Coach Anderson was at UAB (he ran his team to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004) and it worked some at Missouri (his team got to the Elite Eight in 2009). Overall, Coach Anderson is 200-98 (85-57 in conference play) over nine years as a head coach. That’s not too shabby.

The bigger concern is that teams now aren’t like teams in the 80s and early 90s. Most teams expect to go at a slightly faster pace. Most teams are conditioned better than they were from our years with Nolan Richardson as coach.

So…will it still work? Yes, it can. And sometimes, no, it won’t.

Just like a slow-it-down, grind-it-out team does well most times, they sometime slip. So, too will a run-n-gun type of team. But if our players can get up to a good conditioning level quickly, play hellish defense, take good shots, rebound and play smart, that could be a VERY deadly combo — even in today’s style of play.

2. Is Coach Anderson’s system different than Nolan’s? (Can he develop players?)

One of the biggest knocks that Coach Richardson and Coach Anderson have is the ability, or lack thereof, to develop players. Thinking back to our teams and the players that played well on those teams, a lot of them were studs in high school — Todd Day, Joe Johnson, Corliss Williamson, etc.

The rest of the kids that filled the teams were role players that wanted to play hard. I’m not saying that these kids weren’t good. I’m saying that, without looking, I can’t really remember a player from Richardson’s teams starting out as a nobody and ending up in the NBA.

But, isn’t that what you need? A few really good players surrounded by role players?

No, Coach Anderson’s system isn’t too terribly different. But just as Nolan was successful with his teams, Coach Anderson will have to find a niche to give his teams a chance to win.

1. Ultimately, can Coach Anderson take Arkansas back to the NCAA Championship game…and win?

Sure he could. Any coach in this country with a good system and good players can, just ask Brad Stevens of Butler University (and, by the way, don’t think Coach Stevens is getting Top 25 recruiting classes, because he’s not). If Butler can make the finals, why couldn’t Arkansas?

Having said that, I don’t think that Arkansas will go there next year. Or maybe even the year after that. But I do think a return to the Final Four is definitely possible with Coach Anderson, and I NEVER thought that about Coach Pelphrey’s teams.

Let’s be realistic about this. There will be ups and downs, every coach encounters that and Coach Anderson will have his good and bad days. But, today is a new day for Arkansas Razorbacks basketball. And it’s a good day at that.

I’m excited for sure. I might say it’s a guarded excitement. Placing a bet in Las Vegas for the Hogs to win next year’s NCAA Championship isn’t the first thing I’m going to do. But one bet I would make is for the Hogs to be competitive for the first time in four seasons.

Welcome home Coach Mike Anderson. We’ve been waiting for you.