Photo: Walt Beazley / ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Less than a month ago, some Razorback fans were debating whether Mike Anderson’s time should be up as Arkansas’ head basketball coach. Now some Hog fans are calling for Anderson to be named SEC Coach of the Year.
It’s amazing what a cure-all winning can be. I wonder how many fans fall into both groups?
While I never fell into the camp that felt Anderson had to go, I’ll admit their reasoning was beginning to sound almost inevitable on Feb. 7 when Vanderbilt waltzed into Bud Walton Arena and routed the Razorbacks, 72-59, pasting the Hogs with their third loss in four games.
The TV image of Anderson exhorting his Hogs to bring more energy to their play during a late TV timeout was stunning. The players seemed to sit there lifeless.
I feared Anderson had lost his influence on the team. Little did I know that nothing could have been further from the truth.
By the next game, the Razorbacks had put on their dancing shoes. The team turned their season around by finally taking their coaching to the game, and they began to improve. The Razorbacks played solid basketball, winning six of their last seven games to close out the regular season.
Former Razorback Nick Mason serves as a basketball analyst on the “Morning Rush” with Derek Ruscin and Tommy Craft. Mason, who offers excellent insight on college hoops, is the first person I heard suggest Anderson for the SEC honor, but the movement has caught on around the state.
My guess is that Florida coach Mike White is probably going to be named by the SEC Coach of the Year because the Gators are the better team than the Hogs and have a higher profile among SEC media as a top-15 team, but Anderson and Vanderbilt’s Bryce Drew should also get thoughtful consideration by thorough voters.
Whether Anderson gets the honor or not, he, his staff, and his players deserve a ton of credit for righting the ship after it appeared dead in the water.
Saturday the Razorbacks rolled over Georgia, 85-67, to finish the regular season a respectable 23-8 overall and 12-6 in SEC play. The Razorbacks tied South Carolina for third in the league race, but by virtue of their Feb. 23rd 83-76 victory over the Gamecocks at Columbia, S.C., Arkansas is the third-place seed in the SEC Tournament at Nashville.
With a double bye, the Hogs will play at approximately 8:35 p.m. Friday against Ole Miss, Auburn, or Missouri. Auburn and Missouri play Wednesday night at approximately 8:35 p.m. The winner of that game will play Ole Miss at 8:35 Thursday.
Should the Razorbacks win their opening game, one would project them playing Florida or Vanderbilt on Saturday. Neither are good matchups for the Hogs, but if the Razorbacks were on the other side of the bracket, playing top-seeded Kentucky wouldn’t be a picnic either.
The victory over Georgia on Saturday was a thing of beauty to the 16,000 fans on hand to send the team off properly into postseason play and watch three seniors play their final game in Walton Arena.
Moses Kingsley played one of his best games of the year with a 15-point, nine-rebound, two-assist and two-block performance. Dusty Hannahs edged ever closer to scoring his 1,000th point as a Hog with 15. He needs just 18 more to join that club in just two seasons of play. Manny Watkins gave the Hogs a little bit of everything with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal.
The trio really couldn’t have had better final game. Oh, sure, any of their stat lines could have been bolder, but the Razorbacks won going away, they each played well, and received standing ovations from the crowd and big hugs from their teammates and coaches when they were taken out of the game.
That’s how Senior Day should be.
The Razorbacks enter postseason playing their best basketball of the season, but the big question is if the Hogs are capable of lifting their game up another notch. Teams that do well in the postseason find another gear at this time of the year.
I personally believe the Razorbacks have more in them than what they have shown up to this point. They still start slow as a team. It’s a characteristic that is hard to rise above, particularly at this late juncture, but if they can do it, the Hogs might be dangerous in Nashville and in the Big Dance.
While the Hogs have proven to be a very smart and capable if not clutch late-game team, patience in certain situations still eludes them. Florida had the Hogs on their heels from the opening tip last week. Arkansas never looked comfortable in the game and rushed everything.
Similarly, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, and Vanderbilt did the same thing to the Razorbacks at various points in the season.
A cure for that might be running the offense through Kingsley and Trey Thompson more often, but Anderson is reluctant to play both of them together early in a game for defensive purposes and in hopes of keeping both out of foul problems in the first half.
Currently ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Hogs penciled in as an eighth seed in the South Region against ninth seed Dayton. That is just an educated guess of where the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will seed the Razorbacks.
If we do assume the Hogs are an eighth or ninth seed going into this week’s games, the Razorbacks need to keep winning to possibly move up the pecking order. The winner of the eight-nine game will face the winner of No. 1 seed-No. 16 seed game. A 16th seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament play.
No one knows if or how much winning a game or two in the SEC Tournament would help the Razorbacks’ seeding in the NCAA Tournament, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt any.
Beyond NCAA Tournament seeding, it’s important for the Anderson’s Hogs to once again become a factor in SEC Tournament play. That needs to become an expectation of the Razorbacks players as well as their fans. But before that can happen, the Hogs must make a run at the SEC Tournament title.
Diamond Hogs begin long home stand
After spending a week on the road, the Arkansas Razorbacks baseball team (8-3) begins an 11-game home stand at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Baum Stadium when the Razorbacks play host to Louisiana-Monroe in the first game of a two game series. The second game will be played at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Rhode Island visits Baum Stadium for a three-game series this weekend, while the Hogs play host to Alcorn State for a two-game series on March 14 and 15 before opening the SEC schedule against Mississippi State on March 17-19. The final game of the home stand is March 22 against New Orleans. The Razorbacks then travel to Columbia, Mo., for a series against Missouri on March 24-26.