Challenging hoops schedule fits Anderson’s squad

Photo: Walt Beazley /

If you can tell what a coach thinks about his basketball team by they way he sets up his schedule, then Mike Anderson must think highly of his 2017-18 basketball squad.

Now, coaches don’t have full control of their schedule. There is no doubt that they have less control than they would like.

For instance the Southeastern Conference sets every member’s league slate in conjunction with the networks that broadcast SEC basketball, basically CBS and the ESPN family of networks, which the SEC Network is a key part.

TV totes the note, so concerns of the coaches, athletics departments, and fans take a backseat.

CBS gets first choice of any SEC matchups that it wants, and then ESPN takes its picks and so on down the line. The better a team is expected to be, the better chance it has of being on CBS or ESPN.

Once those choices are made, those games are slotted into dates. CBS only televises college games on the weekend, so there’s little doubt Kentucky and Florida will be playing on a Saturday or a Sunday this season.

Once those behind-the-scenes decisions are completed, the league office will release the full SEC schedule, which will allow member institutions to finalize their schedules and release them to the public. In the recent years, that has generally been sometime in August.

While we are a couple of months away from knowing the Razorbacks’ full slate of basketball games, there is some information out that should make hardwood Hog fans happy.

In late May, the Phil Knight Invitational released the brackets for the prestigious tournament named after and in honor of the creator of the Nike brand. The tourney will be held in the Moda Center at Portland, Ore., Thanksgiving week. It wasn’t a secret that Arkansas was in the tournament, but the announcement was a reminder.

The Hogs will play three games while there on Thursday Nov. 23, Friday Nov. 24 and Sunday Nov. 26 in the 16-team tournament. No games are scheduled on Saturday Nov. 25 because of college football, thus allowing all 24 of the games to be televised on one ESPN Network or the other.

The Hogs are in the “Victory” bracket along with their opening opponent Oklahoma, defending national champion North Carolina, Oregon, Connecticut, Michigan State, Georgetown, and Portland. The “Motion” bracket features Butler, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Ohio State, Portland State, and Texas.

That, my friends, is a heavy-duty lineup of basketball programs, which are all, no doubt, Nike schools.

In Arkansas’ bracket alone, six of the eight programs have won a total of 15 national championships. In all, teams in the “Victory” bracket have played in 52 Final Fours and had 220 NCAA Championship appearances and 399 NCAA Tournament wins.

The Razorbacks will play Oklahoma in their tournament opener on Thanksgiving Day, and if they win, there is a good chance the Hogs will get their second shot at the Tar Heels in less than a year on Black Friday.

Photo: Walt Beazley /

After coming up short against North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, you know Jalen Barford, Daryl Macon and the rest of the Razorbacks have that possible matchup on their mind while working out this summer.

Arkansas got the opportunity to play in the tournament by being a Nike school, but Anderson didn’t have to take the offer. In a tournament like this one, a team could play very well, but still lose all three games because of the quality of the programs participating.

The fact that Anderson is taking his team to Portland means that he wants to challenge his Hogs early in the season and not pad the schedule with a couple of holiday cream puffs and certain victories.

It’s a statement on where Anderson sees his program after a solid 26-10 finish last year. It’s a hungry attitude that ought to whet fans appetite for the coming season.

While we’re waiting on the rest of the schedule to be released, we do know a few other things. Razorback season ticket holders will be treated to two marquee nonconference games at Bud Walton Arena this year.

Arkansas plays host to Minnesota on Dec. 9, and then Oklahoma State on Jan. 27 as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Razorbacks took it on the chin against both squads on the road last year. Minnesota whipped the Razorbacks, 85-71, in Minneapolis the week of Thanksgiving, while Oklahoma State ambushed the Razorbacks, 99-71, at Stillwater in late January.

The game at Oklahoma State might have been the Hogs’ worst showing of last season, but Anderson pulled the team out of the doldrums in mid February and guided them to a solid finish.

Fox Sports has Minnesota ranked No. 15 in its latest preseason poll that was compiled after the NBA Draft’s exit deadline for underclassmen. The Razorbacks are ranked No. 22 in the same poll.

Incidentally, that poll thinks rather highly of the SEC. Not only are the Hogs in at No. 22, but Texas A&M is No. 24, Alabama is No. 16, Florida is No. 12, and Kentucky is No. 3.

While the dates aren’t announced yet, the Razorbacks will play at Alabama and Florida, host Kentucky at Bud Walton Arena, and play a home-and-home series with Texas A&M in the upcoming season.

The Razorbacks will also host South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee in single games this season, while also traveling to Georgia and Mississippi State for single games. The Hogs’ other SEC home-and-home series will be against Auburn, Missouri, LSU and Ole Miss.

The Razorbacks’ basketball schedule stacks up to be a challenging one, but the Hogs have a senior-laden team that’s also getting an infusion of young talent.

That combination has me eager for the forthcoming season even before the dog days of summer set in.