When considering the dismissal of senior forward Dustin Thomas from the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team, it’s a bit ironic to recall a couple of things Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said last week.
First, he mentioned the term addition by subtraction when previewing the Missouri game, and second he mentioned a text that he received from senior forward Arlando Cook in which Cook promised his head coach that he would “help” this team at some point this season.
Those were unconnected comments by Anderson, but as the Razorbacks enter the postseason without Thomas, maybe they will apply to his Arkansas team.
Anderson dismissed Thomas from the team and issued this statement Monday:
Senior forward Dustin Thomas has been dismissed from the team effective immediately for a violation of team rules. It is a privilege to represent the University of Arkansas as a student-athlete. We will continue to hold the student-athletes in our program to a high standard on and off the court.
Anderson has been incredibly patient with Thomas in the young man’s three years on campus. The Texarkana, Texas, native was arrested for passing a small amount of counterfeit money the summer he transferred into the program from Colorado in 2015. He started this season suspended for an undisclosed reason, and he did not play in two other games this season by Anderson’s decision, presumably as a disciplinary measure.
While Thomas played in 26 games, started 17, and averaged 5 points and 4 rebounds a game, while doing a lot of the blue-collar work that Anderson so values, the Head Hog deemed his program would be better off without Thomas’ distraction than with it the week that postseason play begins.
Fayetteville police cited but did not arrest Thomas for marijuana possession on Feb. 9., according to a police report. The statement from Anderson did not mention the citation as part of the decision to dismiss Thomas.
However, the NCAA does administer random drug testing of teams at postseason events. Thomas’ decisions may have left Anderson no choice but to take action.
Or Anderson may have deemed it better to cut ties now than wait for a situation to rear its head down the line? That, of course, is just speculation on my part.
Considering Arkansas’ roster, I don’t think the loss of Thomas can be construed as addition by subtraction on the floor. With the 6-8 Thomas, the Razorbacks struggled against the bigger teams in the SEC. The Hogs’ 77-67 loss to Missouri last Saturday is a case in point.
It’s difficult to defend bigger, taller players without fouling, and while all of the Razorbacks fouls last Saturday against Missouri didn’t come from defending bigs, many of them were, and the Tigers made Arkansas pay but hitting 27 of 33 free throws to the Razorbacks’ 12 of 15.
As mentioned earlier, Thomas was a blue-collar player who blocked out, rebounded, set screens, played defense on bigger and smaller players. He was not a star, but he did a lot of good things for Arkansas’ basketball team.
As for being a distraction in the locker room, we can only guess about that? Certainly, anytime a teammate is in trouble there is some effect on the team, but was it truly detrimental? My thought is if it was a real problem, Anderson would have dismissed Thomas earlier.
The big question is whether removing Thomas will cause the Hogs to unravel or will it unite the players to rally together, or will it be something between. Time will tell.
Thomas’ dismissal does open the door for the 6-8 Cook, who made that text to Anderson about him helping the team at some point. If he is going to step up, now is the time.
Like Thomas, Cook started off this season in the doghouse, missing the entire first semester after being arrested for assault and other less serious charges for an altercation at a bar.
The Hogs need Cook to elevate his play in the absence of Thomas, but he isn’t the only Razorback who needs to rise to the occasion.
The minutes Thomas contributed will be absorbed by a group of players, I’m guessing, that includes Darius Hall, Adrio Bailey, and Gabe Osabuohien.
Those four players will be called upon not only to contribute what they already have been but also more to fill Thomas’ void when the Razorbacks get to St. Louis this week for the SEC Basketball Tournament.
It will be a team fix, and maybe that will draw the squad even closer.
The condition of sophomore guard C.J. Jones has not been officially updated since he left the Missouri game after hurting what appeared to be his knee. If he is out, that will add more stress on the Hogs’ other scorers.
Jones was inconsistent, particularly early in SEC play, but he had been shooting with more confidence of late. He had already canned a 3-pointer against Missouri before he got hurt. Hopefully he will be ready to go Thursday or soon after.
With the loss to Missouri, the Hogs (21-10, 10-8) finished in a three-way tie for fourth with Kentucky and the Tigers. The Hogs are seeded sixth at the bottom end of the bracket, so plan on “Late Night with the Razorbacks” on Thursday and hopefully this Friday.
The Hogs will play the winner of Wednesday’s South Carolina-Ole Miss game at around 8:30 to 8:45 p.m. Thursday. If the Razorbacks win, Florida would be Arkansas’ quarterfinals opponent Friday at around 8:30 to 8:45 p.m.
Based on the play this year, the SEC Tournament truly seems up for grabs, but the top-four seeds — Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky — have a huge advantage with the double byes they earned in the regular season. However, none of those teams seem invincible just days away from the tournament’s tipoff.
Personally I think Tennessee and Kentucky are the favorites. I think Auburn’s lack of size and depth in general is an impediment to them winning the tourney title, with Texas A&M and Kentucky on the Tigers’ side of the bracket. On a neutral floor, I’d give Tennessee the advantage over Florida if they meet in the semifinals, but then again Florida looked tough, pounding Kentucky in their regular-season finale.
As much as I hate to admit it, John Calipari’s Wildcats are my pick to win it. They have more size, depth, and talent than any one team in the rest of the field. They are not as invincible as many of Calipari’s previous Kentucky squads. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kentucky didn’t make it to the championship game, but if the Wildcats are still there on Sunday, nobody has their combination of size, talent, and depth.
As for dark horses, Alabama, Texas A&M, and the Razorbacks have the ability to defeat anyone in the league when they play at peak performance, but inconsistency has been the trio’s bugaboo all season long. The Bama-A&M game at noon Thursday may be the highlight of the early rounds. The Crimson Tide probably are playing for a NCAA bid in that game.
Plus no team has won the tournament without having the bye into he quarterfinals since Georgia won four in a row during the tornado tournament of 2008 in Atlanta. The last team to do it before that was Arkansas’ 2000 squad, which is the only Razorback team to win the SEC Tournament. That Hog team featured NBA great Joe Johnson, the tourney MVP Brandon Dean, and current Hog assistant coach T.J. Cleveland.
I’m wondering if Cleveland might have some special words for the Razorbacks this week?