Arkansas Conquers Past Demons, Takes Aim at the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 26th, 2014

Nate Kotisso is a Big 12 microsite writer for Rush The Court, but he decided to cover Arkansas-SMU in Dallas last night for a change. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso. 

There isn’t any doubt that when Mike Anderson made the decision to leave Missouri to help rejuvenate Arkansas’ basketball program in 2011, he and the school were in it for the long haul. Anderson signed a seven-year contract at $2.2 million annually and in year four, at last, Arkansas may have its best team in quite some time.

Perhaps last night was the night we witnessed the Arkansas Razorbacks best road win in the Mike Anderson era. (Andy Jacobsohn/Associated Press)

Perhaps last night was the night we witnessed the Arkansas Razorbacks’ best road win in the Mike Anderson era. (Andy Jacobsohn/Dallas Morning News)

During the first three years of Anderson’s tenure, you could look at an Arkansas game on a schedule one of two ways. First, if you had to travel to Bud Walton Arena, sure, the Razorbacks were a handful with a raucous crowd backing them, but they weren’t unbeatable at home. Second, if you played them in your own building, you could pretty much pencil them in as a W. It looks like we might have to change that initial scouting report. Three games into the season, all of them at home, the Razorbacks were doing Razorback things, dismantling Alabama State, Wake Forest and Delaware State with little regard. The SMU game on Tuesday night was big for a few reasons. It would be the first outing since being named an AP Top 25 team on Monday, their first such ranking since 2007. It also proved to be a golden opportunity for the SEC who could use a shot in the arm for its conference RPI.

Arkansas got off to the start they wanted, forcing sixteen SMU turnovers and holding them to 22 points in the first half. A few of the difficulties of playing against a Mike Anderson-coached team is that his teams, more or less, roll 10 deep (12 played last night), most of them contribute and all of them have his 40 Minutes of Hell down to a tee. That means SMU’s eight guys who played would get worn out much quicker and they were.

But this is basketball and it was impossible for a team as good as the Mustangs are to stay down for good. Arkansas armed with a 19 point lead with 13:36 to play, the Mustangs went on a 14-2 run in less than three minutes to cut the advantage to seven. What happened next would seem to be the biggest difference between Razorback teams of the past and this year’s team reacting to large runs on the road. On the next possession, the Hogs got a large three from Michael Qualls to fall to bump the lead back to 10. After that, every time SMU scored a bucket or pulled closer, Bobby Portis, the team’s best player, had an answer on the other end, drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line or showing off his jump shot which adds another dangerous element to his already dangerous game.

It’s understandable to come away from the Razorbacks’ win unimpressed. SMU is a wounded team. What would have been their top high school recruit in Emmanuel Mudiay never suited up and is now playing overseas; Markus Kennedy, their biggest terror in the interior, has been lost for the fall semester due to grades and Xavier transfer Justin Martin (7.5 PPG) was unable to play as well. The Mustangs might still be talented enough to get an at-large bid when all is said and done but nonetheless, Arkansas didn’t panic. They stayed calm, played their game and were rewarded with a crucial road win.

Long term, this was a big victory for the SEC which is struggling once again with teams who, collectively, have embarrassed themselves when they played other power conference teams. Kentucky is obviously the best the league has to offer, those Mississippi State and Vanderbilt undefeated records don’t hold much water and Florida has floundered two weeks in in a most shocking way. This leaves the door open for the Razorbacks to challenge for the No. 2 spot in the SEC. With Portis, Qualls, Jacorey Williams (nine points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal vs SMU) and Rashad Madden (10 points, five assists), experience and coaching are at the center of most teams that make the NCAA Tournament and Arkansas has plenty of both.

Certainly, if they’re winning games like the one in Dallas, it won’t just be opinion in November. It’ll be fact in March.

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *