The coaching carousel spun five offseasons ago, landing Mike Anderson at Arkansas and Frank Haith at Missouri, inextricably linking the two programs right before becoming conference rivals. We recall that Razorbacks’ fans were excited for the return of a prodigal son; Mizzou fans, on the other hand, were left scratching their heads. Five seasons on, let this fact sink in: Haith in only three seasons took the Tigers to more NCAA Tournaments (two) than Anderson has taken the Razorbacks in five (one). That isn’t what Arkansas fans were expecting during Anderson’s buoyant introductory news conference in 2011.
Of course, that Anderson and his 102-64 overall record are on the hot seat isn’t news. Stan Heath had logged just as many 20-win seasons and notched one more NCAA Tournament appearance over the same amount of time when he was fired. There will be considerable pressure on the program this season as the administration grapples with the question of how good is good enough, but do signs exist that Anderson has the program on the right track?
There are reasons to believe the answer is yes. Last year’s respectable team that went .500 in a weak SEC is one of those reasons. Its 16-16 overall record won’t thrill anyone in Fayetteville, but Anderson’s severely depleted roster –Bobby Portis (good idea) and Michael Qualls (not as good) both left school early – put the team at a huge disadvantage from day one. Two other key players, Rashad Madden and Alandise Harris, had graduated. Yet Anderson was able to plug Moses Kingsley (+18.7 MPG), Anthlon Bell (+10.4 MPG) and Jabril Durham (+17.8 MPG) into bigger roles, and produced a good offense (KenPom #77) as a result. An NCAA bid was never a realistic possibility, but the Razorbacks did not bottom out either. Recruiting is also going well, even if seeing Malik Monk in blue checkerboard never stops stinging. Anderson has a solid six-man class entering the program, which includes three four-star JuCo prospects: guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, as well as forward Arlando Cook (who ran into some off-the-court trouble earlier this month). Pair these three prospects with the return of Kingsley, (15.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG), Dusty Hannahs (16.5 PPG) and Anton Beard (7.0 PPG), and the makings of a solid SEC team are there. An NIT bid should be the floor this season, and if enough things go right, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Razorbacks on the fringe of the NCAA conversation in February and March. Read the rest of this entry »