Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Mike Anderson gestures during the second half of the NCAA National Invitation Tournament, Saturday, March 23, 2019 at the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, Ind. The Arkansas Razorbacks fell to the Indiana Hoosiers 63-60.
No one should have expected this season for the University of Arkansas men or women’s basketball teams.
Let’s just get this out there, there was about as much interest in the women in the NIT as there was the men’s. The women will be hosting their third WNIT game this Thursday and all Razorback fans are invited.
While it would have been very difficult for the men’s team to be better than last season after losing true shooters Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon it shouldn’t have been a disappointing season, which is what Coach Mike Anderson described it after losing to Indiana to end the season.
But it was. There was an early hint everything wasn’t great when talented freshman Darious Hall and C.J. Jones returned from spring break together in Birmingham last year and declared they were transferring.
Both had provided sparks off the bench. Hall, who was a freshman, entered the NCAA Tournament game against Butler with the Hogs down 21-2 and helped rally them to a 29-27 lead with his defense and all out intensity. Of course, they eventually lost.
Still, no one expected the Razorbacks to have a six-game losing streak this season and to lose six home games that included losses to Western Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Texas A&M, Coach Billy Kennedy, who led the Aggies to the Sweet 16 twice in in his eight years, including last season, was fired.
No one has ever expected to see Belmont or Central Florida invited to the NCAA Tournament as at-large teams and the Razorbacks go to the NIT as a fifth seed.
Not with Arkansas’ facilities and faithful fan base. When Anderson was hired everyone thought it was the second coming of Nolan Richardson.
That wasn’t fair to him, and it hasn’t been.
While Anderson used what he learned from Richardson as a player and assistant at Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri he has not used the same pressure defense and fatigue to make cowards of opponents.
One thing noticeably different this season was that with Richardson every player knew his role and if he didn’t play his role, his role became that of sitting on the bench.
Many of these Razorbacks seemed to think they could jack up a shot anytime and any place they wanted, and most of those guys are not shooters.
Give Anderson credit, after admitting the season was disappointing he said they needed to learn from their experiences this season and get better. The team needs him to be optimistic.
There is more than enough pessimism about the program and this season.
This is a program that under Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson didn’t hope to go to the NCAA Tournament, they expected it and to be there more than one game or one weekend.
Razorback basketball has not been relevant since 1996 when Richardson, after losing five starters from his national championship and national championship runner-up teams, made the Sweet 16.
Since then, the Hogs are 5-10 in the NCAA Tournament.
There was one game this season when it was obvious how the fans feel about their program.
On March 2, Richardson and the 1994 national championship team was recognized in Walton Arena at the halftime of the game with Ole Miss. Forget what the attendance said, there was at least 14,000 hog calling fans who wanted, no needed, to feel the thrill of victory even if it was long ago.
The fans are ready to be relevant again. They are ready to rally their Razorbacks.
They are not ready for another disappointing season. There have been too many of those the last 25 years.