The founder of the Arkansas Hawks AAU program wonders if Mike Anderson still has the ears of his players.
These days, Bill Ingram’s opinion on the state of the basketball Hogs matters more than ever. Talent-wise, after all, the key to its future lies within Ingram’s Arkansas Hawks AAU program in the form of these five verbal commits to Arkansas:
Ethan Henderson (LR Parkview; 4-star via 247Sports, c/o 2018)
Justice Hill (LR Christian; Class of 2019)
Isaiah Joe (Fort Smith Northside; 3-star via 247Sports; c/o 2018)
Reggie Perry (Thomasville, Ga., 4-star via ESPN, c/o 2018)
Desi Sills (Jonesboro, 4-star via 247Sports, c/o 2018)
But will this class, currently ranked No. 10 in the nation by ESPN, actually make it to Fayetteville? The question seems apt in light of the last couple of weeks. The Hogs, who had been a lock for the 2017 NCAA Tournament, have tumbled onto the bubble according to college basketball betting lines after suffering three horrendous losses within a four-game stretch to Oklahoma State, Missouri and Vanderbilt.
Ingram, like so many other Hog fans, is concerned with Arkansas’ lack of consistency under the coaching of Mike Anderson and his staff. This is Anderson’s sixth year and the team is stocked with plenty of talented recruits. Yet the team lurches in effort and execution from one night to the next, unable to find a groove of consistent success. Indeed, Arkansas appears to have regressed from earlier in the season from a defensive intensity standpoint. The players still haven’t developed enough consistent offensive flow and chemistry to prevent momentum-killing droughts.
Bill Ingram: In actuality the [in-state talent] of these last two or three years, leading up to the next two or three years, it’s at an all time high. It as high as I’ve ever seen it before. And these guys can compete on a national level… And what we expect is we expect to keep our in-state kids home. And I don’t know if we’ve always been like that, so that’s nothing new. We expect to keep our in-state kids home. Our kids have gotten a lot better and we expect them to be a part of that program. And help that program to win games.
And this is the thing that I think bothers me more than anything is: We’re still asking for you to be 3rd or 4th [in the SEC]. We’re thinking if you’re in 3rd of 4th place, and that means you may be good enough to get to the NCAA tournament, and anything that happens from that point. But I want us to get to the point where we’re asking you to be No. 1 or 2. Every year. And now we working on third and fourth. And so, I think the fans have been extremely reasonable.
… I’m still hungry for that No. 1 or No. 2 but we’re accepting No. 3 or No. 4 and we not getting there.
No one is happy and I understand why. And we have to do better in then all our programs. We have to be better on our football program. I mean, we shouldn’t be at this point in our programs because we have a great fan base.
I look at schools like Butler. Man, they got a neighborhood fan base in Indianapolis. Not a statewide fan base, not even the whole city of Indianapolis. But, they got a neighborhood fan base. And they’re consistently ranked in the top 25 and for the last, what you want to say, five, ten years? So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to be a top 25 program every year and competing for SEC championship. I just feel like that.
Bo Mattingly: What do you think is the biggest issue or question that Mike Anderson is facing right now?
Bill Ingram: Well, the biggest question is, I think, what if he’s lost the team? And when you have losses like this to a Missouri team — probably no one on that team could start for Arkansas. And then when you come back and you under a huge amount of pressure, and you perform like that against Vanderbilt. First question that comes to people’s mind is whether you still have the ears of the players and if they’re listening to you?
The above excerpts have been lightly edited for clarity
“I am a little salty that I’m not on the Razorbacks staff.”
Todd Day, the University of Arkansas’ three-time All-American, recently opened up to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about his desire to be an assistant in the Hogs’ basketball program. I spoke to Day right after Mike Anderson was hired as the Hogs’ head basketball coach in 2011, and even then he was excited about the chance of one day soon joining Anderson’s staff.
As an assistant to Nolan Richardson, Anderson had recruited Day out of Memphis in 1988. Day joined fellow stars Oliver Miller and Lee Mayberry to help lead Arkansas to the 1990 Final Four while finishing his career two years later as the program’s all-time leading scorer. At the time I spoke to Day about coaching with Arkansas, he had two years of experience as the head coach of Memphis Academy of Health and Sciences.
Since then, Day’s padded his resume by coaching three more years at Memphis Academy, then coaching his alma mater Memphis Hamilton for a couple years (he won a state championship) and coaching Team Penny on the AAU circuit (where I spoke to him about Malik Monk).
Along the way, Day talked to Mike Anderson at various times about assistant jobs, he told the Democrat-Gazette’s Troy Schulte. The conversations never led anywhere. “I am a little salty that I’m not on the Razorbacks staff,” Day told Schulte. “It’s my school. Those are my guys. Coach A is my guy. I’m not salty at them. I’m just salty at the situation.”
That’s a helluva lotta sodium chloride, folks. I sure hope he’s drinking plenty of fluids with it.
One thing Day doesn’t mention, but may also add salt to the situation, is the fact that Lee Mayberry is on the Razorbacks staff as a “special assistant” to Mike Anderson despite the fact he has less varied coaching experience than Day. Mayberry, a former NBA scout, had coached an AAU team in Tulsa since 2000, but apparently hadn’t coached high school basketball like Day has.
Day’s Coaching Career
Arkansas Impact (2008)
Memphis Academy of Health and Sciences (2009-2014)
Memphis Hamilton High School (2014-2016)
Philander Smith (2016-present)
It should be emphasized that Day has always spoken very highly of his friend Mayberry. It’s pure speculation on my part Day may feel a little extra salty he hasn’t been able to carve out a spot on the Razorbacks staff in light of the fact Mayberry has become a special assistant to Anderson. I have never spoken to Day or anybody on the Razorback staff about this.
Day is currently coaching at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. His stepfather, Ted Anderson, advised him to use the NAIA school as a springboard to bigger college positions.
Anderson said he told Day: “Build that program right there, take that from ground zero and take it as high as you can take it. Do it with class and dignity, and you’ll be recognized for it.” For now, Day’s invested in his Philander Smith team, which sits at 9-9. He told Schulte last summer he even turned down an interview for an assistant spot on the staff of Tulane, where his former Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr. now coaches.
Will Day one day get his dream of a Razorback coaching spot?
What is known is that any coaching position with the Razorbacks basketball program is, on the whole, losing prestige year by year. That trend was hammered home in a 28-point loss on the road yesterday to a 2-6 conference Oklahoma State team. The Hogs had few excuses. They were playing at full strength health wise and coming off 4 straight SEC wins. They should played better, and with more effort and have been competitive. Instead, they produced a lackluster, sloppy, uncoordinated defensive effort that resulted in the Cowboys repeatedly shredding them from the outside and getting to the basket on open drives seemingly at will.
Whenever Arkansas’ foe has a top-flight point guard, and the game is on a neutral or away court, these eviscerations happen with alarming predictability. They are, in part, the result of poor execution on defensive switching — or, rather, the lack of any plan whatsoever on how to guard perimeter pick and roll action.
That lack of planning is an indictment of the Razorbacks’ coaching staff. If Day one day officially interviews for his dream job, he needs to make his former coach uncomfortable by pointing out the oversights which have hurt the brand of the program he had a hand in building.
Mike Anderson: This is a day that, you know, you have dreams when you’re a young kid. Coming here, taking this job four years ago, one of the first tasks that I had was to go down to Hall High School, and see this young man work out. In that spring, in that summer, this committed to the University of Arkansas. His sophomore, you’re talking about finishing his sophomore year, so when you talk about a guy committed early, this guy committed early, so to sit here four years after that, and he has an opportunity to realize his dream. It’s kind of a more sweet than it is bitter day. Why, because this kid, he’s part of my family, and that’s Bobby Portis, as well as all my other players on our team. When you talk about a young man who’s had two unbelievable years, it’s amazing what has taken place. In his freshman year, he’s second team All SEC. His second year. You got to understand this. He’s second team All-American. That is a special, special year, and that’s why we are here today.
His teammates are here in attendance, as well as our staff, as Bobby has announced that he will be moving beyond that, and I’ll let him talk more into that. As a coach, he’s been a great ambassador for our university. He’s a great basketball player, we know that, but he’s been a great, great ambassador, a great, great role model for a lot of young players around, young people in the state of Arkansas and around the country. We could not have a better representative than Bobby Portis. To be here today as he makes his statement, I couldn’t be no more proud of Bobby Portis. Player of the year in our league. Things that haven’t taken place here in 20 years. That tells you how special he is. Not only special Bobby is, but his teammates as well. He’ll be the first to say that. I can’t talk any more, because I get a little emotion, but to Ms. Tina, I want to thank her for entrusting me with her son. I told her, “You send me a young boy, I send you back a man.” Well, he kind of expedited the process. I told him to go at his own pace, as a freshman, because coming in, you can imagine, McDonald’s All-American, all the pressures, and I said go at your own pace. His pace was a tremendous pace, and that’s why we’re here today. I just pass over here to Bobby Portis.
Bobby Portis: How everybody doing today? Ain’t nobody sad or nothing, is it? Everybody good? You know, today’s a good day
for me, to try to take that next step and go to the NBA. As a kid, all kids grow up wanting to go to the NBA. For me, myself, I finally had that first chance to go to the NBA this year, so I took the opportunity and tried to run with it. Thanks for Coach A for always having that trust in me, on and off the court. He made me a captain this year, as a sophomore, and I think that’s big for me and my teammates. Thanks for my teammates, always having their trust in me, on the court, passing the ball to me, even though I’m hollering, “Give me the ball! Give me the ball!” All that stuff. Thanks to Coach [Matt Zimmerman] staying late in the gym with me, and always rebounding for me and all that. Thanks to the managers, too, and Coach Watkins and Coach Cleveland. You’re all a part of my family, now, and this is something that I’m proud of, so thank you all and God Bless.
Reporter: You really talked a lot about your mom and what she means to you. How big a part was her, how hard she works and what she does, in your decision?
Bobby Portis: It was a big part, just because, my mom, she works 2:00 AM to 1:00 PM. That’s an 11 hour shift. For any person, that’s a tough burden on anyone, so I just want to take that next step, not just for her, but for myself. I’m not doing this for my mom, or anything, I’m doing this for Bobby Portis, just because I feel like I’m ready to take that next step, and go on about my basketball career.
Reporter: In the beginning you said it was going to be a committee decision. In the end, was it just you that made the call?
Bobby Portis: I believe so, just because, my mom wanted me to make the decision for me and not her. That’s something that she always preaches. Not trying to make me make a decision for her, just to change her life and my little brother’s life. She wants me to live my dream and try to be the best basketball player I could be.
Q: I understand it’s a basketball on one side, but how nice is it that you’re going to be able to help your family out?
Bobby Portis: I think it’ll be nice to help my family out, but I still have to work as hard as I can every day, and just try to be that same person that I was, and just stay humble and hungry. Just because, if I get my name called and put that hat on, that doesn’t mean that it’s just the end of the road and I get money. It’s more than just money. It’s a job, too, at the same time.
Q: What kind of feedback did you get from the NBA folks about where Bobby’s likely to be drafted?
Mike Anderson: First of all, this wasn’t an easy decision for Bobby. This guy, again, he committed as a sophomore to be a Razorback, and trust me, he’s been wrestling with this. I know you guys, whether it be social network, or we continued at the banquet last night, “Hey, Bobby, what you going to do?” It wasn’t an easy decision for him, so we gathered information for him, in terms, of where, what’s going to take place. Obviously, from the lottery to first round. He’s going to be … He’ll be a first rounder, there’s no question about it. Where? That remains to be seen. I have all the confidence in this guy, right here. He’s on the fast track, on the fast track to do some great things. No one can knock his work ethic. For a 6’11” guy, that can do the things that this guy does, is remarkable. He has that burning desire, to not only be a good player, so even as he goes to that next level, he don’t just want to be a good player in the NBA, he wants to be a great player in the NBA. I don’t question anything this guy puts his mind to. The feedback we got was very positive, and so we sat down, and just discussed it. At the end of the day, it was Bobby’s decision, and I think, one thing about it is that, I think, for him, I think he made the right decision.
He’s done some great things here for us, here at the University. Took us some places we hadn’t been in a while. I think he just starting something that’s really going to continue to take place, and when you talk about elite players, having the opportunity to come in, and have a chance to showcase the God gifted talents. He took my word, when I sat there with he and his mom, because there’s a lot of places he could have went. There’s a lot of programs he could have went. He chose the University of Arkansas. In the matter of a year, two years, now he’s had an opportunity to go and live his dream. It’s a big statement in a lot of ways. I’m sure the basketball people out there, the NBA teams, and hopefully, the recruits understand that, you know what – we get it done here at the University of Arkansas. Our kids, they develop. They do it the right way on and off the floor and when they leave here they will be ready, not only for the NBA, but they will be ready for the real world.
Q: What was the tipping point when you decided everything?
Bobby: Last Tuesday me and Coach Anderson sat down and talked about everything. He just laid out two or three scenarios and from there, I kind of ran with it. I sat down and told him then that I thought I was ready to make that next step. I made it last Tuesday.
Q: … How tough a decision was it? … Like Mike said, it was something you had to wrestle with.
Bobby: Man, last night I played this song, “I don’t want to leave, but I got to go right now.” That was cold, though. No, it was a tough decision for me just because growing up in the state of Arkansas and being a native of this state, I felt like I was a great ambassador for our basketball team and for our program, not only for the basketball team, but for the whole, entire Razorbacks. I believe I showed kids that you don’t have to go to Kentucky or Florida just to try to live your dreams. Coach Anderson and his staff gets it done here, too.
Arkansas assistant coach Matt Zimmerman couldn’t believe it.
As ushers swept the seats of a cavernous Bud Walton Arena behind him, he sat courtside, looking down at the box score of a game that had just finished. It wasn’t the 81-75 final score that surprised him. These days, it seems, his No. 18 Hogs go into every game legitimately expecting to win. No, it was the way in which Arkansas had sewn up its seventh straight win.
On this bitter cold night, Texas A & M had outrebounded Arkansas 44 to 23. In the Razorbacks’ 40 Minutes of Hell style, getting out rebounded happens. Usually not by this much, but it happens.
The weird part?
While giving up so many boards – a stat stronger, bigger and more athletic teams usually win – Arkansas somehow also held a 12 to 0 advantage in block shots. Which is, of course, a stat that also usually goes to the taller, more athletic team. In this game, Alandise Harris likely had the defensive game of his year, chipping in four blocked shots, while Moses Kingsley and Bobby Portis added three swats each. Yet the fact that not a single Aggie touched an Arkansas shot attempt is a testament to the Hogs’ discipline and shot selection on offense.
Matt Zimmerman couldn’t recall such an unlikely disparity in his decades of coaching. Same goes for his boss Mike Anderson. “I’ve had some teams that have gotten out-rebounded by about 20, yeah, and [still] win the game” the head coach said. “On a of lot of those rebounds [the Aggies] would shoot it and go back and get it, shoot it and go back and get it. But we’ve got to correct that. To have 12 blocked shots and for them to have zero, that tells me our guys were pretty accurate. And in the first half we were blocking those shots and we were coming up with them, we were heading down the other end on the fast break. So, to do that against a team like Texas A&M – that tells me we are getting better.”
So, has anything like this ever happened before?
It’s very rare. I have confirmed Arkansas has pulled off the only -20 or more rebound/+10 or more block disparity in a Division I game this season. But, thanks to a tip from HogStats.com, it appears one Razorback team did something similar on December 11, 1990. In that game, a 10-point Arkansas win, Hogs center Oliver Miller went off for nine blocks and the team tallied 15 in all, according to separate records found by the HogStats editor.
Yet perhaps Miller was too hungry for a record-setting block night to corral many defensive rebounds, because South Alabama out-rebounded Arkansas 60-34 (Miller finished with seven total rebounds). We don’t know how many blocks South Alabama got this game (team blocks aren’t recorded in that season’s media guide), but it’s likely the number was less than five. If anybody can find record of that stat, please let me know.
N.B. Anderson would have actually coached in this game, as an assistant under Nolan Richardson, but I won’t hold it against him for not being to recall this one specific time in the .60 seconds he had to respond to me.
Dear readers, do you recall any other crazily anomalous statistical disparity games in college basketball history?
Entering tonight’s game against Alabama, the Razorback basketball program’s identity still isn’t set. In theory, its foundation is a tenacious defensive “40 Minutes of Hell” philosophy which is supposed to turn foes into whimpering newts. In reality, three weeks into the SEC conference season, the Hogs are a far more impressive offensive team while ranking at the bottom or near the bottom in multiple SEC defense categories.
The extent to which Arkansas can improve here – especially on the road – will determine how many fans believe head coach Mike Anderson has finally, unequivocally turned the program around.
With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to chart how Anderson himself monitors the progress – and lack thereof – of his team’s performances on a week-by-week basis. He provided the following insight early this week on his own show – Full Court Press with Mike Anderson:
@ Tennessee 74
“To me, it’s a lesson for our guys. You got to show up and play, no matter where you’re playing. You got to show up and play with energy, you got to show up and play with toughness, and you got to play together with teamwork.”
“I want us to be less predictable. I think we’re more predictable now, and I think that’s why teams are really attacking us. We got some time to get it right, and we will get it right.”
Hogs’ Conference Record: 2-1
Hogs’ Conference Road Record: 1-1
Ole Miss 96
@ Arkansas 82
“Our defense has really, really, really got to get back on track as far as guarding people.”
“They played a lot of zone against us, and we hadn’t seen a lot of it, and they came out with the win.”
“Our guard players got to pick up defensively, our forward players got to pick up defensively, and I think just overall we’ve just got to be connected with our bench – which has been our strength. They didn’t have one of those particular nights that we really love.”
For Razorback fans, the question never gets old: Will basketball coach Mike Anderson lift the program to the same levels reached by his mentor Nolan Richardson? Tonight’s game, on the road against No. 20 Iowa State, should provide the best start of an answer yet. The greatest Arkansas teams of the early to mid 1990s regularly defeated ranked non-conference teams away from home but that hasn’t happened since 1997*. But, so far, all signs point to this being the best Arkansas team since that era.
The most dramatic evidence is below. Look at this steady improvement through Anderson’s first four seasons in Fayetteville:
The Razorbacks’ scalding shooting from the outside this season – 46% on three-pointers – has been a major reason for the boost in Effective FG % and True Shooting % (definitions below). That shooting helps space the floor and lead to a nation-leading assist rate. But the Razorbacks can’t rely on shooting at this clip in the kind of hostile environment the Cyclones’ Hilton Coliseum will present. So it’s important they get to the line and build an early lead.
Referee bias (conscious or not) toward the home college team makes it doubly difficult for visitors to play from behind or in a back-and-forth affair. “On the road especially you want to help keep the officiating out of it as much as you can,” Nolan Richardson said in a phone interview.
As always, defense fuels offense for a “40 Minutes of Hell”-style program. The below numbers show that while Arkansas is playing at a faster rate than ever in the Anderson era (78 possessions per 40 minutes vs. 72 in his first year), they are barely giving up more points. This is a credit to the lower rate at which they are fouling this year than the past two seasons (more experienced players) and fresher second-half legs generating turnovers at a higher clip (more depth).
It’s likely older Razorback stars like Bobby Portis, Rashad Madden and Michael Qualls will play well at Iowa State, where the Cyclones are 50-4 the last five years, Iowan-Arkansan sportswriter Nate Olson points out. They proved they could deliver on the road last season and have played in similarly intense arenas like Kentucky’s.
The pivotal issue is how Arkansas’ three first-year guards – Anton Beard, Jabril Durham and Nick Babb – play. “You’re as good as your guards take you,” Richardson said. So far, all three have played their supporting roles well but they have played in only one game away from Bud Walton Arena. While often what’s needed is a timely, clutch three in the vein of Scotty Thurman, this year the right play may simply be avoiding a turnover and making a timely entry pass to Portis. Last year, “we got discombobulated in the final few minutes of games,” Portis told USA Today, recalling seven losses in ten road games. “Are we going to finish teams off? That’s the biggest question.”
To me, North Little Rock native Anton Beard is the most important of the three young guards. Perhaps I’m simply biased, as I have followed him closely since he was a freshman in high school and seen many of his games at Parkview High and North Little Rock. He’s a champion, point blank, winning three state titles in four years. Point guards simply don’t start for Parkview coach Al Flanigan as freshmen. He’s the only one who has, and that season I watched him lead his team to a victory at Hall High School in the middle of its four-year run of consecutive state championships.
So far, Beard the collegian freshman has played the role of a scrappy, clutch shooter (46.2% on threes) off the bench who has a not-stellar 1.2 assists-to 1 turnover ratio. “Beard is moving in a pretty good direction,” Richardson said. “For the Razorbacks to be where they got to be, his game has got to improve.” Beard is fairly stocky, but Richardson says he (and all other current Razorback guards) don’t compare in the physical toughness department to Corey Beck, the point guard of his ’94 title team. “Beck was an animal.”
Perhaps the most apt comparison for Beard, at this point, is Arlyn Bowers who ended up pairing with Lee Mayberry as guards in Arkansas’ 1990 Final Four run. Two years before that, Bowers and Mayberry were just starting out as freshmen in Nolan Richardson’s fourth year as head coach.
Just six games into Year 4, it’s difficult to conduct a thorough comparison of Nolan Richardson and Mike Anderson as Razorback head coaches. Obviously, the jury’s still out on Anderson. But the sample size is large enough now to at least take a look:
[Most conferences didn’t adopt the three-point shot until 1986-87. So 1985-86 Effective FG % stats reflect two-point field goal percentage only.]
Comparing these numbers with the last four seasons, we see Anderson’s teams have improved at more steady clip, year by year, in most categories. And from an overall statistical standpoint, Anderson’s Year 4 is significantly more impressive so far than Nolan’s.
But it’s important to note that Nolan’s Year 3 team finished 11-5 in conference vs. the 10-8 record Mike’s Year 3 team had. Nolan made the tournament in 1987-88 (losing in the first round to Villanova) whereas Mike hasn’t yet. In Year 4, Nolan got a massive injection of talent when Bowers and Mayberry arrived, along with fellow freshmen Todd Day and Oliver Miller. Their play paid immediate dividends, and the Hogs ultimately finished 13-3 in conference and 25-7 overall. They lost in the 1989 NCAA Tournament’s second round.
We’ll see if Mike’s Year 4 team keeps pace. A win tonight certainly certainly helps toward that end.
* November 29, 1997 was the last time Arkansas beat a ranked team on a neutral court in pre-conference play. Arkansas beat No. 17 Fresno State in Phoenix. And December 6, 1992 was the last time the program scored such a win on the road. The Hogs beat No. 9 Arizona in Tucson, AZ. Mike Bibby was 14 years old.
** Using data from six of Hogs’ first seven games in 1988-89 (Box score from Game No. 5 not available at HogStats.com).PS: Partial season data not available for Turnovers Forced Per Game, so this stat instead reflects per-game average from entire 1988-89 season.
Effective Field Goal % adds weight to three-point shots. Formula: (FGM + (0.5 x 3PM))/FGA
True Shooting % is similar, but also factors in free throws. Formula: Pts/(2*(FGA + (.44*FTA)))
As far as I know, this is the only version of the 4-page thing available online. Here’s the first half. Below’s the second:
[Below is text not entirely visible in the above and below sections]:
He coached five seasons at Tulsa, going 119-37 for a searing .763 winning percentage. But every great character in American literature faces adversity … faces heartbreak. And so it was for Nolan Richardson.
“It was Monday, right after the NCAA pairings were released (in 1985) and we thought our daughter Yvonne was sick with the flu,” he said. “We were getting ready to play UTEP in the NCAA Tournament…
Modern society promotes instant results, and the impression they are always possible no matter the field. This mirage causes much stress in the world of college coaches, where in order for most new hires to build winning programs, a number of foundational changes must first be made – from making sure the players attend class and do their own tests, to recruiting guys who fit a particular style of play, to convincing a super-talented player it’s worth staying for a sophomore or junior season before bolting to the NBA.
Waiting for all these changes can especially be tough on fans of a program that has already been to the promised land. Especially when the coach who led the program there has an heir apparent who takes over for him. Everybody hopes – against reason – the successor will equal or surpass the mentor.
For the sake of perspective in these situations, it’s good to compare actual season-by-season results. In Part 1, we looked at how Mike Anderson’s first two seasons at Arkansas stacked up against his mentor Nolan Richardson’s first two seasons there. So far, Anderson comes out ahead.
How does this combo compare to other “legend-successor” duos around the nation? I’m especially interested in programs which, like Arkansas, have only won one or two titles. I’ve thrown the UCLAs, Kentuckys and Dukes out because those programs are quite frankly at another level in terms of branding and ability to recruit.
Below are the programs I consider most similar to Arkansas in terms of prestige. We’ll start with a legend-successor duo involving Eddie Sutton, the coach who preceded Nolan Richardson at Arkansas. If Sutton hadn’t left Arkansas for Kentucky in 1985, Richardson and Anderson likely never coach the Razorbacks. We’ll also see that Anderson’s first two seasons stack up well against Tom Izzo’s head coaching start at Michigan State.
Izzo is the only coaching disciple in the list who has actually outperformed his mentor.
Hank Iba (1934-1970)
Eddie Sutton (player 1955-57; assistant 1957-58; head coach 1990-2006)
1990-91: 24-8, 10-4; Lost in NCAA tourney 3rd round
1992-93: 28-8 (overall season record), 8-6 (conference record)
SRS: 21.52; Lost in NCAA tourney 3rd round
* Simple Rating System – a rating from sports-reference.com that takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule. The higher the number, the better the team.
Yes, this season, guard B.J. Young at times resembled an over-caffeinated rickshaw driver careening into dense traffic without the slightest intention of bringing anyone aboard. Sure, last offseason the accuracy of Mardracus Wade’s three-point shot apparently learned how to ski downhill. And yes, Marshawn Powell at times mightily struggled with free throw shooting. Especially in the 7-15 clunker he threw up two weeks ago in a 72-75 loss to Vanderbilt.
It was the Hogs’ fifth consecutive opening game game loss in the SEC Tournament, marking the fifth consecutive year Arkansas missed out on the NCAA Tournament and the 16th straight season without an NIT Tournament berth.
It no longer matters how Arkansas entered this pit of gloom. All fans want to know is how quickly the program will get out of it. And, more importantly, how quickly the program will get back to the top.
Three years from now, fans won’t get hung up on any one player’s lack of court vision or another player’s season of erratic shooting. The fans won’t even care if the Hogs win a few more games in the SEC Tournament and annually start playing in a round or two of an NCAA Tournament.
They will be looking at the big picture.
In 17 years as an assistant under Nolan Richardson, Mike Anderson learned how to build programs that could consistently beat the nation’s best teams – on any court. He learned what kind of talent and basketball IQ is necessary to build a program that can make three Final Fours, what kind of cold-blooded killer instinct it takes to win a title.
How well Anderson applies these lessons and how close he gets to achieving the benchmarks of success that Richardson set will ultimately determine Anderson’s legacy. Will he always be seen as Richardson’s chief lieutenant/heir apparent, or will he be seen as a giant in his own right?
This morning, I had an enjoyable interview with Grant Hall and Vernon Tarver, co-hosts of Press Row on KREB 1190 FM in Northwest Arkansas.
One of our topics was how the coaching turnover at Arkansas since Nolan Richardson’s firing in 2002 had contributed to the Hogs being the worst team on the road in the last decade despite being good enough to be the fourth-best home team. [I wrote about this subject in detail after talking to Pat Bradley for this New York Times article].
From 2002 through 2011, Arkansas had four full-time head coaches, as well as an interim head coach when Mike Anderson took over for Richardson at the end of 2002. The Hogs have had seven winning seasons since then.
Grant Hall wondered if other Division I programs had more coaching turnover than the Hogs, which led me to research the issue.
Thanks to sports-reference.com, I found out that there at least 10 programs with coaching carousel that have recently spun faster than Arkansas’:
Pepperdine – Five coaches 2005-2011 [One of these coaches, Eric Bridgeland, stepped into the the role midway through the 2007-08 season on an interim basis; no winning seasons since 2004-05].
Utah – Five coaches 2004-11 [One of these coaches, Kerry Rupp, stepped into the the role during the 2003-04 season on an interim basis; three winning seasons since 2003-04].
Southeast Missouri State – Four full-time coaches 2006-2009 [Former Arkansas assistant Scott Edgar and Little Rock native Dickey Nutt have been part of this dizzying carousel; one winning season since 2005-06]
Wyoming – Four coaches 2007-11 [One head coach, Fred Langley, served on an interim basis in 2010-11]
Texas Tech – Four coaches 2008-12 [Pat Knight took over for his father, Bobby, during the 2007-08 season; one winning season since 2007-08]
Georgia State – Four coaches 2002-2011 [Michael Perry took over for Lefty Driesell mid-season 2002-03; two winning seasons since 2002-2003]
Texas A&M – Four coaches 2004-2011, including current Arkansas assistant Melvin Watkins [had seven winning seasons since 2003-04]