I swear, y'all, I am trying like hell to come up with a new angle on this tragicomic mess called Arkansas basketball. But every week presents the same dichotomy, and the past few days just qualifies as flat-out bewildering.
Against Alabama at Bud Walton Arena on a rare Wednesday night showdown, the Hogs were a buzzsaw of beauty. Authoritative dunks. Crisp passing and rotation. Solid on-ball defense. Best of all, Dusty Hannahs recaptured his mysteriously lost shooting stroke, swishing five second-half threes to whip the crowd into a frenzy en route to a 19-point win over an ostensibly decent foe.
Fast-forward 72 hours, and this allegedly same team is walking off Norm Stewart Court at Columbia on the wrong end of an 83-78 decision. How bad is it? Missouri entered the game with a 13-game losing streak, an 0-9 SEC mark, and the unarguable distinction of being the worst power conference team in the country. And the Tigers didn't just win the game, they did it in the exact fashion that any team employs to beat Arkansas, which Mike Anderson and his courtside jesters still can't resolve.
Mizzou came out motivated and the Hogs looked disinterested, criminally so. Moses Kingsley's preseason SEC Player of the Year honors now resemble a cruel joke. What publication fancied the 6-foot-10 Kingsley such a formidable threat, The Onion? He's been a nonentity for much of the season, and you would swear from his body language that he's OK with that. Worse yet, he's not even terribly effective guarding the rim at this point, as a couple of late Tiger baskets evidenced. The help-side defense that he could have provided came lethargically and late, and that's why Missouri got to throw off the albatross of futility for a night.
Offensively, Arkansas is disjointed and ever victimized by Mike Anderson's lineup changes, which seem to have no rhyme, reason or rhythm. When the team catches a bit of a groove and is effective in transition, there will inevitably be a change in on-court personnel. Again, Missouri may be terrible, but no team can simply be taken for granted the way Arkansas has done the past couple of Saturdays. The Hogs just jack around for most of the 40 minutes they're afforded by rule, and it's clear that nobody in a jersey is in sync with anybody in a suit.
Alabama always has a long and athletic team that frustrates the Hogs. So go figure, the midweek game looked like a surprise springboard to the postseason. You saw the absolute best of the so-called Fastest 40 that night, thanks in large part to people like Manuale Watkins and Jaylen Barford giving the team energy and zip. The team seemed totally hellbent on making the free world forget the no-show in Stillwater, Okla., and it was appreciably better than any brand of basketball that had been played in the big gym on Leroy Pond Drive all year.
So why does it fizzle out so quickly, and so pitifully against universally derided teams like Mizzou? It's not that hard to diagnose, really. The disconnect between the generals and their charges is palpable. Kingsley actually got some much-deserved bench time after a silly, if borderline, technical foul went against him early. That's fine, but as the game wore on, it became apparent that he was going to sulk once he got back in the action, too. Here is a senior, playing for professional dollars, and looking like he would rather be killing time at an arcade or something.
And let's not put all the burden on the big guy. The erratic Anton Beard has returned, and Hannahs was awful again from three. He and Daryl Macon get precious little court time together, which is inexcusable given how dangerous both of them can be from the perimeter. Maybe the Razorbacks are not that good, but they can at least fake it with the people they have on the roster. Losing to Missouri means the Hogs have literally lost the will to even pretend to care.
That's bad. It's NIT-level bad now. And, actually, it may be worse than that, because when a team pisses away games it can ill afford to lose, it probably wants the season to end already. For that reason, Anderson's hot seat is really cranked up. He doesn't have the irascible demeanor necessary to yank some effort out of these guys at this point, and it would shock nobody if that 20-win mark that seemed so preordained merely a week ago never gets reached.