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Hogs hard to pin down

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ANDERSON: Hovering just above .500 again. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • ANDERSON: Hovering just above .500 again.

Say what you will about these basketball Hogs, they’re doing their damnedest to still make March an interesting month.

This has indisputably been the most erratic Razorback team in my lifetime. Stan Heath’s first team, assembled hastily after Nolan Richardson’s ugly ouster, was just a terrible mess, but it wasn’t the coach’s fault, and the players that were cobbled onto that roster did all they reasonably could do under trying circumstances. John Pelphrey had a couple of squads that were notably inconsistent, a direct reflection of the coach’s slipshod disciplinary practices and the players’ own obvious disenchantment. As for Richardson, his first two teams did struggle after Eddie Sutton’s ignominious departure but history obviously reflected favorably on the nucleus he was working toward.

There’s simply been no team in recent memory quite like the 2018-19 Hogs, and that’s why Mike Anderson goes from imperiled one minute to safe the next and back. Consider this: After absolutely blowing the doors off a hapless Vanderbilt team that went winless in SEC play, Arkansas capped its regular season with one of its better all-around performances in an 82-70 win against Alabama on Saturday. The net effect of that game: The Hogs and Tide finished with identical 17-14 overall and 8-10 SEC records, but Arkansas gets the tiebreaker for the SEC tournament and plays a struggling Florida team Thursday in an effort to keep this late surge intact.

The Hogs assembled that record thusly: after a 9-3 nonconference slate that realistically should have been 11-1 thanks to two late-stage collapses against Texas and Western Kentucky, the Hogs had a grind-it-out league opener for a win over Texas A&M, followed by four losses in a row that ranged from uninspired to ugly. And then the first rally came, a four-game SEC winning streak that included the team’s highest-quality win of the year, a road triumph at LSU. Suddenly, Arkansas looked like this young, exuberant bunch that could pounce on the tourney bubble.

That all came to a screeching halt in the form of a six-game losing streak. But in a bit of irony, it was the last of those losses, the close shave at Rupp Arena against No. 4 Kentucky, that emboldened the team for one last charge. Arkansas followed that loss by nudging its overall record back above .500 with a last-second victory against Ole Miss on a day that the 1994 championship team was celebrated, the Hogs went to Nashville and absolutely pounded the Commodores, and then Daniel Gafford put on a 29-point, 16-rebound show in the breakaway win over the Crimson Tide.



But where does that leave us, as fans and backers of the program? Anderson’s mercurial tenure really hit overdrive this season with all these streaks, and it’s downright scary to think of what next year’s team will look like, regardless of whether Gafford takes the NBA leap or not. There are rumors of players staying or leaving depending on what coaching decisions get made once the season wraps, and some junior college players are being offered for next year, but can anyone at this point affirmatively state that there is a plan for this program? It seems like it is constantly teetering on the rails, and from offseason to offseason, we never know what to expect.

This doesn’t lay entirely at Anderson’s feet, but again, for all the talk about his “legacy” of having no losing seasons, he’s toed that line many times over the years and his last .500 squad here, the 2015-16 group, was solid enough at its core that adding immediate scoring help in the form of Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford the next year made them an instant threat. At this moment, it doesn’t appear that quality transfers are going to flock to a program that really can’t decide on its identity and has a paucity of leadership.

As fans, we all still are pulling for this team to keep this new, latest surge intact and play well in the conference tournament again, where a couple of wins might well bring “bubble” back into the local lexicon. A one-and-done flameout is completely likely, too, of course.

Buckle up, I guess, folks. The next couple of weeks may determine a lot about the future of this program and frankly, if the net effect is just keeping the status quo as far as staffing is concerned, then it’s going to lead to a lot of frustration and apathy, both traits that are already abundant in the fan base’s collective psyche.

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