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Skeptical about Anderson


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Consider yourselves lucky, Hog fans. Most teams that manage to play about five quality minutes out of 80 in a two-game week don't end up fortunate enough to forge a split like Arkansas did in its latest two road games.

The Razorbacks' listless five-day stretch started late Tuesday night in Nashville, and it was garish for the first 35 minutes to say the least. Vanderbilt, a team that still toted around a losing record even after upsetting Florida the prior Saturday, dogged the Hogs solidly and led 58-43 late in the contest, seemingly well in command given Arkansas's gross offensive ineptitude to that point. After a 30-30 first half, and being knotted at 43 without about 13 minutes left, the game tilted thoroughly toward the undermanned Commodores over the next several minutes. It wasn't that the host's 15-0 run was particularly dominant, but that the Hogs were downright atrocious from Daryl Macon's three with 13:19 left until his free throw with 5:55 on the clock.

And so a team that got whitewashed for more than seven minutes then, naturally, poured in 28 over that final 5:55 to eke out a 71-70 win, which Macon cemented with three free throws after he was fouled on a would-be game-winning 22-footer from the top of the key with 1.6 ticks remaining. Macon wasn't all that great on the whole, but he continued his propensity to be an assassin from the stripe, going 7 for 7 and coolly flexing his shooting arm toward the sparse crowd after Vandy's last-ditch 40-footer glanced off the rim.

There would be no miracle flourish against Oklahoma State in the pitiful excuse for a Big 12-SEC "challenge" on Saturday, though. And here's where this columnist's long-standing skepticism over Mike Anderson creeps in, yet again. There's no question that even in a softer-than-usual conference, winning a road game is something that you grow to appreciate. Arkansas beat Tennessee in Knoxville, and the Vols came back two weeks later to vanquish Kentucky there. The Hogs put away Vandy after the Commodores presumably got some swagger from their own road win in Gainesville. Beating Texas A&M, even in hideous fashion, carries great meaning for a program that had not won in College Station since the two schools were Southwest Conference rivals.

But Arkansas should have extracted some momentum from these victories, right? There should have been a sense of urgency to not only represent the conference well on Saturday in Stillwater, but a profound desire to show that this four-game winning streak wasn't fluky, but an indicator of a team on the rise.

As they often have done under Anderson's watch, though, the Hogs came out of the tunnel zombified and disinterested, and that led to the Cowboys — a team not far removed from a six-game losing streak, mind you — blowing the doors off the Hogs from tipoff to terminus, 99-71. Yes, the rout was actually two points worse than the one Kentucky leveled on the Razorbacks. Yes, it happened at the hands of a foe that rated as one of the worst defensive teams in its conference.

The Hogs were down 14-2 by the time the afternoon cocktail had been stirred, and that deficit mushroomed progressively over a first half that easily ranks among the worst 20 minutes of basketball you will ever have the misfortune of watching. OSU did whatever it wanted to offensively, rolling up 59 points in a manner that looked less like an intraconference grudge match and more like one of those godforsaken Rock 'N' Jock celebrity washout farces that MTV got a lot of mileage out of back in the 1990s. Hell, for all I know, Dan Cortese and Michael Rapaport might've teamed up for the last 15 or so points of that half, because I was well into midday log-sawing on the couch after the Cowboys pushed the lead to around 20.

This is the State of the Disunion in Fayetteville right now, folks. When the Hogs want to play hard, they do, and they're capable of being a second-tier type of program that could nudge their way into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, which after two full decades of failing to get there sounds pretty damned appealing, huh? As it stands, though, they're also erratic, maddening and disturbingly detached from a sideline that offers a lot of grimaces from Anderson and clipboard shuffling from his support staff, but not much else.


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