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The missing pieces

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When "Selection Sunday" became "Rejection Sunday" for the Arkansas Razorbacks' basketball squad, Mike Anderson offered a smattering of comments in an interview with Chris Bahn of ArkansasSports360.com that probably did not resonate much with anyone, given how disillusioned Hog fans came to be over the final few weeks of the season.

It was standard coachspeak, to be sure, but Anderson did summon three "P" words in his brief discourse that have great relevance now and in the immediate future for this program.

The first was "painful," which was as succinct a description as anyone could use in characterizing a goodly portion the 2011-12 season. In fact, going back almost a full year to the moment of Anderson's coronation, it began as inauspiciously as possible when Rotnei Clarke and Glenn Bryant quit on spurious grounds and signee Aaron Ross found himself ineligible. That robbed the Hogs of a bona fide scorer and shooter, a marvelous athlete with the kind of athleticism that Anderson's system usually exploits well, and of a physically mature young player who had designs on being a Hog since his junior high days.

The other bookend to the season was the on-court collapse that began in February but had been in gestation from the moment the Hogs took their first uneasy steps outside of Bud Walton Arena, which was such a Fortress of Solitude for the Hogs that it became a bad running joke early. After LSU fastened the last ten-penny nail in the Hogs' coffin at the SEC tournament, the Hogs were left with a garish 2-8 record after they blazed their way to a moderately surprising 16-6 start. Those only two wins came at the expense of a hideous South Carolina team and a marginally improved Auburn squad that sat down two players for what was later revealed to be point-shaving suspicions. The losses were, by and large, as aesthetically satisfying as Sandra Bernhard's early '90s Playboy pictorial (or at least how I imagine it — God knows I wouldn't voluntarily look at it).

Anderson asserted that the basketball team's upswing will depend on "pieces." I suppose "personnel" could be used interchangeably here as well. But beneath the obvious conclusion that the Razorbacks must shore up quality depth, particularly in the paint, is the latent observation about what it will take for this program to experience the same renaissance that the football team has experienced. 

Hawgball, 40 Minutes of Hell, all those other flimsy designations of years past, they speak to a greater deficiency in the basketball program, which is a lack not just of personnel but of personality. I did not routinely expect a shorthanded roster like this one to evoke memories of the school's finest moments, but we were certainly led to believe that Anderson's stamp would be visible on this team even if the results did not reach certain basic benchmarks. At times, the fiendish trapping and ball-hawking led to transition scores, but the last few weeks showed a listless bunch that often milked the shot clock and still wound up heaving some sort of ill-advised shot. More aggravating was the defensive malaise, which was all too evident in road trips to Athens and Knoxville, where the Hogs got repeatedly torched early by teams that generally weren't adept from the perimeter.

Then again, a team's personality cannot develop instantaneously, which is why the third "P" Anderson invoked — "patience" — is of utmost consideration. There is no question that Hog fans are a ruthless and serially unrepentant lot. Message boards are already laden with second-guessing and vitriol for a coach who was beloved not more than six weeks ago, and for whom the red carpet was unfurled last spring. Compounding the problem is that Missouri is enjoying rich success this year under the direction of new coach Frank Haith, a guy who never made many ripples at Miami.  If the perspective of Mizzou backers is to be believed, Haith has done what Anderson could not by taking a shallow roster of experienced, but by no means NBA-ready players to the Big 12 title. 

Recall that Mizzou fans were rightly embittered about Anderson's departure, and more infuriated when the keys to the program were handed to Haith last April. For a recent example of what sometimes happens when coaches of suspect acumen are permitted to reign over their predecessors' gifted recruits, look no further than Oxford, Mississippi, and the developments on that football field the past four years, as well as the resulting decline in the fans' morale. 

Anderson will get time, and will make good use of it. The canvas he was left to work upon wasn't much, contrasted with the one he left for Haith. And though Anderson did not say as much, a fourth "P" — a healthy and motivated Marshawn Powell — will do wonders for a team that needs wonders to be done. 

Pearls About Swine will return in April, when it will be published every other week until football season resumes in late August.

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