That’s not news to anybody. Everyone probably has experience with the frustrations of patience. There’s nothing quite like putting yourself in what you think is position to achieve something or make a breakthrough, only to have it slammed back in your face leaving you to wonder if you’ve even made any progress at all. Like watching your Jenga tower collapse.
Or it could pertain to your basketball team.
The Razorbacks’ performance at South Carolina on Saturday was downright maddening*. After jumping to a 15-3 lead in the first five minutes of the game, allowing Arkansas fans wonder if the team had finally turned the corner of the road woe conundrum, the Razorbacks lost the final 35 minutes by a score of 72 to 39.
*The game was maddening without any help from sophomore guard Rashad Madden. Mike Anderson suspended Madden from the game for an unspecified violation of team rules. Clearly, Anderson’s unusual move last week to name team captains in late January to promote leadership is paying immediate dividends.
It’s been said many times before but it bears repeating here, it’s not just that the team lost, it’s how they lost. Certainly, it’s reasonable when playing a team with South Carolina’s paltry record to expect to win whether on the road or at home, but to lose in the embarrassing fashion in which the Razorbacks lost is extremely frustrating.
And as is custom for sports fans in the 21st century, fans filled the Internet with all sorts of exclamations and proclamations. Some would lay the blame at shooting or defense or rebounding or recruiting or coaching or John Pelphrey or the removal of the slobberin’ Hog from mid-court at Bud Walton Arena. And all of that is valid. Even the Hog at mid-court. Its removal has clearly generated a curse not unlike the Billy Goat Curse levied upon the Chicago Cubs many years ago. I call it the Slobber Curse.
More seriously, there are some fans (not what I would call a large number but when these cracks begin, it’s significant) writing that they’re done waiting for Anderson to turn the program around and withdrawing support. It should be understood that anybody hoping for a regime change will likely be waiting for a pretty long time. Jeff Long has put a ton of effort into reconnecting with Nolan Richardson and former Arkansas players, all of whom seem to love Anderson, so it’s hard to imagine a coaching change coming anytime in the near future.
Probably one of Anderson’s biggest issues in selling the program is that this team doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s better than last season’s team. Even though the team thus far has improved in nearly every statistical per-game category (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and turnovers committed), it’s hard to figure out exactly what has been accomplished. Some players (Powell, Haydar) have been better than advertised while other players seem to have regressed. By this point last year, the Hogs had knocked off three ranked teams at home and appeared to be prepping for a February run to the tournament. Since then, the team collapsed in February and still hasn’t won a game outside the state of Arkansas this season. Since the road game problem is clearly the team’s single biggest issue, and two of the three conference road games have been unmitigated disasters, it’s hard to really feel any significant improvement.
It’s gotten to the point that no matter who Arkansas beats in Bud Walton Arena, those victories feel like half-victories as long as this road problem persists. After the Hogs played well and beat Auburn and Mississippi State, fans thought, “hopefully they can carry this momentum on the road.” So far, they haven’t. The extent to which this is happening is impossible to understand.
The post-season is the goal, and to get to the postseason you have to have a winning conference record, and to have a winning conference record you have to win road games. As a result, the Razorbacks can win all the home games they want but there needs to be progress on the road, and quickly. The good news is that Arkansas still has 12 conference games to play before the SEC tournament, and Arkansas is in sole possession of 6th place in the conference standings, not actually a terrible place.
One other thing, Mike Anderson’s second Missouri team actually had a worse record in his second year than his first, then the Tigers began their run of three straight NCAA Tournament appearances before Anderson left for Arkansas. So it’s still worth watching to see what happens.
Patience is hard and painful and frustrating, but necessary.
Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Expats and is a regular contributor to College Football News and Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him here and follow him on Twitter.