Sometimes a flood is just a flood. It’s destructive and inconvenient and when it happens in a high-profile location like, say, Bud Walton Arena, it’s embarrassing and frustrating and creates a bunch of questions. Is the structure too old? Too run down? How did we let things deteriorate to this level? Possibly even worthy of mocking, as in, “Yeah, of course it did. That makes total sense. Nothing’s gone right with that building for years.”
But sometimes a flood is a symbol of something more. Forgive me for being dramatic and English major-y, but in literature a flood is often used to represent a rebirth or a renewal. A new era and a dismissal of the sins of the past.
Could it be that the Razorback basketball program is, at long last, beginning to emerge from the depths what’s been a decade+ of mostly been disappointment and longing for the past? Looking at where the program is right now, and seeing the opportunities coming in the near future, it’s not hard to see how well the table is set up for Mike Anderson.
Last month, Arkansas finally broke ground on its
practice facility Basketball Performance Center of Dreams, which is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2015 (we outlined the necessity for the facility last year). Conveniently, that date drops right smack in the middle of a lengthy run of elite in-state prospects for which Arkansas will be pursuing. Bobby Portis is, of course, already a freshman on campus and North Little Rock’s Anton Beard has signed with the Hogs and will be a point guard in Fayetteville next year. Two of Beard’s teammates, 2015′s KeVaughn Allen and 2016′s Adrian Moore, are also highly regarded prospects – not to mention the much-hyped Malik Monk, who is also a member of the class of 2016.
It’s well-documented that most of Arkansas’ most successful football and basketball teams have been rooted in great in-state talent*, and this run of basketball players is something rarely seen here in the Natural State. (It also seems like a good time to point out the disparity in elite basketball players and football players from Central Arkansas recently, but I’ll leave that up to Evin Demirel, who’s been crushing the story on LRSD football problems.) So, other than showing plans of the new basketball mini-palace, what does Anderson have to sell these upcoming recruits on the Razorbacks?
The team can start winning games! They can start bringing excitement back to the program right now. And believe it or not, it looks like they might actually be better about doing just that this season.
*Not that they always pan out. The Class of 2011 was hyped to the point that Ky Madden, Hunter Mickelson, and Aaron Ross were talked about as the new Triplets, and some even thought Arkansas should retain John Pelphrey as head coach (!) just to ensure they became Razorbacks. Although, it should be noted, Madden is having a great season so far.
Heading into SEC season Wednesday night at Texas A&M, Arkansas has a really great chance to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. They’re included in the latest Bracketology projections on both ESPN and CBS, showing that the weak December schedule hasn’t totally sabotaged their tournament chances.
With a couple of exceptions, they’ve played really strong basketball over the first 13 games. Yes, of course most of those games were against pretty weak competition, but the team still played extremely well. They scored over 100 points three times. The Razorbacks hadn’t broken the mark multiple times in a season since the 2000-01 team. There haven’t been any close calls. No real off nights. Meanwhile, the rest of the SEC has lost to all these teams:
Worst #SECBasketballFever losses: Drexel, Davidson, Manhattan, USC Upstate, StLou, Miz St, UNT, Mercer, Dayton, UTEP, NWSt, URI, USU, TCU
— Pod Katt (@valleyshook) January 7, 2014
The Razorbacks deserve a ton of credit for not putting anybody on that list. Since coming back from Maui, they’ve beaten everyone they faced in Bud Walton Arena easily. If you’ve watched the team this year, it’s clear that it’s a better team than what we’ve seen the last couple of years. We don’t know how much better, but we’ll start to get an idea of that when we see the team on the road in College Station Wednesday night.
Admittedly, I was skeptical. I didn’t know how the Hogs would be able to replace the scoring from Marshawn Powell and BJ Young. I understand the team’s chemistry could be better, but would chemistry really be worth the 25-30 points per game they were losing? But that hasn’t been a problem. Between the newcomers playing well and the improvement of some of the team’s veterans, the Hog offense hasn’t missed beat. In fact, they’ve been better.
I understand Razorback fans’ hesitation to buy in to this team. The list of disappointments from Arkansas basketball over the last several years is long. It seems like most people are, rightly, waiting to see the team win a road game before getting too excited. And if they do lose Wednesday night, it will be a big let down. All the same old road game criticisms will coming rushing out like they broke through a dam, which, of course, would cause more flooding.
I’m not suggesting the entire future of Razorback basketball rests on the game against the Aggies, but if Arkansas basketball is ever going to come back, it has to start somewhere, and A&M presents a prime opportunity to do that. And it has to start on the road. The Hogs can beat Florida and Kentucky in the next couple of games, but if they lose on the road each time, none of the wins at home will matter.
That being said, this is a better team. They will be favored in College Station. I think they can win. I think they can make the NCAA Tournament.
Funny thing about floods. Eventually the waters lessen and healing and rebuilding can begin.