The 2013-14 Razorback Basketball Schedule Raises Questions
The schedule was released last week via the Arkansas basketball program’s Twitter account, with individual game announcements coming about five minutes apart in individual tweets. It was like unwrapping all of your Christmas presents but instead of video games and train sets, each present was a different color of the same pair of socks.
My first impression was that this was just another somewhat disappointing non-conference schedule that wasn’t really worth talking about. But then later in the week, ESPN named it one of the ten worst non-conference schedules in the country, even including Mike Anderson by name in the introduction to the piece as someone whose schedule is inexcusable and later calls it “one of the more embarrassing schedules on this list.” It might be time to take a closer look.
The schedule raises the question: what is the overall strategy of the Razorback basketball program? If the two general program goals are getting back to the NCAA Tournament and raising money to build a practice facility, how do they plan on achieving those benchmarks? In order to get there, the program needs an infusion of respect and energy, and this schedule accomplishes neither.
Yes, there should be plenty of victories in Bud Walton through November and December, but this isn’t football where simply winning enough games gets you into the postseason. In basketball, it’s all based on who you beat and where you beat them. Beating a bunch of bad teams in Bud Walton Arena isn’t going to get the Hogs on the bubble, and Bud Walton being halfway full (at best) for those games isn’t helping generate the revenue for the facility.
I’m not suggesting the Hogs need to try to schedule Duke or Kansas, but is it really that much trouble to schedule a single road game against anybody? Arkansas reportedly pulled out of an agreement to continue a series with Oklahoma, which would have been played in Norman this season. Arkansas’ best non-conference victory last year? Oklahoma. This year? They have to hope the Maui bracket goes their way.
If there was a theme to SEC basketball at the end of last season and during the summer, it was the need to toughen up non-conference schedules because only three SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament, and three more were dismissed to the NIT despite 20+ win seasons and winning 10+ conference games. And look at Mike Anderson’s quote in that linked story:
“Now it’s time to start making things happen in terms of getting more teams in the NCAA Tournament. [Scheduling] is going to be one of the biggest topics of conversation.”
So what did Arkansas do? They created a non-conference schedule with zero true road games and the best home games are against a Clemson team that won only 13 games last year and an SMU team that also had a losing season in 2013, but hopefully will be better just because Larry Brown is their coach.
Most other SEC teams got the memo and scheduled at least a couple of road games, even if they’re not all against good teams. Tennessee is opening the season at Xavier and traveling to Wichita State. LSU to Texas Tech and UMass. Alabama is playing at UCLA, USF, and against Oklahoma in Dallas. Vanderbilt travels to Butler and Texas. It goes on. And most all of them are playing in some sort of Maui-style early season tournament as well. That doesn’t include any good teams coming to play in their SEC arenas, either.
Further, this schedule puts even more pressure on the team to win games in Maui. Those games were already expected to be important in terms of being an opportunity to win quality games away from Bud Walton, but now we know that is the only chance to do so before conference play begins. If the Hogs don’t play well there (similarly to how they went 0-2 in Las Vegas last year) they’ll have dug themselves into a huge RPI hole that they won’t have a chance to get themselves out of until SEC games start in January.
The concept of picking up easy wins to build confidence is understandable, but considering how well the team has played in Bud Walton since Anderson was hired, and last year completely laying an egg in the first SEC game in College Station, does that reasoning still hold water? Arkansas begins SEC play on the road against A&M again this year, but instead of following that up by hosting a bad Vanderbilt team in Fayetteville, they return home to host Florida and Kentucky in games two and three. Yikes.
Razorback fans want to be excited for basketball. They want to fill Bud Walton Arena just like they did last year for the game against Syracuse, and Michigan the year before. They want to tell people “that’s almost like how it was in the old days.” That’s why they celebrated Mike Anderson’s homecoming so much and continue to want him to do well. They will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the national championship this year. They will fill the arena for the best conference games, but it’s hard to imagine any of the games on this non-conference slate generating that much excitement. And excitement breeds ticket sales and donations, which will help build the practice facility.
All of this isn’t to suggest Arkansas won’t have a good year this season. The Razorbacks are a very interesting team with a lot of potential. The debuts of the three new players, Bobby Portis, Alandise Harris, and Moses Kingsley, have been highly anticipated for a long time. Last year’s freshmen showed flashes of potential at times and seeing what kind of jump they made from Year 1 to Year 2 should be exciting. Rashad Madden appeared to finally be developing into the player we thought he could be toward the end of the season. And whether or not Mardracus Wade can regain the shooting form from his sophomore year will be a big storyline to follow.
I’m genuinely looking forward to it.
But unfortunately, even if they are a good team, this schedule gives them fewer chances to prove it, which leaves them with less room for error. And leaves fans with less motivation to buy tickets. And that’s a shame.