Here we go again. A chance for road redemption. The tantalizing possibility of a mid-conference season turnaround. That long awaited moment when things return to how they once were… and will be, have to be, gotta be once more.
Arkansas Razorback fans have a not unwarranted suspicion that their basketball team is the most consistently bipolar program on earth.
Over the last decade, their team has been counted on to consistently do two things despite turnover involving three head coaches, two athletic directors and, of course, numerous players – lift fans’ hearts at home, then utterly crush them on the road.
The latest spin around this particular merry-and-mercy-me-go-round took place last week. A rousing, signature win against #2 Florida, then a catatonic walk-through at Vanderbilt resulting in 49 points and an 18-point loss.
Of course, the usual platitudes have been trotted out in advance of this evening’s game at Auburn (8 p.m. on CSS). The Hogs are taking it one game at a time, the players believe they can win their first road game of the season, and as always the coaches believe Godot, NCAA tourney berth in hand, is coming any game now.
It’s a process, ya’ll.
Problem is, it’s been a process now for more than a decade. And the process hasn’t been going too well for Arkansas, which has been the worst SEC road team in that time.
SEC Percentages For Road Wins By Team*
Between 2003-04 and 2011-12, the Hogs did not win more than 37.5% of their road games in a single season. Only twice did Arkansas break the 22% mark.
Compare these numbers to Florida and Kentucky, the programs Arkansas aspires to regularly contend with for SEC titles. Only once in the last decade has Kentucky won less than 41% of its road games in a single season. Only twice has Florida gone below that mark.
If Arkansas were an overall bad team, these stats wouldn’t be surprising or noteworthy. But Arkansas has the SEC’s third best record at home this season. And, in the last decade, only Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee have been consistently better at home.
SEC Percentages For Home Wins By Team
Why have Arkansas’ road woes endured for so long? In the course of a decade, you would expect at least a couple talented Hog teams to have struck upon the right combination of mental toughness and killer instinct to win the majority of their road games. Ole Miss won 60% of road games in 2009-10; Alabama won 64% of them in 2004-05 – it’s doable.
But for the Hogs, it’s the same old story year after year. “They play a different style on the road,” Auburn Coach Tony Barbee told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “They’re not as aggressive as they are at home. I think that’s probably the biggest difference.”
Barbee was referring to this season, but he might as well have been talking about all Stan Heath, John Pelphrey and Mike Anderson Hog teams.
This never-ending trend can’t derive from pure coincidence. Whatever the reasons for the problem, they have likely been annually passed down from the upperclassmen to the underclassmen. Attitudes – or lack thereof – can be contagious. Which means it’s probable next year’s talented freshmen will be susceptible, too.
What should be done?
Some would say just wait it out, that this home/road disparity will even out in the end – once that proverbial corner is turned.
I say don’t wait. Recognize there’s an overall trend, then reach out to the outside world for help correcting it. Maybe there’s some larger issue at play deep within the psyche of all recent Hog teams. The program, which prides itself on having a reputation for aggressive and tenacious players, should be aggressive and proactive in confronting any mental obstacles they may be dealing with.
There’s no shame in hiring a sports psychologist who has experience with this kind of issue to talk to the coaches and players. Visualization exercises, breathing tactics, philosophy books – all these tools help build composure, a much needed commodity on the road. If such techniques were good enough for NBA coaching great Phil Jackson’s teams, they are good enough for Arkansas.
Give it a shot, Arkansas. There doesn’t have to be much of an initial commitment.
Maybe coaches and players meet with the psychologist twice a week. Any demons to be wrestled with should become apparent pretty soon.
For the sake of nostalgia, cap each appointment at 40 minutes.
* Average of yearly winning percentages for SEC Basketball Road vs Home Wins.