Jim Harris: Anderson’s Rebuilding Job May Try Patience of Hog Fans Who Want Immediate Results

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Razorback Road Woes

Half-jokingly I suggested last February in a column that Arkansas fans should tune out the Razorback basketball road games and only tune in to the home ones, because that’s the only time the Hogs would show up to play.

Nothing has changed in 11 months, as we learned Wednesday night when Arkansas lost its Southeastern Conference opener on the road to Texas A&M 69-51. Southern University of the SWAC beat A&M 53-51 last month at Reed Arena in College Station. Arkansas, meanwhile, was outscored 40-12 over a stretch of the game from late in the first half to about 8 minutes remaining, when A&M, inspired by 10,000 empty seats in a 15,000-seat arena, had already topped its season high for rebounds.

In Mike Anderson’s style of play, the Hogs don’t expect to win the boards, but they do figure to offset any rebounding disadvantage by winning the turnover department. Arkansas was a minus-24 in rebounds, though, and minus-2 in turnovers as well. The Hogs turned over A&M, with eight scholarship players, just 10 times.

Then, of course, Arkansas also made just four of 15 foul shots. You almost have to try to miss to shoot that badly in NCAA Division I basketball.

Arkansas seemingly can only press after made shots, which happened few and far between Wednesday night, and the Hogs only make mistakes instead of forcing them with their so-called half-court defense.

The fan base who tuned in to the Razorbacks post-game radio show heard Anderson insist it was “just one game,” and the UA radio cheerleaders echoed him with the reminder the Hogs still have 17 SEC games left. Eight more are on the road. The three best teams in the league — Florida, Kentucky and Missouri — also come to Bud Walton Arena.

Anderson’s Hogs are 1-17 on the road during the past year and a half — not that Razorback coaching predecessors John Pelphrey or Stan Heath had much if any success away from home either. But outside of his third season in five at Missouri, Anderson’s game didn’t travel well there, either.

Whatever Anderson and his staff do to prepare (or unprepare) their team for the road, they should do the complete opposite starting with the next Arkansas road trip.

There are enough players who either went through the road woes of last year or have age and experience in their favor (we’re talking about you, Marshawn Powell, as you’ve been around four years now) to tackle a road assignment as if they care being there.

Two early, silly fouls out on the floor by Powell, a power forward, and he was mentally done for the night. The Hogs’ second-leading scorer and most experienced player in toiled for just 12 minutes out of 40 and scored ZERO. Even worse, Powell had five turnovers that turned into Aggie baskets.

Arkansas managed one road win, at Auburn, without Powell last year as he missed almost the entire season with a knee injury. But it’s unlikely the Hogs can beat anyone away from home this year with Powell putting up a goose egg.

And, when Powell doesn’t come to play, it filters down to other players. Powell and junior starting guard Rickey Scott can be two of the most aggressive players the Hogs have at Bud Walton Arena, dictating Anderson’s up-tempo style of play, and then can tune out completely away from home.

After nearly 15 years of mediocre basketball, the Hogs have a lot of fence-sitters for fans. They don’t want to wait one or maybe two more years before Anderson has Arkansas landing a NCAA Tournament bid.

But it likely will take that long.

Anderson has a roster problem that will extend into next year in that he has no top-level point guard, no Phil Pressey like he had at Missouri. Arkansas in November added two big men — 6-10 posts Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley, both off Ron Crawford’s 17-and-under AAU national championship Wings squad — for next season, but that was it. Of course, Arkansas has no seniors on this year’s squad, and likely someone will have to depart early to make the numbers work even with those additions.

It would also mean that, barring some late signee in April, no guards and/or shooters will join next year’s roster.

Teams with sporadic shooting like the Hogs possess are road kill.

With the inside game built for the next 2-4 years, however, the focus for next November’s signing class can be toward guards and shooters.

That stretches the program rebuilding process to a four-year proposition at best before Arkansas sniffs a lineup with a quality 5-to-8 players.

What’s disappointing for Anderson and his staff is that the relationships they formed with players while recruiting them to Missouri didn’t translate with the staff’s move to Arkansas — and that’s more a measure of how far the Arkansas basketball reputation has fallen in 15 years. To the top prep players, the Razorbacks’ glory days under Nolan Richardson are ancient history familiar only to their parents. Arkansas last made the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 1996 and is 3-7 in NCAA tourney play since 1997, with just three appearances in the past 11 years.

How different Arkansas already would be if Anderson and his staff could have lured Missouri natives Ben McLemore and Otto Porter to Fayetteville in their first days on the job and then brought aboard Sylvan Hills’ Archie Goodwin and Memphis forward Jarnell Stokes last fall/winter.

Instead, while these players all cited how much they liked Anderson and their other Hog recruiters, they didn’t see Arkansas as the big-time program the rest of us remember from the mid-1990s.

To restore that reputation, Anderson has to win; yet to win he has to have the talented players who aren’t afraid to take their game on the road.

What a conundrum.

Last fall and spring in recruiting, Arkansas was mostly picking up spare parts that would be nice additions to a solid core of seven or eight players. That Arkansas has to lean on them and a couple of walk-ons for a boost in field-goal and free-throw shooting and rebounding to stay with the likes of undermanned Texas A&M speaks volumes now.

That leaves older players such as Powell, Scott, Mardracus Wade and the talented-but-inconsistent sophomore B.J. Young either deciding to man up and lead this team on the road, or tucking tail while putting Hog fans through another year like last season.

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