06 Mar

Mike Anderson’s 2014-17 Hogs Better Than Nolan’s Late ’90s Teams

Mike Anderson

Since 2014, Mike Anderson’s Hogs are winning more than Kareem Reid/Derek Hood-era Arkansas

I can’t help myself: I love Mike Anderson/Nolan Richardson comparisons.

As an Arkansas native, I firsthand remember growing up in the 1990s and breathlessly following each of Richardson’s Razorback teams. That experience — along with watching my classmates Joe Johnson and Jarrett Hart play at LR Central — seared into me a deep love for the game of basketball.

Nolan Richardson himself has told me he doesn’t expect Anderson to follow exactly in his footsteps, and Anderson has publicly said just about the same thing. These men are too old and accomplished to worry much about metrics, notching marks on belts, counting golden, basketball-shaped bullion and that kind of thing.

But I’m not.

I love it. Numerical comparisons appear to cleanly tie together different eras of Razorback basketball so many decades apart. They also provide a clear standard of success. The bar had been set. So let’s ask: Is Anderson meeting it?

When comparing the coaches’ first seasons on the Hill, Mike Anderson comes out ahead. Neither coach made the NCAA tourney in Years One or Two, but Anderson’s overall 37-27 record was superior to Richardson’s 31-30.

Year Three for both coaches got off to a bad start, as sportswriter Jim Harris points out:

After two seasons of inconsistent play and fans wondering if Frank Broyles had erred in replacing Eddie Sutton with the man in polka dots and cowboy boots. That third season got off to as woeful a start as any — a blowout loss AT Tulsa, the school that had produced Nolan in the first place. It’s pretty much forgotten now. But it was not much uglier than the Hogs’ SEC-opening trip to Texas A&M in Anderson’s third year.

Turns out, neither drubbing foretold what would eventually happen.

Arkansas wasn’t as bad as that season-opening loss at Tulsa indicated in 1987-88, eventually pulling together to compete for the [SWC] championship and earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament…”

Of course, while Nolan did start churning out NCAA Tournament appearances in that third year, Anderson only produced one in his seasons three through five.

But with 23 regular season wins, including six on the road, Arkansas will return this season.  In doing so, Mike Anderson’s Hogs have so far strung together a three-year run that is better than any in his mentor’s last seven seasons.

Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, Anderson’s teams have won 66 of 99 regular season and postseason games. That’s a 66.67 winning percentage.

I dig into this more for an upcoming OnlyInArk.com article, but for now imagine the best three-year runs Arkansas basketball has had since the 1994-95 season when the Hogs finished as the national runner-up.

Those happened, not surprisingly, not long afterward in the late 1990s, when Kareem Reid, Pat Bradley and Derek Hood consistently led  Arkansas into NCAA Tournament appearances after leading them to a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1996:

1996-97: 18-14

1997-98: 24-9

1998-99: 23-11

The overall winning % in this three-year run was 65.66%

 

1997-98: 24-9

98-99:  23-11

1999-00*: 19-15

The overall winning % in this three-year run was 65.35%

(*The aforementioned trio had left by this season, and the Jannero Pargo/Joe Johnson era had begun)

After that, as we slide into the last couple years of the Richardson era, and then into the Stan Heath and John Pelphrey eras, it only gets worse.

Without the same kind of postseason success Richardson had even in the late 1980s and late 1990s (i.e. outside of the peak years of the early-mid 1990s), these kinds of statistics will ring hollow with many Razorback fans. But they still provide some value. They show while Anderson’s teams have seemed maddeningly inconsistent at times, he is overall tracking ahead of his mentor when compared to Richardson’s early-career and late-career team performances.

For Hog fans, two main questions endure: What is Anderson’s ceiling? How close will it be Richardson’s?

With the elite levels of talent, size and athleticism Anderson has coming in these next few years, we’re going to get that answer sooner than later.

21 Jan

Hogs are Better In SEC Road Games Than At Home. How Rare Is That?

moses kingsley

A troika of seniors also led the last Razorback team to start conference playing better on the road than at home.

 

The ’98-’99 team had a rough SEC home start, but a helluva finish.

Road struggles have defined the Razorback basketball program through much of the 21st century. In the glory years of the late 1970s through mid 1990s, the Hogs were nearly invincible at home while winning their fair share of road games. In the 21st century, they have still been one of the SEC’s most dominant home teams but constant road woes have often sunk them into mediocrity.

This year, though, these 21st century trends are changing, for better and worse.

First, the good news for Hog fans: Their team has begun winning road games at a rate similar to that of the 1990s Nolan Richardson-led teams. Since 2014, Arkansas is 11-10 on the road in SEC play. Arkansas had gone 16-81 in the previous dozen seasons before that.

The problem: In the last two years, the program has been anything but invincible at home.

The result is a strange inversion of the Razorback’s usual 21st century mojo: This 2016-17 team has lost two of its first three SEC home games, while winning two of its first three SEC road games.

That’s very unusual.

Indeed, in the last 69 years*, only one other Razorback team has gotten off to a better start on the road than at home in the first six conference games of the season. That team, the 1998-99 Hogs, spent most of that season ranked in the Top 25 (no higher than No.18).

Those Hogs won their first SEC contest of the season — a road game — against LSU 80-75. It then lost on the road to Auburn, then ranked No. 14, 83-66.

Here’s how its next four games panned out:

(Home) Ole Miss, L 76-65

(Away) Mississippi State W 61-59

(Home) Georgia, W 82-79

(Home) Alabama, L 67-60

Those Hogs were stocked with All-SEC caliber seniors in Pat Bradley, Derek Hood and Kareem Reid. Their experience and tenacity was critical to allowing the squad to squeak out those road victories. This Hogs team also showcases three important seniors: Dusty Hannahs, Moses Kingsley and Manny Watkins.

Hannahs and Bradley fulfill similar roles on their respective teams, as do Hood and Kingsley. But nobody on the team has been able to harass opposing point guards, while consistently staying in front of them, like the ultra-quick Kareem Reid.  These Hogs’ inability to contain quick guards killed them in home losses against Florida and Mississippi State, and in the second half against Kentucky.

Former Razorback Blake Eddins, who began playing under Nolan Richardson in 1999-2000, recently joked this year’s team needs “a couple of defensive stoppers like Pat Bradley and Blake Eddins in there, to really bend their knees and get that butt down and show them how to play defense.”

“I’ll say this: I would have clotheslined a guy if he had a wide-open fast break layup. And that’s about all I was good for,” Eddins told Pat Bradley, now a sports radio co-host, on 103.7 The Buzz FM.

It’s difficult to imagine Dusty Hannahs — or newcomers Daryl Macon or Jaylen Barford — playing with this kind of Charles Oakleyeque defensive tenacity. But Barford and Macon do have the needed quickness to become much more effective one-on-one defenders, while Watkins and Anton Beard, though not as quick, have long flashed Kareem Reid/Corey Beck-like defensive effort.

It’s just a matter of putting it together in longer stretches, and specifically against the SEC’s best point guards.

That 1998-99 team ended with a fantastic home stand, beating No. 6 Kentucky and No. 2 Auburn in its final two SEC home games. It later made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Manny Watkins knows this is the last chance for he, Kingsley and Hannahs to make a similar statement.

“It’s our last year,” he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “The sense of urgency is through the roof. In order to win, you’ve got to do things and it has to be from your seniors.”


*Only one team during the Razorbacks’ SWC days won at least two of its first three road conference games while losing at least two of its first three home conference games. That would be the ’48-’49 Hogs, which ultimately finished 9-3 in conference as SWC champs.

** Arkansas isn’t the only SEC team struggling at home this season. Through January 20, SEC teams are a combined 18-21 in home SEC games . (h/t to Blake Eddins)

african-american arkansans

Includes how NLR native Eddie Miles almost became the first black Razorback in basketball 

08 Mar

College Basketball Programs With More Coaching Turnover Than Arkansas

This morning, I had an enjoyable interview with Grant Hall and Vernon Tarver, co-hosts of Press Row on KREB 1190 FM in Northwest Arkansas.

One of our topics was how the coaching turnover at Arkansas since Nolan Richardson’s firing in 2002 had contributed to the Hogs being the worst team on the road in the last decade despite being good enough to be the fourth-best home team. [I wrote about this subject in detail after talking to Pat Bradley for this New York Times article].

From 2002 through 2011, Arkansas had four full-time head coaches, as well as an interim head coach when Mike Anderson took over for Richardson at the end of 2002. The Hogs have had seven winning seasons since then.

Grant Hall wondered if other Division I programs had more coaching turnover than the Hogs, which led me to research the issue.

Thanks to sports-reference.com, I found out that there at least 10 programs with coaching carousel that have recently spun faster than Arkansas’:

Pepperdine – Five coaches 2005-2011 [One of these coaches, Eric Bridgeland, stepped into the the role midway through the 2007-08 season on an interim basis; no winning seasons since 2004-05].

Utah – Five coaches 2004-11 [One of these coaches, Kerry Rupp, stepped into the the role during the 2003-04 season on an interim basis; three winning seasons since 2003-04].

Southeast Missouri State – Four full-time coaches 2006-2009 [Former Arkansas assistant Scott Edgar and Little Rock native Dickey Nutt have been part of this dizzying carousel; one winning season since 2005-06]

Wyoming – Four coaches 2007-11 [One head coach, Fred Langley, served on an interim basis in 2010-11]

Texas Tech – Four coaches 2008-12 [Pat Knight took over for his father, Bobby, during the 2007-08 season; one winning season since 2007-08]

Georgia State – Four coaches 2002-2011 [Michael Perry took over for Lefty Driesell mid-season 2002-03; two winning seasons since 2002-2003]

Texas A&M – Four coaches 2004-2011, including current Arkansas assistant Melvin Watkins [had seven winning seasons since 2003-04]

Eastern Washington – Four coaches 2004-2011 [no winning seasons since 2003-04]

Princeton – Four coaches 2003-2011 [all four winning seasons since 2003-04 have come in the last four years, under two coaches]

Alcorn State – Four coaches 2003-2011 [Just a whole lot of losing seasons here, folks. That happens in the SWAC]

Of these programs, only three – Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Utah – belong to major conferences like Arkansas.

It would be interesting to compare how much player turnover there was at these programs and see if that correlates with home/road winning percentages.

02 Nov

If Derek Fisher had played for the Razorbacks

This was closer to happening than you think. Illustration by Ferris Williams

There aren’t many blank spots on longtime NBA player Derek Fisher’s resume: five world titles, an AAU National Championship, a high school state championship, six years as National Basketball Players Association President. On every big stage the Little Rock native has played, he has left his mark.

Yet there’s the stage he never played on.

It doesn’t matter how many big-time events Fisher has been a part of in his 16-year pro career. Nothing will erase the memory of how close he got as a college senior to making his sport’s most dramatic competition: the NCAA Tournament. His University of Arkansas at Little Rock Trojans were up 56-55 in the 1996 Sun Belt Conference Championship game with four seconds left.

The University of New Orleans had the ball. Fisher closed out quickly on the opposing guard with the ball, but he spun past Fisher’s outstretched arms and drove to the basket, lofting a teardrop shot that resulted in an upset win.

Despite a 23-6 record, UALR would be left out on the doorstep on Selection Sunday. Fisher’s final shot at the Big Dance was gone.

It could have been much, much different.

What if instead of leading UALR, Fish had helped steer the Razorbacks? “I think he could have played at Arkansas, but coming out of high school, he just wasn’t ready,” said Razorback All-American Corliss Williamson, also one of Fisher’s best friends. There’s a strong chance Fisher was ready for Arkansas halfway through his college career, though, and he was closer to making that jump than many people realize.

See the rest of the story at Sync magazine.

PS – This concludes what has apparently become my blog’s  Of(Fish)al Derek Fisher Week.