The Arkansas basketball team still has an open roster spot it’s trying to fill through the transfer portal, stretching Portal Season well into its third(!) month. While most Hog hoops fans are focusing most of their attention on filling that spot, it may have slipped under the radar that former Razorback Connor Vanover announced this week that he will spend the upcoming season as a member of Arkansas’ “rival” up north, Missouri.
This may not seem particularly important on the surface. Eric Musselman’s next squad has goals that stretch a good bit beyond whatever might happen in the games against Missouri next season. Sure, when the Razorbacks and Tigers do mix it up, Vanover’s presence may add an extra layer of interest in next season’s games.
Right now, frankly, even though Vanover enjoyed a successful season with Oral Roberts, there’s enough going on for Arkansas basketball that there is little reason for Arkansas fans to be concerned over what the Tigers might do with a player who struggled to find a consistent role in his two seasons in Fayetteville.
The Arkansas vs Missouri Basketball Rivalry
However, Connor Vanover’s move does feed into what is becoming a very interesting aspect of the rivalry. Vanover is the latest in a long line of recruits, players and coaches with a previous connection to one program committing to the other. The most famous of these moves is Mike Anderson’s departure from Missouri when he had a highly talented Tiger team ready to roll into the 2011-12 season. Not even 20 days before he came back to the place he’d long called home, Anderson had told the Columbia Tribune he planned to stay at Mizzou “for a long time, retire here.”
When Missouri joined the SEC soon afterward, and the Tigers played against Anderson for the first time in Fayetteville, Tiger fans did a respectable job infiltrating Bud Walton Arena and making their presence felt. It didn’t work. Arkansas won that game, but they managed to annoy Hog fans in the process.
The personnel movement has been more common in football. Current Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz grew up in Alma and went to Arkansas Tech. He was rumored to be in consideration for the Arkansas head coaching job in 2019 when the Hogs ended up with Sam Pittman. Barry Odom, Pittman’s defensive coordinator for his first three seasons in Fayetteville, was the Tigers’ head coach. Missouri football players have transferred to Arkansas in recent years. Players from Arkansas have landed in Columbia. Especially as Northwest Arkansas has continued to grow, there has been plenty of overlap in people from both states in the same area. That proximity has led to a rivalry more than some insurance trophy ever will.
One of the most exciting days of the Arkansas basketball offseason so far was when Trevon Brazile announced he was returning to the Hogs. There was talk of Brazile playing himself into a first-round NBA draft pick last season before he tore his ACL, so hopes for him to return from his injury and prove that he can be that type of player are playing a big part in the excitement that continues to bubble up around the program. Brazile, of course, played his freshman season at Missouri, and a segment of Tiger fans online have not been shy about celebrating Brazile’s struggles since his injury.
Those cheap shots from internet trolls have added to the rivalry between the two schools. Arkansas and Missouri don’t have a rivalry because they play big games that cost each other championships. Basketball games are mostly a matter of pride as both teams try to position themselves as best they can for the NCAA Tournament. Missouri has been more successful on the football field in recent years, but Arkansas has a healthy 14-9 basketball record against Missouri since the Tigers joined the SEC (and, it should be noted, Missouri later vacated two of those wins when former Tiger coach Frank Haith was caught cheating). However, the fans seem to hear from each other plenty.
Connor Vanover vs Trevon Brazile
If Trevon Brazile and Connor Vanover find themselves matched up against each other next season, no matter what happens on the court, it will be kind of weird for everybody. Such is life for college sports fans in the new transfer portal world. Razorback fans likely would be salivating at the thought since Vanover, despite showing flashes at times in his first season as a Hog, was often frustrating to watch.
For his part, one must think Vanover is excited to prove himself in his second go-around in the SEC, especially considering how effective he was in contributing to Oral Roberts’ NCAA Tournament appearance last season. In the regular season, he’ll get at least two chances to show his former team and coach the development they may have missed out on.
Vanover’s final season at Arkansas was one to forget as he shot just 1 of 13 from three when shooting from beyond the arc was billed as a significant part of his game. He was rejuvenated in new surroundings last season, knocking down 44 of 135 threes (32.6%), virtually matching the clip he established his first couple of seasons. He also shot over 65% on two-point shots and over 81% from the free throw line. Can he do that in the SEC this time? That’ll be a key storyline for the Tigers.
In 1988, one-time Hog Byron Irvin scored 25 points for Missouri in a win against Arkansas. It’s currently the record for former Hogs that later played against the Razorbacks, according to HogStats. Like Vanover, Irvin’s stats as a Hog weren’t particularly memorable, but could Vanover put it all together against the Hogs next season and challenge that record? He could, but a healthy Brazile might make that pretty difficult for him.
More coverage of Trevon Brazile and Arkansas basketball from BoAS…