What May Save Mike Neighbors’ Bacon Is Something You’d Never See on the Men’s Side

Mike Neighbors, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Craven Whitlow

The Arkansas women’s basketball team recently staggered across the finish line of its regular season after a 44-point pummeling by Ole Miss in Oxford. After spending most of the year on the NCAA Tournament bubble, the Razorbacks lost six of their last seven games — with three of those coming by more than 25 points. The dreadful performance against the Rebels capped off yet another disappointing year under head coach Mike Neighbors.

The Razorbacks were picked to finish 6th in the SEC in preseason polls, which would have put them comfortably in the tournament field. Instead, barring a miraculous run in the SEC Tournament, the Hogs will miss out on the Big Dance once again. Slotted at the tail end of the “Next Four Out” in ESPN’s bracketology even before Sunday’s defeat, it’s hard to see them making that jump, especially with a quarterfinal matchup with the defending national champion LSU Tigers looming if they win their Thursday game against Auburn.

These underwhelming results have fans’ patience running thin in Year 7 of the Neighbors era, with many beginning to call for a change in leadership for the program. Taking a look at the comments on this Facebook post, the situation has gotten quite ugly:

“On a personal level, I like him. But we will never have anything but a mediocre team without a change.” – Anita McChristian Herrod

“Pitiful program! No heart or competitive nature on this team. Neighbors may need to start packing his bags.” – Steve Benton

“Time for Neighbors to be somebody else’s neighbor.” – Dean Tree Casper

Mike Neighbors Resume

Unfortunately, elite recruiting classes and preseason excitement followed by underperforming teams has become a recurring theme under Neighbors. This season, star freshman Taliah Scott was added to an already-loaded core of returners like Makayla Daniels, Samara Spencer and Saylor Poffenbarger. On paper, this should not be a team that misses the tournament. Yet here they stand with an 18-13 overall record and a 6-10 mark in conference play, good for 9th in the SEC.

Neighbors’ winning percentage during his time at Arkansas is .608, right on par with the program’s historical average (.609). But Arkansas basketball fans can’t help but feel like they should be getting better than average results from this coaching tenure. 

After all, the Arkansas alum made his homecoming after an impressive stretch at Washington that saw him guide the Huskies to a 98-41 record over four seasons. Led by star guard and eventual No. 1 overall pick and WNBA All-Star Kelsey Plum, they notched a Sweet Sixteen appearance and reached the program’s first ever Final Four appearance during his time there.

Poaching Neighbors from Seattle was a big deal, and generated a considerable amount of hype. It’s fair to say the expectations should be a bit higher than just two first-round exits from the NCAA Tournament in seven years, especially given the great talent he has brought into the program during his time here. But up until this point, there really hasn’t been much to show for it.

Postseason Letdowns with Arkansas Basketball Legends

This year is far from the first time a Mike Neighbors-led team has underachieved. His inaugural campaign at Arkansas understandably resulted in a below-.500 record in what was widely seen as a rebuilding year after head coach Jimmy Dykes’ disastrous tenure in Fayetteville. His second season in 2018-19 saw important steps forward as the team showed marked improvement and finished with a 22-15 record.

The 2019-20 season saw the Razorbacks cruise to a 24-8 record behind the star trio of Chelsea Dungee, Alexis Tolefree and Amber Ramirez. It’s a shame that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the postseason hopes of a team with huge potential.

The following year, Oregon State transfer Destiny Slocum joined the returning duo of Dungee and Ramirez to headline a formidable team that finished 15th in the AP Poll and earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Dungee’s senior season was one of the best in program history, as she averaged 22 points per game en route to All-SEC and All-American accolades.

Shockingly, the Hogs’ March Madness aspirations were quickly halted, as they were upset by 13-seed Wright State in the first round and Dungee’s Arkansas career ended in unremarkable fashion.

A stellar senior season from Ramirez in 2021-22 saw the Razorbacks return to the Big Dance, albeit as a 10-seed after an 18-14 regular season. They met the Utah Utes in the first round, and suffered a 23-point loss.

New Year, Same Issues for Neighbors

A lot of the recurring problems under Mike Neighbors stem from his offensive system. Per his bio on the university website, Neighbors’ offense is “powered by its three main principles – getting to the free throw line, hitting three-pointers and not turning the ball over.”

This philosophy has proven to be very effective when perimeter shots are falling, as seen by the upset of UConn three years ago that saw the Hogs pile 90 points onto the blue-blooded Huskies. But when the Razorbacks go cold from three, they’re in serious trouble.

This year, Arkansas has shot 921 three pointers – nearly 30 per game and the fourth-most in the country. However, the Hogs have only made 30.0% of those attempts, which ranks 218th in the nation. This discrepancy between volume and efficiency has led to Arkansas’ offense being ineffective for long stretches of games, and the overreliance on “jacking up threes” has been frustrating for fans to watch.

Another frequent issue is defensive struggles. The Razorbacks allow 68.5 points per game, which ranks 266th nationally. Under Neighbors, Arkansas has yet to have a team hold opponents below 65 points per game. These shortcomings have led to some massive blowout losses as well as frequent blown leads. 

It’s worth wondering whether this strategy of living and dying by the three ball and playing consistently subpar defense is a sustainable formula for success.

Yurachek’s Dilemma with Arkansas Women’s Hoops

Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek is surely monitoring this situation closely, and it’s fair to ask if he would consider making a move for a new head coach, especially given how successful Arkansas’ other women’s sports have been in recent years.

Courtney Deifel took over an Arkansas softball program that had never won much of anything and steered them to an NCAA Tournament appearance in her second season. Since then, they haven’t looked back and have become legitimate national contenders year over year.

Colby Hale became head coach of an Arkansas soccer program that had never even made the NCAA Tournament. They have now won four of the last five SEC regular-season titles. Former Olympic gold medalist-turned-head coach Jordyn Wieber has also been a difference maker with Razorback gymnastics currently ranked No. 12 in the country.

With all this other success in the athletic department, Yurachek might believe that he can do better than Neighbors moving forward. While it will be tough to move on from the Greenwood native and UA alum, homecomings for nice guys don’t always work out in a cutthroat industry like college sports. Just ask Mike Anderson about that one.

Neighbors currently makes $700,000 per year, and it’s likely that a hypothetical successor would get a slight bump in pay. That makes Arkansas a top-25 job in the country, at least financially. Add in the allure of playing in Bud Walton Arena and competing in the SEC and Fayetteville is an attractive landing spot for potential candidates.

The last time the head coaching post was open, athletics director Jeff Long was able to poach from a Power Five school coming off back-to-back deep tournament runs. While Neighbors’ extensive ties to the state obviously played a big part in his decision, Arkansas is still a good job with considerable pull.

The Head Hog does still have an important factor in his favor. At the end of the day, the job of an AD is all about money and maximizing revenue. Going off of that, Neighbors’ outlook is much better. The average home attendance for this season was 3,987, and that number has gone up annually in each of the last three seasons. 

That means that despite Arkansas likely missing out on the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, and its conference winning percentage either decreasing or flatlining since 2019-20, the Razorback faithful are coming out more than ever. That kind of inverse correlation is something you would not see on the men’s side. Instead, it likely speaks to the overall tide lifting all boats dynamic in women’s sports at the UA.

If tickets continue to sell, lenience from the higher-ups is much more likely. However, patience in the fanbase is already running low and another Ole Miss-like effort in the SEC Tournament will only stoke flames further. Would season ticket holders be willing to renew for another year under the same leadership? That remains to be seen.

If current projections hold and the Hogs do end up missing out on the NCAA Tournament again, Yurachek will have an important decision on his hands for the program’s future trajectory.


Below, Mike Irwin brings up a lack of NIL money to land great transfers as a reason Mike Neighbors won’t be let go. Start at 40:15:

YouTube video


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