Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in journalism.
Anderson likes improvement, longs for more
Mike Anderson speaks during his season-ending news conference Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Mike Anderson hasn't enjoyed visiting the coaches' convention at the Final Four lately.
The third-year Razorbacks head coach became accustomed to coaching on Final Four weekends during his 17-year tenure as an assistant at Arkansas. But the Razorbacks haven't made the FInal Four since finishing national runner-up in 1995 and the drop off has continued in recent years.
Arkansas has failed to make the NCAA Tournament at all since 2008 - the longest streak at the school since the 1970s. It's a stark contrast from the Arkansas that led the nation in wins from 1990-96 and won the national championship 20 years ago this week.
"It doesn't seem like it was that long ago, but it has been quite a while ago," Anderson said during his season wrap-up news conference Wednesday. "For me, personally, it makes me want to get back there. That's all it does. When I go to the Final Four, I don't really enjoy it like a lot of guys enjoy it, because as a coach, I'm used to being in it. Therefore, I'm going to spend my time working to get back there."
Arkansas has shown improvement in each of Anderson's seasons, increasing its win total from 18 to 19 last season and finishing 22-12 this year. The Razorbacks did make the postseason this year, beating Indiana State by 20 points before a 75-64 loss to California in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament last week.
Any postseason is an improvement, Anderson said, for a program that hadn't played any postseason games since the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
"This time of year you want to still be playing and of course as you can see we are not, but one of the things we talked about coming from last year was improve upon what we did the previous year," Anderson said, "and when you look at our record and how our team played, and how our kids competed at a high level, I thought there was significant improvement. Based on the guys returning I think we have a great core coming back and recruiting, which is the lifeblood of any program, we feel we are going to have the opportunity to address some of the needs and that is our perimeter play has to continue to get better."
Arkansas loses five seniors from this year's team, most notably Coty Clarke who averaged 9.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. The Razorbacks return their three leading scorers - Ky Madden (12.7 points per game), Bobby Portis (12.3) and Michael Qualls (11.6).
Next season will have a different feeling going in than this one, when the Razorbacks had to replace their two leading scorers from the year before.
"Coming in there were a lot of unknowns," Anderson said. "We didn't have a double-figure scorer coming in and so for this team - you've got to remember this team led the league in scoring. There was a lot more balance on our basketball team and I see the same next year.
"There are still some unknowns, but there will be more knowns this year than last year."
Arkansas' returning players should be able to build off momentum started this year. The Razorbacks twice beat Kentucky and lost to the SEC's other Final Four participant Florida by two points in overtime, and had notable nonconference wins against SMU, Minnesota and Clemson. Arkansas also won three road games after combining to win two total in Anderson's first two seasons.
But it was a late season collapse that left the Razorbacks with a familiar bitter taste in their mouths. Arkansas lost by 25 at Alabama in the regular season finale to snap a six-game win streak and then by two points to South Carolina in its first game at the SEC Tournament.
"We have got an idea of what we have and we have got a core of guys that fit what we are doing," Anderson said. "Now we are going to bring in some newcomers and that is going to be critical as we put them with the guys that are returning.
"We want to build on what has taken place so be hungry and be humble, but we want to continue to roll up our sleeves. We are never comfortable. If you get comfortable in this position or as a basketball player, when you start doing that, that is when you are subject to fail."
Anderson said it's too early to tell whether there will be changes on his staff or any players transfer in the off-season, noting his annual evaluation won't take place until after this weekend's coaches' convention at the Final Four in Arlington, Texas. Anderson hasn't made a change to his assistant coaching staff since 2006 while at Missouri.
Anderson announced he is looking for a new head strength and conditioning coach. David Deets, who worked with Anderson at Missouri and Arkansas, is leaving to pursue a career in private business.
This story was syndicated by The Associated Press