Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Any way you look at it, Hogs getting closer
Arkansas guard Rashad Madden (00) shoots over California's Ricky Kreklow, left, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the NIT tournament Monday, March 24, 2014, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP/Ben Margot)
Kentucky and Florida’s charge into the Final Four, plus Tennessee’s run to the Sweet 16, has given cause to ponder and ask what if.
What if Arkansas had opened the SEC with a victory at Texas A&M or beat Florida instead of losing in overtime?
Or if the Hogs hadn’t lost a five-point lead at Georgia in the last five minutes and Ky Madden had run the play instead of missing a three-pointer as regulation ran out, sending the game to overtime, where Arkansas lost.
Or if Arkansas had found a way to beat Missouri at least once.
Of course, Arkansas still lost to Alabama in the regular-season finale and to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament. Those holding a half-full cup of coffee can hang on to Arkansas beating Kentucky twice, while those with a half-empty cup are asking what the heck happened?
Before going any further, the Razorbacks, in Mike Anderson’s third season, were the best they had been in at least six years, and better than most Arkansas teams of the past 12 years.
Still, there was disappointment and frustration, and then Kentucky made it to Monday night’s national championship game, the absolute biggest stage in college basketball, and it left a lingering feeling of what happened?
This was supposed to be a season of addition by subtraction.
Anyone who watched Anderson’s first two Arkansas teams saw the obvious on offense: When BJ Young got the ball, everyone else just about stopped moving. The best chance of them getting to touch it again was to grab a rebound. The same was true, to a degree, with Marshawn Powell, but not as much.
Anderson gives his players a lot of freedom when it comes to shooting: Some guys take advantage of that, some don’t.
What the Razorbacks still don’t have is a pure shooter, although at key times this season some guys had great games, even in conference play.
A six-game winning streak near the end of the of SEC schedule sent expectations teetering on unrealistic, and three-point shooting fueled the run.
Michael Qualls hit 3 of 5 three-pointers against LSU and followed with 4 of 7 against South Carolina before hitting another cold front, finishing the season 7 of 28 from behind the arc, although he and Anthlon Bell were 2 of 4 in the victory at Kentucky.
Bell hit 7 of 10 three-pointers in the blowout of Ole Miss and was 3 of 8 earlier in the victory against Mississippi State.
Coty Clarke was 2 of 3 in the home victory over Georgia.
Arkansas’ top four three-point shooters were a combined 12 of 56 on three-pointers (21.4 percent) in their first four road losses. But when the Razorbacks won at Vanderbilt to end the streak, they were 6 of 10 from behind the arc.
It would be safe to say when Arkansas had a better chance to win, especially on the road, when it didn’t force threes.
No one knows this more than Anderson. He has been recruiting shooters ever since he came back three years ago, just as he has point guards. Nolan Richardson’s best years were when he had strong point guards like Arlyn Bowers, Lee Mayberry, Corey Beck and Kareem Reid.
Madden is a talented athlete and great in transition, but he’s got a scorer’s mentality and will be better playing as a 2-3 swing man. Anderson has recruited a true point guard for next season in North Little Rock’s Anton Beard, but he’ll be a true freshman. Anderson also has a commitment from Seminole (Okla.) State College’s Jabril Durham, who is tougher than an Army boot.
All that to say the ups and downs of this season, and it was an emotional roller coaster for the fan base, was predicated on players. Anderson is still trying to get his own players, and he’s trying to find guys who not only can play in his system, but will wear the Razorbacks uniform with pride.
Sports, Pages 17 on 04/08/2014