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:
Razorbacks have quieted Anderson’s critics
Arkansas guard Ky Madden celebrates after scoring a basket in the second half of Wednesday night's game against Ole Miss at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Mike Anderson’s critics stopped tweeting, blogging, whining and griping Wednesday night.
The Arkansas Razorbacks, Hawgball and 40 minutes of hell were all back against nemesis Ole Miss. The Hogs overwhelmed the Rebels 110-80 on Senior Night with defense (12 steals and a total of 18 turnovers, which accounted for 27 points) and three-pointers (17 of 30).
For the first time in a very, very long time the Razorbacks Nation had reason not only to cheer, but to have hope for the future.
Arkansas made Ole Miss look like the Hogs did before Anderson’s hiring and after Nolan Richardson left - not enough discipline and too much selfishness.
The Rebels had not lost in Walton Arena in their previous four meetings and were 6-0 since 2011.
Yet, for the Razorbacks and the 15,962 in attendance, and apparently legions who endured watching the game online on ESPN3, that was water under the bridge.
It was a bench-clearing celebration for Anderson, who got to play his walk-ons five and six minutes.
Ole Miss led one time, 17-16 with 11:27 to play in the first half.
That ignited the first real Razorback run of the night, 9-0, in just 1:32. The Rebels scrapped and clawed, but when they pulled to within 31-25, the beginning of the end exploded in their faces.
They were outscored 25-9 after that, and the Hogs went into intermission leading 56-34. They led by as much as 46 in the second half before settling in and coasting home with the fourth-most points scored by Arkansas in an SEC game. Richardson was the coach for the top 10 scoring games in Arkansas history, and now for nine of its top 10 in SEC play.
Maybe there was a hint of irony that earlier Wednesday it was learned that Russ Pennell had been hired as the head coach of the UCA men’s basketball program.
Pennell was Rob Evans’ top assistant when they laid the groundwork for Ole Miss’ stretch of success. One of Pennell’s assistants at UCA will be Anthony Boone, a native of Helena-West Helena who was the first Ole Miss basketball player to have his jersey number retired.
No doubt Wednesday’s victory has fans’ hopes soaring about the NCAA Tournament, and the victory certainly didn’t hurt, but it only moved the Razorbacks up three spots in the RPI to No. 55. Remember, margin of victory does not matter. The Rebels were ranked No. 91 in the RPI, and the closest thing the Rebels have to quality victories were against LSU (No. 69) and Missouri (No. 49).
The Rebels Nation, which enjoyed a victory in the NCAA Tournament last season, may have a shot at the NIT, unless they win the SEC Tournament again.
Arkansas now goes to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama, whose RPI is 124. That means a victory won’t boost the Hogs into the coveted 40s range, but a loss could be critical.
However, if the season ended today, the Razorbacks would be a No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament and Tennessee the No. 4 seed by virtue of its victory over the Hogs. Arkansas would play Thursday against the winner of South Carolina and Auburn.
Their second game would be against Tennessee, No. 46 in the RPI, and a victory there would pit them against Florida, which is No. 3 in the RPI.
That’s two chances to move up in the RPI, which is just one of the many criteria the NCAA selection committee considers.
If it doesn’t take notice of Wednesday night’s game, Anderson’s history - his UAB teams were 3-3 in three NCAA Tournament appearances and he was 4-3 at Missouri - and that it appears the Razorbacks have peaked at the right time, then the selection committee isn’t doing its job.
Regardless, Wednesday night looked like a run down memory lane and into the future. Right now, critics of Mike Anderson are few and far between.
Sports, Pages 19 on 03/07/2014