While there have been numerous conflicting reports about whether or not it will even happen, I do worry about all this excitement and desire for Mike Anderson to be the next Razorback basketball coach.
Many Hog fans are certain that Mike can restore Razorback basketball to the ’40 Minutes of Hell’ style and success of Nolan and quickly return the program to the glory days. They envision Elite Eight and Final Four appearances on a regular basis and the return of the Kentucky game to national status on Super Bowl Sunday. Any other result is simply not within the realm of their imagination.
While I do believe Mike is a fine basketball coach, my fear is that there is no way he can possibly live up to these expectations.
College basketball has changed over the years since Arkansas won the National Championship. Much of what made the ’40 Minutes of Hell’ unique to Nolan and Arkansas is now standard fare. 10-man rotations, periods of intense pressure defense, pushing the ball in transition, multiple 3-point shooters and a strong half court post game are par for the course for the better teams.
I’ve watched a lot of Mike Anderson teams and games over the past few years. While some have been better than others, my take is that there are a lot of coaches out there playing version 2 or 3 of this aggressive style while Mike is still coaching version 1. His teams tend to have the same issues most of Nolan’s teams had — poor rebounding and struggles in half court offense.
Of Nolan’s teams at Arkansas, only the 1994 and 1995 teams had the type of size needed to contend for the National Championship. Without the contributions of the two seven-foot freshmen (Robinson and Wilson) at key moments, the 1994 team wouldn’t have made the Final Four.
No problem, you say? It’s possessions that count? Steals make up for poor rebounding? Unfortunately, the ball handling skills of today’s players and their ability to handle pressure defense are much better than in the days of Nolan. They have grown up playing against pressure defenses.
Mike Anderson, or whoever comes to coach Arkansas, will have their work cut out for them to make the program “nationally relevant” again. Mike would have the added pressure of living up to a time that is now based more in nostalgia than reality.
Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You can’t go home again.” Looking for current success by going back to the past is a recipe for disappointment for everyone involved.
There are many strong contenders to be the next Razorback basketball coach. I’m hopeful we take a good look around before we decide.