It was hard to watch.
After starting the season off so well, winning 17 straight games in Bud Walton Arena, and exceeding most fans expectations, Mike Anderson’s first act not only “ran out of gas” down the stretch, but had to be pushed across the finish line last week in New Orleans.
After beating ranked teams Michigan and Vanderbilt in late January, the young Hogs found themselves 16-6 and in the conversation for an NCAA tourney bid. Losing eight of their last ten, though, including a 70-54 finale to LSU, has to leave a bad taste in their mouths for the long offseason.
So what happened?
The statewide call-in shows were quick to light up last Thursday afternoon with â€œZerosâ€ (defined as ‘fans’ with zero patience and zero IQs) calling in. While most didn’t completely jump off the bandwagon, many questioned if Anderson knows what he’s doing.
One genius even claimed Anderson’s system, “might have worked in the weak Big 12, but that style won’t fly in the athletic SEC.” The “weak” Big 12 got six of their teams (60 percent) into the NCAA tournament, including Anderson’s former Missouri team which secured a #2 seed. The SEC managed only four.
So much for the SEC’s ”single division” theory, I guess — but that’s another post for another day.
The collapse down the stretch goes back to two simple things — lack of numbers and lack of a veterans to provide leadership. Say it however you want to…there’s only so much rubber on that tire, and we were void of any older players who had been through the SEC wars.
Brandon Mitchell saw the leadership void, and by all accounts tried to fill it. But it was too late. The physical wall that the short-handed team hit in early February was stark and obvious to all. Anderson downplayed it, but you could see it — they were spent.
I, for one, was glad that he kept trying to play at a pace that even his own team couldn’t keep up with this season. This group will reap the rewards of that mindset next year and in years to come.
The decision to keep playing at the frenetic pace was definitely a long-term approach. While a short-term abandonment of the style might have yielded a more rested team — and maybe a few more victories — that’s not what was best and Anderson knew it. They took their lumps now, rather than down the road. A full roster and a year in the weight room will solve the rest.
Good things are ahead for this bunch if they stick together and put in the work. Mike knows the way.