On Mike Anderson and the Razorback Basketball Brand

In the crazy days leading up to the Mike Anderson hire, there was a lot of spirited debate on this site and elsewhere as to whether he was worth all the trouble. 1994 was a long time ago, some detractors pointed out, and hiring a coach because they're "family" has certainly backfired before (see Matt Doherty at UNC and Mike Shula at Alabama, for starters).

My personal feeling is that Anderson is a very good, possibly great, hire not because of his personal connections to the university or his role in the Hogs' string of Final Fours in the '90s but because he's exactly right for the Arkansas Razorback basketball brand.

Think for a moment about the truly great franchises in sports...often they have a certain central quality - their brand, if you will - that remains consistent throughout coaching changes or player transactions or even the evolution of the game itself. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been epitomized by bonecrushing defense for decades. The Los Angeles Lakers stand for exciting, star-driven basketball. The Auburn Tigers pay their players a better wage than any damn college in the land. You get the picture.

So what is the Razorback basketball brand? Defense. Smothering, relentless, high-pressure defense, usually led by sneaky, lightning-quick guards. Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson's overall styles could not have been more different, but they both led with defense. Whether you were facing Darrell Walker and Alvin Robertson or Corey Beck and Clint McDaniel (or many others), handling the ball against the Hogs was not a pleasant experience.

The Hogs drifted away from their core brand in the post-Nolan years - can anyone really sum up the team identities of the Stan Heath or John Pelphrey eras? - and the program suffered both on the court and in the stands. The Anderson hiring shows that the Powers That Be in Fayetteville recognize that and were able to take steps to correct it. I suspect that the 2011-12 Hog players will get used to playing intense defense very quickly, or else.

No matter which players transfer or stick around, or which recruits remain on board, when the Mike Anderson Hogs take the court next fall we'll all immediately recognize what they're seeing as Arkansas Razorback basketball. And that, fellow fans, is a very good thing.

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