A 48-hour stretch will determine just how Arkansas's first season with Mike Anderson in control will be assessed.
The Hogs draw Alabama at home Thursday night, and essentially it's a clash of mirror images. The Tide sit at 17-9, 6-6, and were a six-point victor over the Hogs in Tuscaloosa last month. That was essentially the Razorbacks' last solid road effort--they followed that up with a turnover-laden clunker at LSU, then got bombed at Georgia and at Tennessee. Alabama's not only trying to fight its way out of the amorphous middle of the conference standings where seemingly everyone but Kentucky and Florida reside, but also trying to make that last push toward NCAA tournament contention.
That dream has theoretically gone away for the Hogs, although a strong finish and an SEC tourney run might force the selection committee to reconsider. But for right now, the Hogs sorely and simply need a win Thursday for confidence purposes more than anything. The turnaround is quick: an Saturday afternoon tipoff against Auburn. The Tigers are 4-8 in league play, seemingly beatable at home even if you factor in the Hogs' documented travel issues.
Win two, and get to 19-10 and 7-7 with the Mississippi schools remaining to finish out the schedule. Lose them both, and the Hogs may have played their way out of the NIT. This week gives Anderson the greatest challenge yet as head Hog: he has to summon life and composure from a bunch that is physically depleted and psychologically frayed. If he pulls it off, regardless of what happens the rest of the season, he's accomplished something substantive.