1. It seems like every basketball season, there's a game or two that brings out the Bud Walton magic and fans discuss whether the program has turned the corner. Did the Kentucky game feel any differently than the big Bud Walton wins of the last few years to make you think it might really be different this time?
Ryan: No because that wasn't a road win
Adam: We discussed this very same thing on the Hog Trough Fancast last year with Doc after the Florida game. If the following game doesn't build on this momentum, it was simply a fun win.
Drew: Truthfully, this feels like business as usual. Mike has managed to turn Bud Walton back into a place where we expect a win, regardless of what our opponent is ranked or how many McDonald's All-Americans they have on their roster. He doesn't get enough credit for that, and that's partially why the Florida loss hurt so much; it's no longer a "moral victory" to take a highly-ranked team to overtime in the Bud and still lose. The proverbial corner continues to be road wins, and we've got two opportunities coming up to make that happen.
Kevin: I fear that if I say things are different this time, that is just going to assure that they won't be. So for superstitious reasons, haha, I am not going to comment.
Randy: The Florida game was a far better performance than the predictable wilt at College Station was. As long as Mike Anderson believes 1) he cannot let his team play its style on the road and 2) Moses Kingsley should be on the bench, expect this team to flop on the road. Anderson has a 2-19 road record at Arkansas. This is becoming a mental problem as much for Anderson as it is for his teams.
Scottie: I just don't know. The buzzer-beater by Indiana to beat UK in 2011 kind of signified the return of Hoosier basketball, but they were a tremendous team destined for a deep tournament run anyway. I hope the tip-slam is that moment for Arkansas. I do think a game of that magnitude, and the way it ended is more likely to carry over to future games (road games) than the other wins. But that's just me.
2. After the Florida game, there was a lot of criticism of Mike Anderson's rotation management. A lot of that talk goes away after a win like Kentucky, so did you notice Anderson doing anything differently? Are those Florida criticisms still valid?
Ryan: I don't necessarily think Anderson listens to fans, but it feels like when the fans cry out about the rotation of guys, he makes changes. The same thing happened with Moses Kingsley in Maui. However, I think a lot of his rotation decision were make for him in the Kentucky game because of foul trouble. Coty Clarke fouled out and several others had 3 or 4 fouls.
Scottie: Anderson gets a lot of flack for his rotation management because to fans and writers it seems extremely random. Usually, Alandise Harris is first off the bench, but then Mardracus Wade came off the bench first against Kentucky and he didn't even play against Florida three days earlier. I don't understand it, but I don't necessarily have to. And of course since Arkansas beats UK, that gets swept under the rug. I think some of the criticisms are valid. Coaches should have their best five guys on the floor with the game on the line, and he didn't late vs. Florida.
Randy: At the end of regulation against Florida, Arkansas's five on court were Coty Clarke (6-6 in height), Alandise Harris (according to him, 6-5), Michael Qualls (6-6), Ky Madden (6-5) and Fred Gulley (6-2). How about a shotblocker, so the guards don't have to worry about the drive so much (leaving them prone to give up jump shots)?
Anderson is struggling with his substitution pattern, and it was a factor in both losses. Florida's bench outscored the Porker reserves 12-1 in the second half, 11-8 in overtime. The Gators, with a very short bench, played only seven players over that stretch. Arkansas did not use depth to wear down the visitors. No, Anderson relied on seven players too for the last 15 minutes of the game. The shorter Clarke and Harris struggled with Florida's 6-8 Dorian Finney-Smith for the entire game, allowing him not just 22 points but also nine offensive rebounds (they combined for eight).
Not using all his most valuable players, going against the style he preaches -- Anderson made these decisions.
Drew: It occurs to me that the 3-pointer that Madden took in the Kentucky game is probably shot we wanted against Florida. The circumstances of every game necessitates taking different strategic risks. There's a big difference between leading for most of overtime and having a no-risk opportunity to go for the win like we did against the 'Cats and spending most of overtime trailing by 4+ points like we did against Florida. There's lots of blame to go around for the Florida loss - I'm hesitant to focus on just one thing.
Graham: The Harris drive is not Anderson's fault. He called for the drive and kick, but the "kick" never happened. What was a bigger issue was the lack of a shot blocker on the court when Wilbiken scored to send the game to OT. At least some presence in the middle, forcing a jump shot, would have given the Hogs a better chance to win.
Doc: I definitely think it was a mistake to leave Portis on the bench in the last minute against Florida, but it's harder to fault him for the Kentucky game because the bench played much better. Eleven different Razorbacks scored in the game. But at the same time, Arkansas still easily could have won both games, or lost both games, or won Florida and lost Kentucky. When you have a game go to overtime, you can point to any play in the game and say "if that one thing had gone differently...", but the team still has a shot to accomplish its goals for the season, and that's the most important thing.
Adam: I don't understand a lot of Anderson's player choices when it comes to how many minutes they get through out any given game. It all seems random to me. But I will have to just think he knows a touch more than me. Hindsight is always 20/20 in your Lay-Z-Boy.
3. With at least 16 games left, Arkansas' currently on the bubble regarding the NCAA Tournament. Is it possible to feel ok about this season if they don't get in?
Ryan: Yes it is okay. I wrote that at the beginning of the season and still believe it now. The NIT is okay. Now, if they miss the NIT as well, that's a cause for serious concern.
Drew: It's possible to be disappointed and feel "okay" at the same time. Missing the NCAA will be a huge disappointment, but making the NIT is the bare minimum for having an "okay" season. If we're sitting at home again in March, that's a big, fat failure.
Kevin: NIT, I wouldn't feel too terrible about that. It is a post-season tournament. Oh my, how the expectations have fallen from the good old days!
Graham: You can feel "OK" with a postseason appearance of any kind at this point. However, you will have to feel a little let down after all the hope going into the season. Even Joe Lunardi was starting to give us credit before conference play!
Adam: Thankfully, basketball fans aren't as crazy as the football fans. Mike NEEDS to show some improvement to the fans this year (in my eyes, he has...somewhat), but I don't think the NCAA tourney is an absolute necessity.
Randy: This season will be a downer if the Hogs continue to let opponents dictate tempo, after being an uptempo, high-pressure, dunking and rainbow-shooting force in their first 13 games. Arkansas gave in to Florida, shortened the bench and played at a 15% slower pace. That's a swing from Nolan to Iba in magnitude. At College Station, the Hogs didn't make the slightest attempt to force turnovers from an opponent whose biggest weakness had been ballhandling. I can't comprehend the fact that at home, Arkansas faced an opponent with serious depth issues, let them slow the pace of play, and -- get this -- had more players go 30+ minutes than the Gators did. Arkansas doesn't know the style it played to start 0-2. It's pretty late in the season to be starting from scratch.
Fans roared when Stan Heath (in years two and three) and John Pelphrey (always) started uptempo, then downshifted to flop in the SEC. Looks like Anderson trusts his bench as little as Heath and Pelphrey did.
Doc: I admit, I'll be disappointed if they don't make the NCAA Tournament. It's going to be tough at this point, but I think they're talented enough to do it. Of course, that means they'll have to win some road games, and they've done nothing to make me think they will, but they have to at some point, right? Somebody has to play angry and determined and not want to deal with this road game stuff anymore, right?
4. We're getting into crunch time of recruiting season. We've got three major official visit weekends coming up before signing day and 5-ish spots left in the class to fill. What are you hoping to see and/or afraid of?
Randy: Hope to see much more help at linebacker and safety. With those positions wide open, reinforcements better come soon.
Drew: Over the past few years, I've adopted an attitude that I'm going to be happy for the kids who want to be Razorbacks and not give much thought to those who don't. I've been a little surprised at how few high-caliber LBs and DBs that we've been able to attract, considering that we have so much early playing time to offer. We've got some big time prospects coming over the next few weeks (guys like Solomon Thomas and Kenny Young); we're not going to get them all, but I think we'll finish strong like we did last year.
Graham: Like last year, if Bielema can steal a guy from a more high profile program when they think they have him. Also watch for Daniel Gresham. He was committed to Louisville before BMFP told him his services were no longer needed. Gresham is the No. 2 FB and could fill a huge hole left in the offense. If I had to guess I would say he, being from Fort Worth and a former Charlie Strong recruit, he ends up with Texas. This would be the sort of guy though that would be fun to steal, especially from Texas.
Kevin: Well, we know we aren't going to see Top Ten rated class, probably not Top 25 either. So I am not setting myself up for high expectations. I really just want to see that they've addressed their needs well and have some recruits that other SEC teams wanted.
Adam: I just hope no more coaches leave. Recruiting is like dating. I don't miss that phase of my life....at all.
Doc: I just want recruiting to end on a positive note. It would be great to land a relatively big name on Signing Day or figure out a way to work in a top 25 ranking. Fans need something good to happen with the program. I've learned not to worry about much in recruiting other than commitments, so I'll wait and see what happens.
5. So Bret Bielema replaced Charlie Partridge with Rory Segrest. Is his lack of FBS-level recruiting experience a major concern?
Ryan: Not only am I worried about his lack FBS-level recruiting experience, but his teams have historically been mediocre at stopping the run. That combination is why I'm skeptical.
Randy: Segrest replaces Charlie Partridge, whose pre-Arkansas recruiting experience consisted of Eastern Illinois, Pitt and Wisconsin. Segrest's college recruiting experience consists of seven seasons at Samford in Birmingham, Ala. Oh yeah, Segrest also coached defensive line and special teams in the NFL. Who knows how much difference "FBS recruiting experience" makes. Sometimes recruiting success isn't transferable to another school. It's not as though Segrest at Samford had to recruit from different schools. He knows parts of SEC recruiting territories that Arkansas hasn't covered well.
When Arkansas hired Kacy Rodgers to coach the defensive line in 2002, fans were overjoyed. Rodgers had played at Tennessee, coached at Tennessee-Martin, NELa and Middle Tennessee. Segrest played at Alabama, got an unusually early chance to coach in the NFL, and has worked under a great coach in Pat Sullivan at Samford. Find something else to groan about.
Drew: The biggest, and most valid, knock against Segrest is that he doesn't replace Partridge's connections in South Florida. It's been incredibly frustrating to watch Hog fans complain that he's "not a big enough name for us;" it's such a shallow, video game mentality. I think something to keep in mind about Segrest is what he's NOT: he's not a Bielema retread, doesn't work for one of Bielema's former assistants, and had no connection to Bielema aside from when we played Samford this year. At least give the guy a chance before deciding he's "not good enough."
Doc: If Segrest had replaced anybody on the staff who wasn't known as a top-flight recruiter, I wouldn't be concerned at all. But Partridge was easily best known for his recruiting, so I am somewhat concerned about that, but there's also nothing on his resume to suggest he can't do it, so once again, I'll wait and see.
Kevin: I made a snarky remark in the comment section on that story that Rory Gilmore and Rory Kennedy have better name recognition than Rory Segrest. But I hope that by the time he is done at Arkansas, he will have made a big name for himself. That would be good for him and us. But you can't blame fans and posters from being a bit underwhelmed after Bielema came out and said he wanted to wait until the bowl season was over and then announcing somebody he could have had in December.
Adam: It's definitely going to be a change and yes, on paper, I think it will affect us. However, he might be a sweetheart and also have super soft hands that he rubs the recruit's mom's hands with to let her know it will all be okay. Time will tell.
Graham: Don't have a mic to drop so I'll just drop this link.
6. Are you concerned about Chris Ash leaving? Is it a bad sign for Bielema that he left for a similar position or do you chalk it up to Ohio State being a higher profile school with better talent to work with?
Kevin: I think higher profile school and better talent to work with certainly had something to do with the move. But who knows if there are other factors involved. Though the possible factor I would be worried about is maybe he can see some writing on the wall and it says the Hogs aren't likely to improve on defense anytime soon, and he, Chris Ash, doesn't want to be around for the ax when it comes down, better to move to greener pastures. There's no question that Ohio State is going to bring in more talent on defense in the next few years than what Arkansas can attract, so not only better talent now, but better talent in the future. Maybe we'll get an upgrade ourselves in defensive coordinator. But it has to suck for the players on the basis of continuity, something they've had very little of.
Adam: It's sad to say this, but no one blames Chris Ash. It was a smart move for him as a college football coach. Sucks we had to be ditched during the worst honeymoon ever, though.
Drew: My immediate reaction to hearing that he was leaving was "huh, that's weid." I think there's more to this story that we'll never know. I'm particularly intrigued by the fact that there appeared to be no push to try and retain him, like there was with Pittman. Bielema had previous stated that his budget at Wisconsin prevented him from being able to retain his staff by matching offers from other schools, but Ash leaving definitely seems to contradict that. Of course, Bielema was able to retain Pittman when Saban came calling, and I think we'll all agree that was money well spent. I don't want to bad-mouth Ash, but I don't think his leaving is going to hurt too much. He was shockingly uninvolved with recruiting (unless he was doing a lot of stuff in the background that he wasn't getting credit for), was the position coach for one of the weakest units on a weak defense, and had really whiffed on getting any big-time safeties to even consider us, despite the promise of early playing time.
Ryan: I'd like to know if the athletic department actually decided not to pay him more and let him leave for Ohio State. I don't think the athletic department wanted the negative PR of giving him a $200k raise after being the 12th in the conference in scoring defense and last in forced turnovers. Other than that, he just left for a better situation. Can't blame him.
Scottie: Not really. Let's give Randy Shannon a shot at DC. tOSU is a higher profile job, and he wanted it. Can't blame him for taking it.
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