“The Hogs put the rest of the Southeastern Conference on notice when they hired Mike Anderson to be the next head basketball coach.
Since the downfall of the Razorback basketball program, which just so happened to coincide with the ugly departure of Nolan Richardson, Kentucky and Florida have ruled the SEC basketball roost. Tennessee did enjoy some sustained success under Bruce Pearl, but it appears his scandals might have ushered in a new era of mediocrity- or worse- in Knoxville for the new head coach, Cuonzo Martin and the Vols.
The SEC West has been a crapshoot for the last decade. With the decline of Arkansas basketball, the Western Division has not sustained one nationally relevant program. Mississippi State has easily been the most consistent in the last ten years, winning or sharing the division title five times. Yet despite their success within the conference, they have failed to get past the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament over that span of time.
The LSU Tigers have made the tournament four times since the Richardson era ended in Arkansas and earned a trip to the Final Four in 2006. That is where it ends for the Bayou Bengals. They have failed to put back to back NCAA tournament appearances together since the early 1990’s. Alabama was relatively strong between 2002 and 2006, but still only managed one Sweet 16 appearance during that time frame. 2006 was the last time the Tide went dancing.
Both Auburn and Ole Miss have been conspicuously absent in contributing anything of worth to the SEC in basketball since the conference started playing back in 1933. The last decade was no different for either program.
In short, Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee have owned the SEC bragging rights since 2002. The SEC East can take credit for all the NCAA Tournament teams over the past two seasons. Tennessee has made the NCAA Tournament every year since 2006. The Gators have only missed two NCAA tournaments since the turn of the century, and Kentucky is still Kentucky.
While the SEC East was carrying the conference on its back, the SEC West was paddling along like it belonged to the Southland Conference instead of the Southeastern Conference.
The SEC can breathe easy now because all of that is about to change.
Mike Anderson is exactly the kind of coach that can awaken the sleeping giant that is Razorback basketball. His “Fastest 40 Minutes” tempo is exciting and will remind Razorback fans of Nolan Richardson’s “40 minutes of Hell.” As well it should. Anderson was the top assistant for Nolan Richardson for 17 years when the Razorbacks owned college basketball back in the late 80’s to the late 90’s. Recruits will gravitate toward the system, the coach, one of the best on-campus basketball arenas in the country, and the rich tradition that is Razorback basketball.
Of course, tempo, pretty arenas, and banners hanging from the rafters aren’t the only reasons for high expectations in Fayetteville. Mike Anderson brings a recruiting base that will get him into the living rooms of top end talent from Birmingham to Saint Louis.
Consider this. It is clear that Mike Anderson, a Birmingham, Alabama native, has great contacts in Alabama. His ability to recruit quality basketball players to the University of Alabama at Birmingham is a testament to that. His connections in Tulsa, roughly two hours from Fayetteville, Arkansas, is another area to tap for recruits. In addition to playing for the University of Tulsa under Nolan Richardson, he also started his coaching career there as an assistant. Of course, the in-state talent is getting better and better by the year in Arkansas as well.
Nearby Memphis should also be a gold mine for talent. It certainly proved to be so for the Razorbacks in the late 80’s and 90’s. Former Razorbacks such as Todd Day, Corey Beck, and Dwight Stewart all played for Richardson and Anderson at Arkansas and hail from the Memphis area. They can and are willing to serve as tremendous networkers for Mike Anderson and his staff in a city known for producing great basketball talent.
If Mike Anderson’s tenure in Missouri earned him some inroads to Kansas City and Saint Louis, the Razorbacks could find themselves in the enviable position of handpicking stud basketball players out of high school.
It still takes a quality coach to put all the pieces together, and Mike Anderson is easily the most accomplished head coach in the SEC West. None of Anderson’s divisional rivals are as consistent as the new Head Hog in getting his team to the NCAA tournament. Only one coach has a higher winning percentage (Anthony Grant), but Anderson spent all nine years of his career against quality competition. Only Trent Johnson joins Mike Anderson as a current coach in the SEC West with a winning record in the NCAA Tournament. Mike Anderson’s Elite 8 appearance in 2009 makes him the only current SEC West coach with a run past the Sweet 16 on his résumé.
Mike Anderson hasn’t exactly had the easiest road as a head coach either. UAB was far from a giant in Conference USA which had to contend not only with Memphis, but also Cincinnati, Marquette, Louisville, and DePaul at that time.
Missouri had been taken to the cellar by Quinn Snyder’s reign of terror in Columbia before Mike Anderson brought it back to some national standing. When you consider the three seasons he failed to make the NCAA tournament were rebuilding years- his first year at UAB and his first two at Missouri- it stands to reason that Mike Anderson’s career numbers should get a boost by taking what is clearly a step up the professional ladder. The Arkansas head coaching gig is head and shoulders ahead of Missouri’s.
For the first time in ten years, a head coach with tangible legitimacy will be stalking the sidelines on the Razorback bench. Mike Anderson has already proven he can rebuild two different programs. Both UAB and Missouri are in much better shape because he coached there. In fact, Mike Anderson is the fastest Missouri Tiger coach to reach 100 wins and the only Missouri coach to win 30 games in a single season.
For Razorback fans, Mike Anderson is the most accomplished head coach that Arkansas has ever hired. Nolan Richardson and Eddie Sutton had a combined total of one NCAA tournament win between them at the time of their hires at Arkansas. Mike Anderson already has seven.
The Razorbacks learned their lesson. The last two basketball hires for the Hogs were mid-major hopefuls. They had struck gold with that strategy when they landed Eddie Sutton from Creighton and Nolan Richardson from Tulsa. The tactic backfired with the hires of Stan Heath and John Pelphrey.
The Arkansas Razorbacks now have a proven head coach in a familiar environment. The buzz around Fayetteville is back. Even though the Hogs are coming off their third straight season with no tournament appearance, the swagger is already making an appearance in the state of Arkansas. With a single press conference announcing Mike Anderson as the new head coach at the University of Arkansas, the apathy around Razorback basketball disappeared.
So did the insignificance of the SEC West.”