Another week by, another week closer to what may be one of the great statistical oddities of modern Razorback basketball. Or at least it rivals Rickey Scott hitting three of his first 34 long-range attempts this year, then making six of 10 in a span of six days.
Arkansas is now 16-0 inside Bud Walton Arena after putting together a perfectly tuned 82-74 win over a strong Vanderbilt team on January 31. The Hogs are now 0-7 when they dare breach the outer rim of that Fortress of Solitude, having been victimized by 12 blocked shots and 19 team turnovers in a loss at Baton Rouge on Saturday. The Jekyll-Hyde duality is common on the lips of broadcasters who chronicle the action when this team plays. Even a rube like Joe Dean Jr., who gratingly and frequently described the backboard as the "banking board" during the latest road lapse against LSU, ceased his pernicious treatment of color commentary long enough to acknowledge the strange dichotomy.
It's not entirely accurate, however, to pin the convenient "road woes" tag on this team. Do they play poorly away from home? Sure. But the Hogs have also not been unassailable in Fayetteville, and have in fact shown that they are capable of better results on the road.
The Razorbacks put up a competent effort in Tuscaloosa on January 28, but Alabama scored 18 of the game's final 28 points to win by six. The Hogs got 30 points from starting sophomore guards Scott and Mardracus Wade, and freshman BJ Young had an 11-point, six-rebound, four-steal showing in relief. They hit six three-pointers, made 71 percent of their free throws and had a modest +1 turnover margin. By no means was it a commanding effort, but it didn't reach Good-God-Almighty-flip-it-over-to-"American Pickers" level, either.
That distinction would go to the Razorbacks' performance of three days prior, in which they clanged 23 of 27 total shots in the first half and ended up with a garish field goal percentage of 35.2 for the game. Not a single Razorback made half of his shots from the floor. How'd they fare on the boards, you ask? Well, they were -13 in that category in spite of all the wayward shots.
The Hogs defeated Auburn, 56-53. Go figure, huh?
It oversimplifies matters to reduce this to a common thesis about home versus road. Arkansas has certainly demonstrated a degree of comfort at playing on campus, as should be expected from a young team. This was a priority entry on Anderson's rather copious to-do list, and what the first-year coach has done to effect this sea change is nothing short of remarkable given that utter lack of personnel and experience. Keep in mind, during John Pelphrey's ill-fated final two years here, the Hogs lost a whopping 12 games in Bud Walton, to say nothing of the team's customarily paltry effort on the road. Home feels like home again, even when the Razorbacks' edge is missing during a mid-week game against a lower-tier conference foe like Auburn, and that's why Arkansas can win games on the strength of defense and transition offense alone when nothing else is clicking.
Of course, when Jeff Long met with Anderson, I am sure the conversation went like this: "Mike, we want you to come back home because we need you to capture that mystique that Bud Walton used to have. Also, while you are at it, we play pretty terrible ball on the road, so could you fix that as well? If you can just do those two things, clean up all the disciplinary stuff and go find four-star talent, we should be good. Yeah. That's really all we're looking for."
So while one wound is healing fast, a slew remain. In the Hogs' defense, and it does merit repeating, there's a bit of a credibility problem with the winless road record, namely the fact that Marshawn Powell's presence may have well spelled the difference in three or four of these defeats. In the losses at Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU (and earlier in the season, against Connecticut), Arkansas sorely needed an injection of offense at critical junctures. That is Powell's forte.
It's my hope this column is rendered moot by the time you read it. Arkansas gets another shot to shed the goose egg Wednesday at Georgia, which again finds itself trying to dig out of the rubble at 1-7 in league play. The Hogs have had a hellish recent history even against Georgia's worst teams. If they are able to cast aside psychological hurdles for a night, the schedule ahead is favorable enough for Anderson's first year to be regarded an unqualified success.
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