Arkansas’s ups and downs this season remind me of another season, with a different coach, long ago.
The 1987-88 Razorbacks finished with a 21-9 record, 9-2 in nonconference, 11-5 in the Southwest Conference regular season, 1-1 in the SWC tournament, 0-1 in the NCAA tournament.
Nonconference losses were at Tulsa (68-47, a hideous game) and at Maryland (88-61). That team lacked something that kept it from being a serious contender.
Arkansas began the season 16-3 but finished 5-6. Other losses:
At Texas A&M (16-15) 74-67.
At Texas (16-13) 79-72.
SMU (28-7) 73-63.
At Baylor (23-11) 59-57.
At Houston (18-13) 82-77.
Vs. Baylor 74-73 (SWCT).
Vs. Villanova (24-13) 82-74 (NCAAT).
The Villanova game was a matchup against Rollie Massimino, who had come close to being Arkansas’s coach before he backed off, leaving the job for Nolan Richardson (and thankfully, not Bob Donewald or an Iba).
Losing to SMU at Fayetteville was not a surprise, as the Mustangs went on to be SWC champions. It also was a revenge game. In Dallas, Arkansas trailed by 22 points with 16 minutes to play, rallied to force overtime and won. Chris Brunt (who?) scored 23 points for Arkansas in that game.
The Razorbacks used many different starting lineups, as Richardson struggled to find units that blended well. Nine different players started at least one game.
One player got 30 minutes per game, sophomore G-F Ron Huery. Given 23-25 minutes: senior C Andrew Lang, senior G Allie Freeman, senior G Tim Scott, sophomore F Mario Credit. The top reserve, with 20 minutes per game, was junior college transfer G Keith Wilson.
Other regulars were freshman F Larry Marks and senior F Stephan Moore. Freshman G Cannon Whitby played in most games in an instant-offense rule. G Brunt played in 21 games - I don’t remember what happened to him. Apparently he did not finish the season.
Among Richardson’s Arkansas teams, that one was unique. It depended heavily on field goal % defense and rebounding, was unable to play good pressure defense. Instead, the Razorbacks depended on outscoring opponents in the paint. The team’s chief vulnerability was on the perimeter, allowing 40% 3-point shooting.
Richardson adapted to the limitations of his team, and the result was a 21-win season, a tie for second in the SWC, and a trip to the NCAAT.
This season’s team is similar to the 1987-88 Hogs - shotblocking, defending the paint, modest turnover margin, weakness in perimeter defense, good outside shooting but a paucity of shots. Also a similar W-L record around mid-January.
If this season’s Razorbacks could pull off a 12-6 conference record, they probably would make it to the NCAAT like Richardson’s third team did. That would require an 11-3 finish and some road wins that would be a surprise (perhaps Texas A&M and Vanderbilt). Winning at least one game in the SEC Tournament also is a must.