Echoes of past Razorbacks

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.

I was around that team a lot. Huery, Marks, Whitby…those were Nolan’s recruits, through and through. They were the guys brought in to start becoming 40 Minutes of Hell. It was more like 8 minutes of Rough and 32 minutes of Soon. It took one more big recruiting class for the arrival of the athletes designed to play the system.

Maybe we are witnessing three years of crawling out of an academic hole + learning the JUCO transfer rule and now we are getting the real Anderson recruits. Doesn’t help that a kid he seemed to covet for his system bailed early, Jimmy Whitt. Would love to see what Nick Babb could have done had he hung around.

I’m scratching my head over this Brunt guy. I don’t remember him at all. I credit Mario and Lang for that team’s Inside success.
I saw Wilson, Freeman, Lang and two other guys who played in the SWC, play an AAU game in Jacksonville, FL in 1984. They were beaten by an inferior team from Miami led by future LSU star Rickey Blanton.

Funny you mention that season and that game. After calming down (a bit, still really POed) I thought of that Tulsa game. I have said before that it was that game that made me “give up” on Nolan. I said after that game (that was year 3 if I recall) that he wasn’t going to get it done and that he needed to be fired at the end of that season. While the year didn’t turn out great, it ended up being good enough that by the end of the year I had changed my opinion. Clearly I was wrong about Nolan.

Am I wrong about Mike? Was the MSU game Mike’s Tulsa? While I hope so, we will just have to wait and see.

I’m torn on what to think about those statements in bold. Is it that you just haven’t learned your lesson about giving up too early on a coach? :roll: Or should I want you to keep your stance about Mike until the end of the year, so you’ll be wrong again? I’m a bit of a gambler, so I’m overly superstitious, and I really want Mike to succeed. So, I think I’ll take the latter and then thank you when we get an NCAA bid at the end of the year.

Hopefully, this came across as “tongue in cheek” and not meant to be a jab at you Greg.

Hope it wasn’t a jab. I will say that I did try to learn from my mistake in 1988 (I think that was the year) about giving up to soon. I have used that example several times over the years, trying to talk myself and others into waiting a little longer. Just to be clear, I really don’t think Mike is going to get us where we want to be. That doesn’t mean I am calling for him to be fired. Absent a melt down for the rest of this year, I think he needs at least one more year.