Arkansas Basketball is at a Crossroads

The Arkansas basketball program has officially hit a crossroads with the end of the 2016 season. Fans are divided about whether or not a 16-16 season is justified for the program. As the arguments continue to flame up, one thing has become clear with all fans: 2017 is a make or break season for Mike Anderson.

We’ve heard all the arguments before. In fact, I have already published an article about the arguments. The two camps that have formed in the wake of the 2016 season each have valid points about the state of the program.

One side says Mike is a good coach that has done a good job rebuilding the program. He lost five 1000 point career scorers off of last year’s team, and was picked to finish 11th in the sec this year. Instead, the Hogs had a shot to finish as high as 5th, and lost 8 of those 16 games by 10 points or less.

The individual player development was also noticeable, particularly from Moses Kingsley. The junior post player was potentially the most improved player in the nation, going from a 3 points per game average to 15.9 points and 9 rebounds a game, and being second team All-SEC.

Of course, the individual development and the close losses don’t change the fact that they were, in fact, losses. And that Arkansas basketball finished 8th in the terrible SEC, and will not be going to the postseason for the 3rd time in Mike Anderson’s 5 years.

Breaking News: YOU’RE BOTH RIGHT! Turns out that life is not all black and white. It’s totally possible to look at the 2016 season as either a better performance than you expected, or a disappointing season from a 5th year coach. And, you can both still be fans of the team! Fandom isn’t defined by positivity or negated by criticism. Fandom is defined by passion. Sometimes, passion can lead to sadness, but that doesn’t make you any less of a fan. It just makes you more susceptible to bourbon.

So can we stop with the “True Fan” arguments, please? We get them after every loss or every critical article. Someone on Facebook saying that they expect the program to be better doesn’t make them a bad fan. And someone penning an article about the troubles with the basketball program doesn’t make them a hater or a hack. For crying out loud, the site is called RAZORBACKERS DOT COM.

Over the course of this season, the message boards and water cooler conversations have grown more and more divisive. The reason for that being that both the positive Polly’s and the negative Nancy’s all see what’s coming on the horizon for the Arkansas basketball program: The Crossroads.

The Arkansas Razorbacks are bringing in their second top 25 class of Mike Anderson’s time in Fayetteville. The class is comprised of three JUCO standouts and 1 high school star from Louisiana. Jaylen Barford is the #2 JUCO player in the nation. Daryl Macon is the #3 JUCO player in the nation. Arlando Cook is the #5 JUCO player in the nation. Joining them will be Adrio Bailey, a 3 star SF from Louisiana.

Feb 23, 2016; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks guard Jimmy Whitt (24) goes in for a layup in the first half of a game with the LSU Tigers at Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks won 85-65. Mandatory Credit: Gunnar Rathbun-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to see why fans are getting excited for 2017. It’s also easy to see why this season is so Crossroads-ish for Mike Anderson and the Hogs. The Razorbacks will be bringing back pretty much everyone except Anthlon Bell and Jabril Durham from this 16-16 team. At least, that’s what fans are hoping for.

There’s no doubt that the call of professional basketball is being heard by Moses Kingsley. While he hasn’t been on any of the NBA draft prediction boards, he also is just now starting to be talked about as a possible entry into this year’s draft. If Anderson can keep Kingsely on board for his senior year, then fans should expect a pretty good team in Fayetteville in 2017.

If Kingsley DOES leave, however, then that would add more fuel to the negativity fire that is already burning across the fan base. Lets just hope that he decides to stay to improve his draft stock, like Perry Ellis did at Kansas. It worked out well for Ellis, and I would imagine it would work out well for Kingsley as well.

With Moses coming back, along with Anton Beard, Dusty Hannahs, Jimmy Whitt, and Trey Thompson, the addition of these JUCO players could mean that Arkansas could have some legit hype surrounding the team heading into 2017. That hype must be met, though, with wins on the road and postseason play. Because if Arkansas comes into next season with all this talent, and ends up in the NIT or at home in March again, then I just don’t see how Mike Anderson could keep his job.

Well…um…that kind of changes things a little, I suppose. But don’t forget what the Arkansas athletic director said immediately after that statement.

Long isn’t wrong. The APR issues definitely put a limit on who and how Anderson could get out there and recruit. And by saying he thinks we’ll be in the NCAA tournament next year, Long set the same expectation for the program that I have. I want to be in the tournament more than we aren’t, and I don’t want to finish so damn low in the SEC. 

The 80s and 90s are over. If Arkansas wants to get back on top of the mountain, then it’s time to start recruiting and planning like it. 2016 seems like a step in the right direction for the program. But we won’t truly know until around February of 2017, when we see the destination at the end of the road.