The crowd at Bud Walton Arena on Monday night was embarrassing. The visiting coach took fans to task for it and he was absolutely right to do so.
Arkansas beat the pants off Southern Illinois, 90-65, and only an estimated crowd of 4,270 people saw it. That’s Arkansas’ liberal-with-the-numbers estimate. It looked more like 1,500.
Barry Hinson, Southern Illinois’ coach, has been to BWA before. He came in the 1990s when he coached Oral Roberts and again last decade when he was at Missouri State. He’s seen The Bud rocking and he thinks this year’s Arkansas team deserves more than what the locals gave them Monday.
“You want me to be honest? That’s not an Arkansas crowd,” Hinson said. “You guys have got to get your butts … where’s the camera? Where’s the Arkansas camera? You’ve got to get your butts back in this gym. This team deserves it. Buy your tickets and get your butts back in here, because this place is hard to win (in) when they’re calling the Hogs. And when they bring out that damn flag, man, it’s unbelievable.”
By the way, this is the same Barry Hinson who had one of the most epic rants of all time a couple years back. He says what he thinks and believes what he says.
Hinson isn’t wrong about Arkansas. He said, while getting up from his seat after the press conference, he meant it as a compliment to Arkansas basketball and Mike Anderson, who he considers as a good friend.
The issue remains with excuses out the wazoo.
Blame the calendar: “It’s November, still football season.”
Blame the economy: “Too expensive.”
Blame Anderson: “He’s underachieved.”
Blame the opponent: “Where even is Southern Illinois?”
Blame yourselves, man. Bud Walton Arena is still a first-rate place to watch basketball. And good basketball at that.
Listen, there is no doubt Arkansas hoops hasn’t been what people have wanted under Anderson. One NCAA Tournament appearance in five seasons isn’t the stuff of Nolan Richardson or Eddie Sutton. Anderson’s seat would be quite hot if the Razorbacks fail to meet expectations this season. But it isn’t hot right now. It isn’t even warm. Anderson has brought in a superb recruiting class that blends juniors and freshmen to create both a good team now and for the future.
Kurt Voigt at the Associated Press had a fantastic tweet when he saw the crowd.
— Kurt Voigt (@Kurt_Voigt_AP) November 15, 2016
Arkansas isn’t going to win the national championship this season, probably. The Hogs likely won’t even win the SEC. They will, however, finish top 3, barring something weird. They will go the NCAA Tournament and earn a quality seed. They do have the SEC Preseason Player of the Year. They have, for my money, the best shooter in the country. They have an offense that is currently dropping 91 points per game.
They just don’t have a crowd.
The last thing I want to do is make the job of David Beall, the Arkansas basketball SID, easier. I’m not the type to go all ‘rah-rah, support this team.’ But I’m saying, you’re missing out if you don’t watch. When December, January rolls around and Arkansas is a top-20 team and ESPN or SEC Network or whoever is talking about this team like it’s out of nowhere, you can tell them otherwise. You can tell them you’ve been there since (close to) the beginning.
Just don’t tell them you were at the game Monday. Nobody is going to believe that.
“When I walk in there, I want to see it packed,” Anderson said. “Obviously, we’ve gotta do our part, but I would love to see more fans in there. I think we’ve got a team that’s got a chance to be a dynamite team.”
What the future holds
On Monday, football coach Bret Bielema addressed the potential for some of his underclassmen to leave early for the NFL Draft after this season is over. Things are still awfully early — the deadline to announce is Jan. 18, still two months away — and Arkansas has three more games, including the bowl invite that it will accept.
But when is it ever too early to think about the future?
Of course, no fan or coach would prefer to lose players early to the draft, but with Arkansas it seems especially important. The Razorbacks are a team that has four of its top five wide receivers classified as seniors. Three of its top four defensive linemen are seniors. Its top linebacker also is a senior. The best cornerback on the roster is a senior. The second-best offensive lineman is one. In short, the team has a lot to replace next year.
Bielema said Monday he has had discussions with center Frank Ragnow, a potential All-American, and wide receiver Jared Cornelius, a junior wide receiver, about the possibility of their entries into the next NFL Draft. If they chose to leave early, that would leave Arkansas’ worst positional unit without its two best players — some would say it’s only two “good” players — leaving its best positional unit almost completely barren. It’s possible, too, although highly unlikely, junior quarterback Austin Allen could declare after the season is over, as well. But that’s another story in itself.
Of the 129 catches by Arkansas wide receivers this season, 127 have come from seniors. Senior tight end Jeremy Sprinkle has provided 27 of the 36 grabs at tight end, where he is a senior, as well. Coaches speak highly of Deon Stewart, D’Vone McClure and River Warnock at wide receiver, but two of those players are walk-ons, and other than Cornelius, only Stewart and La’Michael Pettway will be on the roster next year as players who own even a single catch in a game at wideout.
The offensive line’s struggles are well-documented. Arkansas is tied for 12th in the SEC in sacks allowed and the rushing offense is just 10th in the league. First-year starters Brian Wallace, Hjalte Froholdt and Johnny Gibson have had a difficult time adjusting, though pass protection has been better since the bye week. Dan Skipper, a four-year starter, won’t be back next year and if Ragnow leaves, only Colton Jackson and Jake Raulerson return with any significant playing experience. Those two players both began the year as starters but were replaced because of poor play at different times this season.
The defensive line will at least have players with experience returning. McTelvin Agim still looks like a future All-SEC type. Randy Ramsey, who is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, has been superb the last couple weeks and guys such as Tevin Beanum and Karl Roesler have starting experience.
Ultimately, it’s a team that could be pretty good if bodies are found or pretty bad if they aren’t and some of the potentials decide to exit early. And unfortunately for Arkansas, it doesn’t appear the Razorbacks will have an opportunity to see more bodies in preparation for next season any time soon.
What might that roster look like next year?
This projection is barely even qualified to be a projection. Plenty of roster spots will shift between now and next fall. Freshmen and juniors will arrive to fill gaps, though freshmen almost never start on Bielema’s teams.
For these purposes, let’s assume Ragnow and Cornelius leave but Allen stays. Here’s what the spring starting lineup might look like:
QB – Austin Allen
RB – Rawleigh Williams III, Devwah Whaley
FB – Hayden Johnson, Kendrick Jackson
WR – Deon Stewart, La’Michael Pettway
WR – Luke Rossi, D’Vone McClure
TE – Austin Cantrell, CJ O’Grady
LT – Brian Wallace
LG – Hjalte Froholdt
C – Zach Rogers
RG – Johnny Gibson
RT – Colton Jackson
DE – Tevin Beanum
DE – McTelvin Agim
DT – Bijhon Jackson
DT – Austin Capps
LB – Dre Greenlaw
LB – De’Jon Harris
CB – Ryan Pulley
CB – Henre’ Toliver
CB – Kevin Richardson
S – Santos Ramirez
S – Josh Liddell
What kind of confidence does that inspire? For the record, I see almost no way Allen leaves and a very small chance Cornelius does. Ragnow’s chances are probably quite a bit higher.
Jimmy Fallon could use some heppin!
Houston Nutt, the Arkansas football coach, is out and about enjoying the noncoaching lifestyle, apparently. He was spotted by keen-eyed observer Scott Faldon, my former boss, in the crowd at the taping of The Tonight Show, starring Jimmy Fallon, recently. Rather, someone who bore a strong resemblance to Nutt was.
Is that Houston Nutt? pic.twitter.com/WTuZYmEzox
— Scott Faldon (@ScottFaldon) November 13, 2016
The question was in the air for a good 24 hours before Nutt himself confirmed it was, in fact, him at the show.
— Houston Nutt (@CBSCoachNutt) November 14, 2016
Nutt’s name comes up now and again whenever there is a mid-level coaching vacancy, but he’s been out of the game since being fired at Ole Miss in 2011. He went 75-48 in 10 seasons (1998-2007) at Arkansas, taking the Razorbacks to bowl games in eight of those years.
A little ‘inside baseball’
There is nothing we in the sports media like complaining about more than press box food. It’s in our DNA. Maybe that’s why no one likes us — we’re paid to watch games from the comforts of press boxes and press rows and we gripe about the free food we’re given. But the last time I checked, this was America, where we complain about literally anything.
It was good to see someone at Arkansas, in jest or not, create this Twitter account to notify us “elites” what’s on the menu this year during basketball season.
Big time meal tonight in the BWA Media Room.
? Chicken Parmesan
— CaféBWA (@CafeBWA) November 14, 2016
I will say, food at Bud Walton Arena is good. Food at Baum Stadium is excellent (they give us vouchers to go get whatever we want from the concession stand). Food at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, though …
- Allen has been smacked around so many times this season, it’s no wonder he’s gotten a little more antsy lately. Our Trent Shadid goes behind the curtain on those issues.
- As first reported last week here on Breakfast, Dre Greenlaw isn’t expected back until maybe the bowl game.
- Dominique Reed’s turbulent career coming to an end at Arkansas on a low note, writes our Jason Kersey.
- Arkansas native Butch Davis, former coach at Miami (Fla.) and North Carolina, is back in college football. He was hired Monday by Florida International. This from the Miami Herald.
- The Razorbacks are looking to tone down the complexity of schemes over these final two weeks, writes Jimmy Carter at WholeHogSports.
Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas
Old buddy Chris Bahn at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has the lede of a lifetime on this story about a man who is setting up a mutual fund for marijuana, which will soon become legal for medicinal purposes in Arkansas.
Tim Taggart is, ahem, high on marijuana as a sound financial investment.