FAYETTEVILLE – On the same Saturday night Arkansas Razorbacks fans from their homes could hear their new coach triumph and see their old coach triumph.
No ill reflection at all on Mike Anderson. But it was far more enjoyable Saturday in Fayetteville listening on radio as coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks overcame the Valparaiso Crusaders, 72-68 at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock than later watching Anderson’s St. John’s Red Storm defeat the Arizona Wildcats, 70-67 as part of the Al Attles Classic at the Chase Center in San Francisco.
The corresponding enjoyment vs. frustration would have been reversed had St. John’s vs. Arizona been radio only graced by Chuck Barrett and Matt Zimmerman at the mikes actually describing the game.
For much of the stay at home Arkansas vs. Valpo audience, Chuck and Matt on radio only presumably would beat TV colorman Bill Walton wandering through anything and everything but the game.
Seems even the St. John’s vs. Arizona video was ESPN2 directed to focus on Walton about as much as the game. Especially at the outset of the second half with cameras riveted on Walton either filibustering off the wall observations or interviewing Attles while presumably the game went on with the play-by-play announcer mute.
Anyhow for those Arkansans appreciating Anderson’s contributions past and Musselman’s contributions present bearing promise for Hogs futures, it was a night to see both succeed and wish both well.
Anderson’s 17 Arkansas years assisting Nolan Richardson manifested in him receiving the only opposing coach Walton Arena standing ovation when he brought his 2007 Missouri Tigers to Fayetteville. He received another one unannounced walking among the 40 of Richardson’s former players and staffs to the unveiling of Walton’s Nolan Richardson Court on Oct. 20 after he had been Arkansas dismissed and moved on to St. John’s.
Anderson had eight good but not great years coaching the Hogs. An administration and fan base yearning to recapture the conference championships and national, championship of the Richardson era believed the Hogs could do better.
Maybe they can given Musselman’s 10-1 nonconference start.
Maybe St. John’s can, too, easing out as coach its best all-time player, Chris Mullin, and reenergized by Anderson’s 11-2 nonconference start including over nationally ranked West Virginia and Arizona.
Anderson’s 40 minutes of hell style enthuses the Red Storm just as Musselman’s emphasis on fundamentals, and man to man defense and scouting reports enthuses Arkansas.
Both appear fitting in the right places at the right time.
Both, though, face tough times ahead. Anderson starts his rugged Big East schedule on New Year’s Eve vs. Butler.
Musselman faces a last major nonconference hurdle Sunday against the Big Ten’s 11-1 Indiana Hoosiers at their fabled Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
Tip-off Sunday is 5 p.m. on the Big Ten Network. Arkansas’ rugged SEC schedule commences Jan. 4 hosting Texas A&M at Walton.
Given a roster long on guards’ quality but short on height and even shorter on depth, Musselman’s style seems to fit what he inherits more than it would the coach bequeathing it.
These few Hogs would be hard-pressed constantly to press like Anderson prefers and not succumb to fatigue and foul trouble.
So far Musselman has been able principally to rely on seven players. Six, alternating centers Adrio Bailey and Reggie Chaney, the only 6-6 and 6-8, and guards Mason Jones, Isaiah Joe, Desi Sills and Jalen Harris, Musselman inherited. Ironically the lone signee Musselman has been able to rely upon, graduate transfer guard Jimmy Whitt of SMU, originally was an Anderson Razorbacks freshman.
All have played major parts in the 10-1 start.
Against Valpo to win a game Arkansas trailed, 59-51 with 7:27 left and 65-62 with 2:49, it came down to two Jones threes to take a lead and a big Bailey shot-block of Valpo leading scorer Javon Freeman-Liberty’s would-have been dunk to to preserve it.
“I thought Adrio Bailey’s block on Freeman-Liberty’s dribble drive to the cup really saved the game for us,” Musselman said.
Whitt, whose steal set up a key Jones three, and whose defense compelled Freeman-Liberty taking 21 shots and hit just seven scoring his 21 points, got rescued by Bailey’s shot block.
“When I saw Jimmy got beat, it was me, him and the rim, and he had to meet me there,” Bailey said. “I was either getting dunked on, or that’s my block.”
It was Bailey’s block. And it started a big holiday night for Arkansas’ coaches of Christmas present and Christmases past.