LITTLE ROCK — Originally dismissed in kind, a cryptic suggestion for Mike Anderson was reconsidered while dozens of strangers performed solos in a dance competition.
A former co-worker who follows the Razorbacks and thoroughbred racing from afar sent an e-mail wondering if Anderson would get five of his players to raise their hand if he asked who believed they could beat Auburn on the road tonight.
The e-mail back: "Good idea," was followed by a tongue-in-cheek promise to call Anderson.
On the umpteenth back and forth of the Summit Arena concourse in Hot Springs, the splendid collection of photos — Elvis, Cash, Ruth, Oaklawn, presidents, governors — became part of the landscape and there was time to kill waiting for solo No. 407 at 10 p.m. Sunday. Some of the music for performers early in the evening was familiar, but the covers of hits by Peter, Paul, and Mary, The Big Bopper, Janis Joplin, and Little Eva didn’t keep my attention and I thought about my friend’s original message.
In a roundabout way, he is on to something. Strange as it sounds at first, the Razorbacks would have been better served last week if they had lost to then-No. 2 Florida and beaten Vanderbilt in Nashville.
The 80-69 over the Gators was a nice spike to the season, but there was no carryover. Shooting 49 percent from the field, including seven of the first nine 3s, is not going to happen every game. At Vanderbilt, Arkansas made less than one of every three shots.
Even before Arkansas reached 0-5 on the road in the SEC, experts wrote off the W in Fayetteville as one of those fluky things that occurs occasionally when a Top 10 team is away from home.
In fact, 24 hours after the Florida game, TCU won its first-ever Big 12 contest, beating then-No. 5 Kansas. For inquisitive minds, the Jayhawks shot less than 30 percent and missed 19-of-22 3s.
The W-L week left Arkansas fans doubting; L-W and they would be anticipating another road victory tonight.
There is no quick and easy fix to the road woes. Simply, it’s the chicken and egg thing — they must win on the road to learn how to win on the road. If the Razorbacks had prevailed on the stage in Nashville, they would have something to fall back on when something goes wrong at Auburn … and it will.
As is often the case, the personal reference point comes from golf. You can put the ball back in your stance, weight forward, and hit the low, running chip shot close to the hole hundreds of times on the practice green, but until you do it for a gimme par on the 18th hole with a $1 at stake, there is no reference point. Been there, done that breeds confidence.
Concerning postseason play, Arkansas’ position is unchanged after another week of treading water.
Arkansas can still get to 9-9 in the SEC, good enough for an invite to the NIT and a sign of progress in Mike Anderson’s second year. Last year, four of the SEC’s 12 teams made it to the NCAA Tournament and four others played in the NIT. Expansion of the league to 14 teams will mean at least eight and maybe nine will be in the NCAA or the NIT.
With four weeks of conference play, at Auburn and home against Missouri is Arkansas’ best chance for 2-0 and the Razorbacks need an undefeated week because defending home court against Kentucky will be difficult. Auburn is 3-7 in the league and Missouri is 0-4 on the road with a must-win at Mississippi State tonight. The Razorbacks will not win at Florida next week and will be hard-pressed to break through on the road at Baton Rouge or Columbia, Mo.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.