Mike Anderson's rebuilding job at Arkansas is coming along quite nicely.
In the non-conference the Razorbacks picked up some nice wins over SMU, Minnesota, and Clemson, and they had respectable losses to Cal and Gonzaga. The beginning of SEC play was disappointing with a road loss to Texas A&M, but they pushed Florida to overtime last weekend. Then on Tuesday night, this happened:
It's not Anderson's first signature win in Fayetteville, as that one came last year, but it's certainly the biggest of the current campaign. That 87-85 overtime win a couple of nights ago over Kentucky potentially signifies more than last year's relatively isolated upset over the Gators did, however.
Arkansas is in the best shape of Anderson's tenure, sitting at No. 41 in the Pomeroy ratings. The Hogs finished 132nd in 2012 and 79th in 2013, by comparison. It's possible that the fact that Arkansas has faced Pomeroy's No. 307 toughest schedule is floating the team up a bit too high, but consider last year. Through the games of January 18 of 2013, the team was No. 66 after having faced the No. 288 schedule up to that point. There was a difference between that and the final rank, but not a tremendous one.
Schedule caveats do apply here too, but the team is doing its best work in the offensive four factors as well:
Not surprisingly, this is the most balanced team of Anderson's three. While the first two were dependent on BJ Young and the second was on Marshawn Powell as well, this one has four different guys averaging double digits in points with Michael Qualls, Bobby Portis, Rashad Madden, and Alandise Harris.
So the team had a couple of good games. It played the SEC's two best teams to a draw, basically, winning an overtime game by two and losing an overtime game by two. Just what are we to make of this outfit?
It clearly is a tough team at home, as those close ones with UF and UK came in the cozy confines of Bud Walton Arena. They did, however, come directly after a loss in College Station. The team dropped two of three out in Hawaii too, making the it just 1-3 outside the Natural State. This performance continues a trend of Anderson's Arkansas teams struggling away from home. His only true road wins have come against Auburn, one in 2012 and one in 2013, and the win over Minnesota in Maui was his first neutral site victory (including the SEC Tournament).
The next couple games should tell us quite a bit more. Up next is a road tilt at Georgia on Saturday. UGA is not good by any stretch, but its upset win over Mizzou last week shows it's not a complete pushover. The following game comes a week from yesterday when the team travels to Knoxville to face KenPom's No. 23 team, Tennessee. Will the Razorbacks sweep those two? It's possible, but they really should avoid dropping both.
Anderson's rebuild is right on track, as the team is certainly in the thick of the race for making the NCAA Tournament. Its shiny new win over Kentucky will be a chip in its favor that a lot of bubble teams will be wishing they had. The Hogs can't get fitted for dancing shoes without some wins away from home, though, so that'll be something to watch from here on out.