ANDERSON: Needs to get his squad turned around if he wants to avoid spending the off-season on the hot seat. Brian Chilson

Young basketball teams — we’ll routinely exclude those at Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and the like, which feature top-tier talent at every position — really struggle to find cohesiveness. Arkansas’s 2018-19 men’s squad is often described as the “youngest team in America” because there are no seniors and only a single scholarship upperclassman (junior forward Adrio Bailey) on the roster.

That complete lack of seasoning was plainly evident in the Hogs’ first two SEC games of the season, which could hardly be depicted as imposing ones. First, the Razorbacks had to start out on the road, where they’ve actually reversed the longstanding woes of the Stan Heath and John Pelphrey eras by being pretty salty away from home in recent years, with a trip to College Station for a duel with a rebuilding Texas A&M team.


It was, as many of these games so far have been, a maddening exercise. The Aggies have a couple of prolific talents in point guard T.J. Starks and swingman Savion Flagg, but they too have struggled to secure wins for coach Billy Kennedy, whose ’17-18 team largely underperformed all year and then stormed to the Sweet 16 after routing North Carolina in March. The game was accordingly a sloppy, back-and-forth affair in which neither squad distinguished itself: Arkansas popped home four early threes in six attempts, which of course led the Razorbacks to just keep firing at will.

For much of the game, the Hogs were terrible. They shot a woeful 37 percent from the floor, and ended up only 10 of 33 from long distance and 11 of 22 from the foul line. But Desi Sills gave them a big lift off the bench with a 14-point effort that largely allowed them to stay close in the middle portion of the game, and then Mason Jones, who had whiffed on seven straight three-point tries, banged home three of them within the final five minutes. Arkansas largely benefited from the Aggies being just as inept offensively, and in the final minutes, the long-range game’s opportune return allowed the Razorbacks to build an eight-point lead before hanging on for a 73-71 win.


That, in theory, should’ve set the table for a nice SEC home opener on Wednesday night against a Florida team that has really struggled to score. But the Gators play an admirable and disciplined brand of defensive basketball, and these Hogs have suddenly become inept in Bud Walton Arena, which is a little frightening for the long haul. Daniel Gafford scored two quick baskets to start the game and it appeared the Razorbacks were going to lean on their 6’11” wunderkind and that it would yield positive results.

Instead, and inexplicably, the Hogs reverted to what we’ll call a “slow-motion offense” and proceeded to chuck ill-advised long-range shots at will. In one of the more bizarre anomalies in program history, Jones had a career-best night with 30 points … and the rest of the team managed a pathetic 21 points total in an aggravating 57-51 loss that, at one point, appeared would be worse had it not been for a Jones-led surge late that got the Razorbacks within one possession at the two-minute mark.


I’ll go ahead and step out on a limb here and describe it as one of the worst exhibitions of basketball I’ve seen from a Razorback team in the quarter-century since they won the school’s only national title. Florida managed to win the game despite shooting only 31 percent from the field and losing the rebound battle to the normally board-averse Hogs. Why? Well, they hit 15 of 19 free throws, and Arkansas needed 26 attempts to knock down the same number. Gafford was neutralized after his early production, managing only nine points for the game. Arkansas had 16 turnovers and bricked 20 three-pointers, with Jones’ respectable 4 for 9 showing being offset by his teammates launching 17 and hitting only two.

The Razorback bench, which had been such a catalyst in the A&M win, rang up a total goose egg: zero points from the four reserves who played, which in itself is an oddity and a potential harbinger. If this team gets nothing from its reserves, all of whom are newcomers, and the starting five isn’t terribly productive, it doesn’t take a master logician to figure out where this season is headed. I’ve long felt that Mike Anderson has underperformed in his now-lengthy stay on the sidelines, but this team has some considerable talent and needs to make major adjustments, and quickly, if the head coach is going to avoid an offseason on the hot seat.