Culminating in a first-round loss to Georgia in the SEC tournament, Arkansas basketball in 2009-10 was so disappointing that I have trouble even writing this article and reliving the season. But let us try to find a little closure.
The reasons given by this coaching staff to have hope for the future continue to be unimpressive. Then again, it’s hard to sound logical when explaining six straight losses to end the season, most to the weakest teams of the SEC.
The coaching staff has tried to remain positive, pointing to the time midway through the season when Arkansas sat atop the Western Division (a division that could send zero teams to the NCAA tournament) as an indicator of progress.
Pelphrey spoke about that achievement on Thursday, saying “We put ourselves in a position to have a chance to compete.”
At the time I wrote an article explaining that Arkansas still had much to prove, considering its five-game winning streak came mostly against the weaker side of the SEC, with no wins during that period (or even the entire year) over a Top 50 RPI program.
I said that Arkansas’ performance against Vanderbilt and Tennessee towards the end of the season would be an indicator of how far the program has come since last year. Little did I know that an 11-point loss to a winless LSU team would be an even more telling indicator.
It seems strange now that there was talk at that point of getting back to the NCAA tournament, considering that Arkansas was still unproven.
In my mind, that speculation showed the willingness of Razorback fans to support Pelphrey and hope for the best in spite of the fact that Arkansas was still unproven when it sat atop the West.
Do you, like Coach Pelphrey, choose to look at that five-game conference win streak and see a better team?
Or do you look at the worst finish in the history of Arkansas basketball and a season with no wins against Top 50 RPI opponents and see a team that has regressed from last year, when Arkansas beat No. 7 Texas and No. 4 Oklahoma?
Aside from the most important indicator of wins-losses, statistics also paint an unflattering picture of where the program is currently at. Arkansas’ scoring margin (points scored – points given up) for this year was a paltry +0.8, the same margin as last year. Half of SEC teams this year had a scoring margin that was greater than 6 points.
Arkansas’ rebounding margin fell from +1.7 last year to -2.6 this year, the second worst in the league. The percentage of three-point shots allowed remained the worst in the SEC over the past two seasons, with Arkansas giving up 37% of three-pointers both years.
Are there any reasons for optimism? It appears that no coaching changes are on the foreseeable horizon, so at this point the only thing fans have to look to is recruiting.
One can only hope that the tremendously high turnover rate over the last three years will die down so that the incoming recruiting class can really be additions to the team’s depth rather than desperate attempts to fill the holes of departing players.
With big man Mike Washington departing, adding the highly touted JUCO transfer Ricardo Ratliffe could be an absolute necessity for this program to show real improvement in John Pelphrey’s third rebuilding year.