Before the Syracuse Orange tip-off against the Arkansas Razorbacks tonight, I wanted to get some insight into our opponent, their fans and what we can expect. And so I turned to Trent at Arkansas Expats for the inside info. Below are my questions and his answers...
I was a child of the 90's and back then, Arkansas and Final Four went hand-in-hand. How do Arkansas fans deal with the drop-off of success since then and is there an expectation to get back there?
It has been difficult. Razorback basketball will always enjoy tremendous support when compared to most other programs across the country, but the past decade that the Hogs have spent lost in the wilderness has certainly taken its toll. Despite the excitement that has come with the 2011 hiring of Mike Anderson, Arkansas finished last season with an average home attendance of 13,509, by far the lowest in the history of 17-season history of Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas fans have dealt with it largely by turning their attention to thriving football and baseball programs which have picked up the slack left by roundball. Make no mistake, though, a very significant portion of the fan base view Arkansas as a "basketball school", and the prolonged impotence of the program is embarrassing and unacceptable. The expectation to return to prominence is not only present, but its urgency is palpable.
The John Pelphrey Era didn't exactly end as well as it started. How do you feel about the Mike Anderson Era so far?
Honestly, it's just too early to call. The hiring of Mike Anderson sets the stage very well for the fairy tale movie ending. The favorite son has been called home and he is recruiting the right players and saying the right things and coaching the right ways. The style of play that Arkansas is known for has returned to Fayetteville. All we are waiting for are the wins. I'm rooting like hell for the guy, because it really would be a fantastic story.
How do I feel about the Mike Anderson Era? One season in and easing into a second, I'm very high on what Anderson is building. Very optimistic about the future of Razorback basketball.
A deadly three-point shooter can be the Achilles heel of the 2-3 zone. Who does Syracuse need to keep an eye on for their potential hot hand?
Junior Mardracus Wade is the Razorbacks' most skilled shooter, recently appearing on several lists compiling the nation's best shooters. Wade is a great shooter, but the best part of his game might be his discerning shot selection. He simply does not take bad shots, and this is one reason he is so efficient behind the arc.
In addition to Wade, two more to watch are sophomore B.J. Young and freshman Anthlon Bell. Bell is a youngster with a pure stroke and great range, while Young is a scorer who will fill it up from everywhere on the court if he finds a rhythm.
If Arkansas is going to win this game, what three things need to happen?
Arkansas' chance to win goes up with the tempo of the game. The Hogs need to decrease the value of everything that they don't do as well as Syracuse. This means reducing the value of half-court possessions by increasing the number of fast-break possessions. Also, reducing the value of rebounds by increasing the number of turnovers they create.
Arkansas also MUST convert in transition. The Razorbacks will have their opportunities to run. They always do. The problem last season and so far this season has often been running with enough restraint to get the ball in the basket when the Hogs do create some chaos. I've never seen as many missed layups and dunks as I watched during the 2011-2012 season.
Finally, Arkansas must get Bud Walton rocking, and keep it that way. When things are going well, there is no more hostile atmosphere than Bud Walton Arena. If the Razorbacks can get the crowd energized early, they will be able to feed off of it throughout the game. It sounds cliche, but there really is something special about that building when the Hogs are making a run. Arkansas absolutely cannot afford to go prolonged stretches without baskets. This has been a huge issue in recent seasons. Arkansas simply isn't good enough to overcome a cold spell.
For any Syracuse fans going to the game, what should they expect? Where should they go before and after the game?
Arkansas fans are loud and proud, but also extremely cordial. Syracuse fans visiting Bud Walton can expect close to a full house, if not an outright sellout, and the crowd should certainly be into the game with the Orange being so highly regarded. Probably the one thing most likely to leave a lasting impression with visiting fans is seeing 19,000 strong "stand up and call those Hogs" with fervor after an opponent has called timeout to stilt a Razorback run. It's a sight to behold.
As far as pregame and postgame, Dickson Street is the alpha and omega. Dickson is the stretch of bars and restaurants located just off campus, due east of Bud Walton Arena. It's where students paraded the goal posts they took from Razorback Stadium following the Hogs football victory over Tennessee in 1999, and also the site of the unofficial largest party ever in the State of Arkansas following the Razorbacks 1994 National Championship victory over Duke. Win or lose, Razorback fans will head there in droves, and fans of Syracuse would be well-advised to follow suit. Being on Dickson is a great time.
Game prediction and thoughts on the season ahead?
I'm not sure the Razorbacks have enough chemistry and leadership this early in the season to put together a 40-minute effort at a level high enough to beat a team like Syracuse, but I certainly expect the effort to be there. I suspect that the Hogs will go through a dry spell shooting at some point in the game, and the timing of this is likely to dictate the final score. If it comes early, things could get ugly for the Hogs. If it comes late, however, or not at all, this is certainly a game that could go down to the final possessions. I'll say Syracuse prevails 76-66.
As far as the season goes, I have scaled back my original expectations for this squad based on their abysmal performance in Las Vegas, but I have only scaled them back slightly. I think making The Dance is a reasonable expectation for this team, and any appearance (as any seed) should be viewed as a great accomplishment. Anything less than that and the grading gets a little more difficult.
Thanks for having me and Woo Pig Sooie!
Thanks for taking the time, Trent. Follow the Hogs over at Arkansas Expats.