FAYETTEVILLE — Mike Anderson didn’t want to be in the Bud Walton Arena interview room Friday morning. Arkansas’ coach had bigger plans this week.
He had hoped his second season with the Razorbacks would include an NCAA Tournament berth. He would’ve been pleased to have the National Invitation Tournament as a consolation prize, too, if the NCAA field wasn’t possible.
But after missing out on the postseason altogether, Anderson wanted to make something clear as he began his season-ending press conference.
“I don’t plan on being here at this time next year,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to just get to the dance, but we want to dance once we get there.”
Anderson, who put a wrap on the 2012-13 season more than a week after it ended with an SEC Tournament loss to Vanderbilt, said preparation for making sure Arkansas returned to the postseason conversation was already underway.
He believed the Razorbacks took several steps in the right direction during a 19-13 season, producing highlight wins against Florida, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky in Bud Walton Arena. But Anderson still deemed the year a disappointment because Arkansas failed to snap its lengthy postseason drought.
Arkansas hasn’t played in a postseason tournament since 2008. The Razorbacks watched while six conference teams (Florida, Missouri and Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament; Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee in the NIT) have played games.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t get a call,” Anderson said of the NIT. “Normally you get a call. I just thought with the schedule we played, with the teams we beat, the teams we played … It was just disappointing. I thought our guys were more than worthy of it. I thought it could be a good building block for our basketball team.”
The Razorbacks can blame their struggles on the road for the postseason snub.
It’s well-known Arkansas was nearly unbeatable at home, registering a 17-1 mark in Fayetteville. The home win total equaled the program’s highest in Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks also went undefeated at home in conference play for the fourth time in school history and first since 1997-98.
But the road was a frustrating story. Arkansas finished 1-12 outside the state this season with the only win coming against last-place Auburn.
“At home it just seemed like we were a different basketball team,” said Anderson, who is 34-4 in BWA and 3-23 elsewhere in his two years with the Hogs. “We defended, we challenged, we had the game in the likings of what we wanted. But when we went elsewhere — whether it be neutral or on the road — we didn’t bring that same energy. And that’s the next step, that’s the process I am talking about.”
Anderson said Arkansas’ biggest problems on the road were easy to define.
The Razorbacks lacked toughness as a group when it left home. He said Arkansas — which didn’t have a senior on the roster — was missing leadership as well. When things went wrong, there was no one on the floor to snap Arkansas out of it.
Arkansas freshman Michael Qualls referenced it after the SEC Tournament loss.
“You’ve got to have heart,” Qualls said. “Everybody who plays on the team has to have heart. We’ve got to come together. We’re all we got. I think other teams that we played were just better teams, just had better teammates on the team. Everybody has to give the same team effort. We’ve got to be brothers on the court.”
Anderson said those areas — among others — will be addressed in the offseason.
The Razorbacks are waiting to find out if guard BJ Young or forward Marshawn Powell will return to the program next season. Arkansas has signed forwards Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley to help the frontcourt. The Razorbacks also will have forward Alandise Harris, who had to sit out the 2012-13 season after transferring from Houston, available to help toughen up Arkansas in the frontcourt.
Arkansas also must get better play in the backcourt from veterans like Mardracus Wade, Rickey Scott and Ky Madden. The Razorbacks are looking for a strong point guard and could turn to Madden to handle those duties after a strong end to the season. No matter who runs the point, Anderson said someone must run the team.
“In order to win on the road, man, you’ve got to have leadership, you’ve got to have toughness, you’ve got to have somebody out there that can pull them together when adversity takes place and we didn’t have that guy,” Anderson said.
“A coach can only do so much sitting on the bench. It’s got to take place on the floor with your players. They’ve got to believe and trust in one another. … (Next) year I think you’ll see a little difference in our team just from an experience standpoint.”
Anderson believes the depth will be even more improved, too, after newcomers like Qualls, forward Coty Clarke, guard Anthlon Bell and forward Jacorey Williams gained experience. Walk-on guards Kikko Haydar and Fred Gulley return as well.
So he said “everything is wide open” as Arkansas aims to get back in the postseason.
“It should be super, super competition for minutes (next) year,” Anderson said Friday. “This year, a lot of guys were the recipient of some playing time sometimes by default. But there’s going to be serious competition.
“I’ve got more guys now that understand what we’re trying to do. Knowing that we’ve got to become better defensively and we want to play a certain style of basketball. And that certain style is winning basketball.”