By Cody Mroczka
Mike Anderson, shown on the court in 2009, coached the men’s basketball team for five years. (Photo by JJ Stankevitz)
COLUMBIA – Mike Anderson’s presence is still felt at Missouri.
The former Missouri and current Arkansas coach spent from 2006 to 2011 on the Tigers’ bench restoring the program to national prominence.
His presence is felt when peering up at the 2009 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight banner hanging from the rafters at Mizzou Arena. In Anderson’s third year with the team, he took the Tigers as far into the postseason as any coach who came before him.
It can be felt when the student section roars as the team steps onto Norm Stewart Court on game nights.
Anderson never suffered a losing season at Missouri and developed a reputation for protecting the home court. That sentiment still resides with the current players dressed in black and gold.
Nowadays, Anderson’s presence is felt most at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark., where the Tigers (15-4 Southeastern Conference 3-3) will play tonight. The arena that seats more than 19,000 people can be one of the most hostile environments in all of college basketball. The Razorbacks (13-6 SEC 2-4) have lost only five games at home since Anderson took over in 2011. They have won 45 games in his two plus seasons.
“I see a very athletic group of guys who play hard,” Haith said of Arkansas after Monday’s practice. “Their pressure is something we have to be concerned with.”
Talk about pressure, Missouri has never won in Bud Walton Arena. The Tigers are 0-6 all time in Fayetteville, including a heart-breaking 73-71 loss last season.
Arkansas likes to apply pressure by pressing the ball on defense and forcing a fast-paced tempo on offense. Teams who have difficulties handling the ball tend to turn the ball over and create fast break opportunities for a team that thrives running the floor.
The Razorbacks are a very balanced scoring team with three players averaging double-digit points. Freshmen Bobby Portis, a 6-foot-10 Little Rock, Ark., native, will pose a challenge for Missouri big men Ryan Rosburg and Johnathan Williams in the post. The former McDonald’s All-American and highly touted recruit is averaging nearly 12 points a game and 6.6 rebounds for the Razorbacks in his first collegiate season.
This game also marks the beginning of the Tigers’ toughest portion of their schedule. After Arkansas, Missouri will host No. 11 Kentucky before traveling to No. 3 Florida and Ole Miss. Following those games the Tigers will host Arkansas and Tennessee.
Haith downplayed the significance of the upcoming games and assured his team was only focused on the tough test Tuesday night. He acknowledged the importance of winning conference games on the road.
“I’m just concerned about Arkansas,” Haith said. “They play physical in their building, they play one step faster in their building, as most teams do.”
Missouri appears to be up to the challenge, coming off a victory over South Carolina that was not nearly as close as the 82-74 score would indicate. However, both of the Tigers’ conference road losses this season have been preceded by a win over an inferior conference opponent. A win at Arkansas can provide the Tigers with a great deal of confidence heading into matchups against the top three teams in the SEC. It’s also a chance for the Tigers to add a quality win to an NCAA Tournament resume that needs three or four more.
During his weekly teleconference on Monday, Anderson said today’s game should be less emotional than last season’s highly contested game at Arkansas.
“The emotional part of it also was I had some former players there,” Anderson said. “But those guys have moved on.”
A win over a former coach at an arena where its never been done would help Missouri fans move on, too.