By Otis Kirk
Arkansas’ baseball program is on a roll again this season with only needing two more wins to get to Omaha again.
Some have said if Dave Van Horn gets the Hogs to the College World Series a year after finishing national runner-up it will be a great feat considering how many players off that team were gone this season. The truth is he has already accomplished a great feat just getting the Hogs to this point. No matter what happens in the Super Regional this weekend this is one of Van Horn’s best coaching jobs and maybe his best.
If Arkansas can beat Ole Miss twice in Baum-Walker Stadium this weekend they will get a chance to play for the national title that barely escaped them in 2018. The Super Regional was sold out just a few hours after tickets went on sale.
Arkansas’ fans are excited about the baseball team and for good reason, but the optimism doesn’t have to stop there. Chad Morris, Eric Musselman and Mike Neighbors have the football and basketball programs in very good shape as well.
Morris and the Hogs were 2-10 in 2018 so obviously some are skeptic the program is headed in the right direction. But it is and I can say that without hesitation because I see how hard and well they are recruiting.
The program will be improved in 2019. Does that mean they will win eight or nine games? That isn’t what I define as improvement. Remember this program was two plays away from being 2-10 in 2017 as well. So I see improvement as six wins and a bowl trip. That is a reasonable expectation. I would expect 5-6 wins this fall and if they get more then that is just a bonus. Six would be nice because that would get them to a bowl game and thus allow extra practices in December.
The month of September will be very important for Morris and the Hogs. They open against Portland State on Aug. 31 and then travel to Ole Miss for a Sept. 7 game. They are back home on Sept. 14 for Colorado State and then San Jose State a week later. They end the month in Arlington against Texas A&M. If the Hogs can come out of that slate 4-1 they should be on their way to a much better season. They would still have Western Kentucky and six more SEC games to find a couple more wins to get bowl eligible.
Musselman obviously hasn’t coached a game here yet, but he has shown an aggressive approach in hiring assistant coaches and recruiting that is very impressive. He has a lot of assistants who he can help promote his program. He has an assistant who coached Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, he has one who played with Michael Jordan and he has one who coached Trae Young and Buddy Hield in college. That doesn’t even include who Musselman coached in the NBA and his various stops. He was runner-up to Greg Popovich for NBA Coach of the Year.
The staff has a lot to offer to prospects. Musselman was a very good choice by Hunter Yurachek and Jon Fagg and it will be proved in coming seasons.
Neighbors is set to begin his third season at Arkansas. The team accomplished a lot in 2018-19 by being on the verge of getting invited to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the committee chose Tennessee, a team Arkansas beat in Knoxville, and thus they had to go to the WNIT.
Regardless of that, Neighbors is the perfect coach for Arkansas’ women’s program. He has the right approach to the game and temperament to thrive in that situation. He is doing at Arkansas what he did at Washington and has a chance to take it to even a higher level with the Razorbacks.
Much like Van Horn, Morris and Musselman, Neighbors is an outstanding and relentless recruiter and it shows. No one should have expected him to get the basketball program where he did in just two years.
This column isn’t meant to slight all the other coaches at Arkansas. I have said many times I think Lance Harter is the best coach in any sport at Arkansas. He and Van Horn are up there very high and it would be a great debate which one is better. But fortunately for Arkansas fans they don’t have to worry about that they have them both.