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Coach sees progress for Arkansas, even without end to NCAA tournament drought

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FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Mike Anderson hasn't enjoyed visiting the coaches' convention at the Final Four lately.

The third-year Razorbacks coach became accustomed to coaching on Final Four weekends during his 17-year tenure as an assistant at Arkansas. But the Razorbacks haven't made the semifinals since finishing national runner-up in 1995.

Arkansas has failed to make the NCAA tournament at all since 2008, the longest streak at the school since the 1970s. It's a stark contrast from the Arkansas that led the nation in wins from 1990-96 and won the national championship 20 years ago this week.

"It doesn't seem like it was that long ago, but it has been quite a while ago," Anderson said Wednesday. "For me, personally, it makes me want to get back there. That's all it does. When I go to the Final Four, I don't really enjoy it like a lot of guys enjoy it, because as a coach, I'm used to being in it. Therefore, I'm going to spend my time working to get back there."

Arkansas has shown improvement in each of Anderson's seasons, increasing its win total from 18 to 19 last season and finishing 22-12 this year. The Razorbacks did make the postseason this year, beating Indiana State by 20 points before a 75-64 loss to California in the second round of the NIT.

Any postseason is an improvement, Anderson said, for a program that hadn't been there in six years.

"This time of year you want to still be playing and of course as you can see we are not, but one of the things we talked about coming from last year was improve upon what we did the previous year," Anderson said, "and when you look at our record and how our team played, and how our kids competed at a high level, I thought there was significant improvement. Based on the guys returning I think we have a great core coming back and recruiting, which is the lifeblood of any program, we feel we are going to have the opportunity to address some of the needs and that is our perimeter play has to continue to get better."

Arkansas loses five seniors from this year's team, most notably Coty Clarke, who averaged 9.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. The Razorbacks return their three leading scorers: Ky Madden (12.7 points per game), Bobby Portis (12.3) and Michael Qualls (11.6).

Next season will have a different feeling that last year, when the Razorbacks had to replace their two leading scorers.

"Coming in there were a lot of unknowns," Anderson said. "We didn't have a double-figure scorer coming in and so for this team - you've got to remember this team led the league in scoring. There was a lot more balance on our basketball team and I see the same next year."

Arkansas' returning players should be able to build off momentum started this year. The Razorbacks twice beat Kentucky and lost to the SEC's other Final Four participant Florida by two points in overtime, and had notable nonconference wins against SMU, Minnesota and Clemson. Arkansas also won three road games after combining to win two total in Anderson's first two seasons.

A late-season collapse left the Razorbacks with a familiar bitter taste in their mouths. Arkansas lost by 25 at Alabama in the regular season finale to snap a six-game win streak and then by two points to South Carolina in its first game at the SEC tournament.

"We want to build on what has taken place so be hungry and be humble, but we want to continue to roll up our sleeves," Anderson said. "If you get comfortable in this position or as a basketball player, when you start doing that, that is when you are subject to fail."

Anderson said it's too early to tell whether there will be changes on his staff or any players transfer. Anderson hasn't made a change to his assistant coaching staff since 2006 while at Missouri.

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