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Can an experienced backcourt help Arkansas overcome front court questions?

Previewing the #10 team in the SEC, the Arkansas Razorbacks.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Arkansas vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Arkansas Preview

#10 Arkansas Razorbacks

Last Season: 26-10 (12 - 6 in conference) #35 kenpom

My Prediction: 19 - 11 (8 - 10, 10th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 8.9 - 9.1 (8th in conference)

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Arkansas vs North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Mike Anderson | seventh season 128-74

It’s pretty easy to say Razorback fans expected a more than just two NCAA appearances in the first six seasons when they hired Mike Anderson away from Missouri in 2011. Anderson’s previous stops had yielded much more sudden and sustained success in making the tournament three times in four years at UAB, and three times in five years at Mizzou, so two out of six is a disappointment. Entering into last season, with only one appearance in the first five seasons, Anderson’s seat was starting to get pretty warm.

The seat for Anderson got awfully cool the way the Razorbacks ran through the end of their schedule coupled with their near upset of eventual champion North Carolina Tarheels. At one point the Hogs were 17-7 and struggling in conference play, after a very soft non-conference schedule. A 6-1 record to finish the season, plus a couple wins in the SEC tournament solidified Anderson’s position. Still, after six seasons and just two NCAA appearances and no sweet 16 appearances, the tide could turn quickly.

Seat Temp: COOL

2017 10 year look Arkansas

One of the reasons the SEC has struggled with perception over the last few years has been the struggles of its elite programs, Arkansas being one of them. How close is Mike Anderson to having the Razorbacks back to regularly competing for and making NCAA tournaments? We’ll find out this year.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Jaylen Barford graduation 35 77.31% 22.28% 19.64% 22.25%
Daryl Macon graduation 35 76.47% 20.82% 24.70% 20.39%
Anton Beard graduation 35 74.28% 11.74% 16.05% 13.97%
C.J. Jones transfer 35 36.68% 7.88% 4.71% 8.17%
Darious Hall transfer 35 36.68% 6.28% 3.06% 6.45%
Dustin Thomas graduation 26 35.34% 4.65% 3.81% 4.54%
Trey Thomas graduation 35 44.45% 4.15% 6.39% 4.15%
Arlando Cook graduation 28 20.64% 1.77% 1.59% 2.09%
J.T. Plummer* graduation 6 0.08 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
81.97% 79.57% 79.95% 82.01%

From a numbers standpoint the Hogs didn’t lose a whole lot, but they lost their top outside sniper and leading scorer in Dusty Hannahs, and their only trustworthy big in Moses Kingsley. Hannahs was an incredible shooter who took a little bit of a backseat to the more ball-dominant guards on Arkansas roster last season. Kingsley turned into one of the most consistent performers on the interior, averaging over 12 points and nearly eight rebounds per game. And while Watkins wasn’t the most dynamic players on the roster he was a big contributor in so many ways, as evidenced by a offensive value better than Moses Kinsley, despite not being a guy who is relied upon as a ball handler. Watkins was the son of Arkansas Assistant Coach Melvin Watkins, thus also being an exceptionally smart player whose value will be missed. Brachen Hazen transferred after not seeing the floor much as a freshmen, so his leaving isn’t a big surprise.

AND, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Daniel Gafford SO POST 35 55.83% 14.65% 74.09% 8.26%
Adrio Bailey JR CF 31 31.02% 4.47% 60.10% 3.21%
Jonathan Holmes JR CG 11 1.27% 0.53% 43.05% 0.27%
Gabe Osabuohien SO CF 20 9.61% 0.78% 37.41% 0.64%
Khalil Garland R-FR CG REDSHIRT
Jalen Harris JR PG TRANSFER
19.55% 20.43% 62.63% 12.38%
NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Daryl Macon | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD

Apart of a heralded group of Junior College transfers, Macon quickly asserted himself in the lineup. Macon is capable of playing the point guard spot as well as off the ball, which helped alleviate pressure on Anton Beard and Dusty Hannahs. But Macon is a shot maker and is best utilized as an the offensive weapon he is. Macon is capable of going off for 30 points as he did against Ole Miss, but Arkansas can’t have him disappearing like he did against Oklahoma State when he failed to score. The more consistent Macon is, the more dangerous the Hogs become.

Arkansas returns a lot and the versatility of Macon is important because there isn’t a ton of depth at Point Guard, but the likely starter at the position is Anton Beard, who is now entering his senior year despite what seems like approximately 17 years in Fayetteville. Beard is a consistent playmaker who minutes and points dipped a bit with more consistent players around him, but Beard will still likely be the primary ball handler this season. Depth on the wing shouldn’t be an issue as C.J. Jones and Adrio Bailey, both sophomores whose playing time varied dramatically during the season, more consistent peformances from both could be helpful. Meanwhile Mike Anderson will be relying on Trey Thompson to play in the post. Thompson has been able to play a backup role behind Kingsley for a few years but now the Hogs need a steady big man. Mainly because aside from Thompson, both Dustin Thomas and Arlando Cook are capable of playing inside but neither will be confused with beefy post players and are more comfortable away from the basket. Cook’s status is still on hold as he’s indefinitely suspended due to an arrest following an alleged first degree assault.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Kentucky vs Arkansas Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Jaylen Barford | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD

If C.J. Jones and Adrio Bailey have a hard time finding minutes, it will be because Jaylen Barford is having a breakout year. Barford didn’t exactly blow people away out of the gate but found his stride later in the year and really led the charge for the Hogs down the stretch. He provided about 15 points per contest in the SEC tournament and dropped 20 on Seton Hall in the NCAA tournament. If Barford is the player he was late Arkansas will again contend for an NCAA bid and be a threat in the SEC.

THEN, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Daniel Gafford 6'11 234 ★★★★ 39 POST
Fr Khalil Garland 6'5 198 ★★★ 172 WING
Fr Darious Hall 6'6 210 ★★★ 294 WING
Fr Gabe Osabuohien 6'7 219 ★★★ 316 WING
So Jalen Harris 6'2 164 TRANSFER New Mexico PG

The gem of this class is also the most important recruit because he fills a primary need for Arkansas and that’s Daniel Gafford. Gafford is an athletic big man with excellent defensive timing and good hands around the rim. I’d expect him to contend for a starting position right away and slowly become an offensive fixture. Then Mike Anderson went out and signed him a Mike Anderson class if I’ve ever seen one, three highly athletic wings, all from the state of Arkansas. Khalil Garland is probably the most ready to help right away. Garland isn’t a great shooter, and that’s a guess because I watched several videos of him and he didn’t attempt a shot outside of 8 feet in any of them. He is a fearless attacker of the rim and an excellent finisher as well.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Jalen Harris Keyshawn Embery Desi Sills
(2) Combo Guard Mason Jones Khalil Garland Isaiah Joe
(3) Wing Adrio Bailey Jordan Phillips
(4) Combo Forward Reggie Chaney Gabe Osabuohein
(5) Post Daniel Gafford Ethan Henderson Ibrahim Ali

The backcourt is set. The Hogs clearly are going to rely heavily on Macon and Barford, and we know enough about Anton Beard to know he’s at least a reliable lead guard. After those three is where the question marks start popping up. Dustin Thomas was serviceable as a combo forward but nobody who blew anyone away. He needs to be the Manuale Watkins for this team, and he’s capable. I think you slot him at the four. The question then becomes the middle, where I think a battle brews between Gafford and Thompson. The upside on Gafford should give him the edge. If Adrio Bailey, Khalil Garland and C.J. Jones can provide adequate backup minutes it should increase the ceiling for the Hogs this season.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 19 - 11 | KenPom Projected Record: 16 - 13

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 9 Neutral Texas 16 L
Nov 12 Home UC Davis 172 W
Nov 18 Home Indiana 28 W
Nov 21 Home Montana State 269 W
Nov 23 Home UT Arlington 229 W
Dec 1 Home FIU 221 W
Dec 5 Away Colorado State 173 W
Dec 8 Home Western Kentucky 79 L
Dec 15 Home* UTSA 166 W
Dec 19 Home Georgia Tech 92 W
Dec 22 Home Texas State 204 W
Dec 28 Home Austin Peay 191 W
Jan 26 Away Texas Tech 26 L
avg 143.54

Give Mike Anderson credit, for the first time in memory Arkansas plays teams in their non-conference schedule who you know who they are. And not just one or two, there are several solid opponents. The benefit for Arkansas is they get a lot of them at home, where they are tough to beat. Minnesota makes the return trip after beating Arkansas last year at home last year. They play in the Phil Knight Invitational, opening with Oklahoma. That should be a winnable game, though OU should be much improved over last year. But that would setup a second round matchup against North Carolina. On the other side of the bracket is UConn, Oregon, DePaul, and Michigan State. It will be tough for Arkansas to go 2-1 in this tournament. A road game against Houston is winnable, and Oklahoma State should be tough but Arkansas should clearly be favored at home.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 5 Away Texas A&M 48 L
Jan 9 Home Florida 19 W
Jan 12 Home LSU 50 L
Jan 15 Away Tennessee 11 L
Jan 19 Away Ole Miss 94 L
Jan 23 Home Missouri 43 L
Jan 29 Home Georgia 101 W
Feb 2 Away LSU 50 L
Feb 5 Home Vanderbilt 69 L
Feb 9 Away South Carolina 42 L
Feb 12 Away Missouri 43 L
Feb 16 Home Missisippi State 23 L
Feb 20 Away Auburn 17 L
Feb 23 Home Texas A&M 48 W
Feb 26 Away Kentucky 7 L
Mar 2 Home Ole Miss 94 W
Mar 6 Away Vanderbilt 69 L
Mar 9 Home Alabama 51 W
avg 48.83

Arkansas home and home opponents got a lot better since last year. Both Texas A&M and Missouri are like different teams, Ole Miss and Auburn should at least be very tough on the road, and LSU should be better than last year... at least. So Arkansas path to 12-6 has a few more bumps than last year. They do have the benefit of getting Kentucky at home, as well as Vanderbilt. The Commodores are usually a tough matchup for the Hogs. Florida and Alabama on the road will be tough enough. For me the key game is the early contest at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs are young and the experienced Razorbacks backcourt could steal that game. If they do it could be enough to get over the hump, otherwise Arky will have a very difficult road to even get to .500 this year.

OVERVIEW

A season ago the Razorbacks went 12-6 in conference and made the NCAAs as an eight seed. They certainly closed the season strong, finally figuring out a rotation that worked, going 9-3 with losses on the road at Florida, and neutral court losses to Kentucky and eventual NCAA champion North Carolina. Something appeared to be clicking and a lot of that was defined by the roles guys accepted, coupled with Jaylen Barford settling in to be the player many expected he would be.

So needless to say getting Barford and Macon back for another season was important. Yet losing Hannahs and, in particular, Moses Kingsley is something that Mike Anderson has to find a solution to if the Hogs expect to make it back to the tournament this season. The league got deeper and far more difficult this offseason, and the Hogs have more question marks than a year ago.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Arkansas vs Mississippi Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I mentioned above, but there are some early contests you can highlight which could determine much of the fate for the Hogs. The trip to Starkville, followed with a trip to Auburn are big asterisk games. They need to start strong with a home win against Tennessee, and if they can avoid dropping both games on the road before returning home against LSU and Missouri, now you have a chance to build real momentum. And there is enough on the roster to make that happen. Mostly because Barford and Macon can be that special.

If Gafford can live up to the billing and they get something from Dustin Thomas, Arkansas looks a lot more like a 10-8 or 11-7 team in league play, and that’s an NCAA tournament lock kind of season with the improvement of the league plus a solid record in non-conference play. You add in the possibility of backups C.J. Jones and Adrio Bailey filling in and being rock solid behind the obvious stars and suddenly you have, what I think would be, a breakout season. Yes, the Hogs have made the NCAA tournament in two of the last three years, but the consistency hasn’t been there outside of the Bobby Portis team a few years ago.

I think that’s what Hog fans are waiting for from Anderson and company, some level of consistency to restore the program back to amongst the elite schools in the league. Getting back to the NCAA tournament this year would be a huge step in the right direction as the 2018 recruiting class is filled with in-state players and highly rated ones at that. Break through this year and Anderson could finally have the program where he wants it, a perennial SEC contender and fixture in the NCAA tournament. There is enough on the roster for that to happen this season.

There is also enough healthy skepticism because it’s going to rely on unproven interior players and some tough road wins in an improved league. So I’m not completely sure what to make of the Hogs this year, but I’m intrigued enough to be keeping a close eye on the box scores early in conference play to see how things might pan out for them this season.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.

If you’d like to submit your picks, click here for the Google Form we used.


GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.