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The Razorbacks have Daniel Gafford and a bunch of youth

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Previewing the #12 team in the SEC, the Arkansas Razorbacks.

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Arkansas Preview

#12 Arkansas Razorbacks

Last Season: 23-12 (10 - 8 in conference) #44 kenpom

My Prediction: 15 - 16 (5 - 13, 10th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 6 - 12 (11th in conference) #64 kenpom

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Detroit Practice Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Mike Anderson | eight season 151-86

The pressure on Mike Anderson to win big in Fayetteville seems to ebb and flow on a near daily basis. Currently it feels as though Anderson is doing right by Hog fans. But give the Razorbacks a slow start to the season and the quiet, unassuming, mannerisms of Anderson’s sideline demeanor might begin to quicken as the pressure to maintain and expand upon the past few seasons of relative success.

What Nolan Richardson achieved in the mid-90’s is becoming a further and further distant memory for general college basketball fans, and what Anderson has provided is a level of consistency which may not be what many had in mind when he returned after pulling Missouri out of the doldrums.

Anderson has largely cooled on his constant ‘Fastest 40 minutes’ style of play, opting for token pressure throughout the game and falling back to a mixture of zone and man. He’s adapted his approach with the changes in officiating and it’s made the Razorbacks more vulnerable defensively. But he’s taken advantage of the changes on offense by fielding a top 30 offense in efficiency in three of the last four years. But as he embarks on a season where a delightfully young roster will be tested it will be interesting to watch both Anderson and the fan reaction to what might be seen as a step back.

Seat Temp: COOL

arkansas 10 year look

The Razorbacks have found a level of consistency under Mike Anderson that didn’t exist under John Pelphrey. While Anderson has yet to get Arkansas to the protected seed range, the Razorbacks have been remarkably consistent and only once fell to .500. Achieving levels of good over great will take you so far and the Arkansas brass has shown they’re willing to spend and so you have to wonder how long good will be good enough?

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%

Basically everyone is gone. In almost every year the team returning the least amount of production is Kentucky, not so this year as Arkansas loses everyone who did anything of any substance on the roster last season with the exception of Daniel Gafford.

The underrated duo of Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon carried much of the offensive load as they accounted for over 50% of the team possessions. To say the offense ran through those two is an understatement. Combined they averaged 34.7 points a game, 6.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and over 62 minutes a game. Barford played the role of go-to scorer a little more, while Macon fit nicely into the playmaker role. Macon and Daniel Gafford in the pick-and-roll in late game situations was deadly for a lot of teams. Other players on the roster had their moments and certainly filled their roles, but the team ran through Macon and Barford.

Anton Beard had his ups and downs but finished with a very solid four year career under Mike Anderson. Meanwhile Trey Thompson turned into a really good role player, known for his ability to be a ball mover on offense. Dustin Thomas technically expired his eligibility but he also finished the season kicked off the team. A solid combo forward while he was eligible, but he turned to be more than a nightmare off the court. Arlando Cook provided solid back up minutes, and C.J. Jones and Darious Hall were good contributors, but no irreplaceable.

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: Auburn at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Gafford | SOPHOMORE | POST

I’ll be honest to start by saying I was confused by Gaffords decision to return to school. He was a surefire top 20 pick in the draft, and the rest of the Hogs roster was being decimated by graduation. It made a whole lot of sense to head off to the riches of the NBA, but Gafford saw it differently.

Despite the roster being completely turned over he saw himself as the continuation to a roster importing 10 new names, eight who weren’t on the scholarship a year ago.

Gafford was a surprise on the scene last year. I think many expected him to fill a role and be a solid import considering his recruiting ranking, but I doubt anyone expected the level of output Gafford produced. His 12 points & 6 rebounds in just over 55% of minutes played is incredible output. When Gafford was on the floor chances were he was making plays. He also employed an 11.5% block rate which helped clean up a lot of messes for the Hogs on defense. Needless to say if Arkansas exceeds expectations this season it’s likely because Gafford took the next step.

After Gafford there isn’t much left coming back. The only scholarship contributor was Gabe Osabuohien who played 9.61% of the available minutes. That’s not much. Khalil Garland was a redshirt due to a medical condition but he appears to be cleared to play. Then New Mexico transfer Jalen Harris is cleared after sitting out and should be able to hold onto the starting spot at point guard.

THEN, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Keyshawn Embery 6'3 202 ★★★★ 137 PG
Fr Reggie Chaney 6'8 222 ★★★ 156 POST
Fr Ethan Henderson 6'8 210 ★★★ 159 POST
Fr Isaiah Joe 6'5 167 ★★★ 169 WING
Fr Jordan Phillips 6'7 209 ★★★ 190 WING
Fr Desi Sills 6'2 196 ★★★ 255 CG
Fr Mason Jones 6'5 207 ★★★ 13 CG
Fr Ibrahim Ali 6'10 244 - - POST
mason jones arkansas

Mason Jones | SOPHOMORE | WING

In these previews I’ve always chosen two players to highlight in these places and most of the time it’s players who were on the roster a year ago. In certain cases (Kentucky) I feature freshmen who are expected to have a big impact. In Arkansas case this season I really don’t have a good idea on which freshman to feature.

The difference between a player ranked in the 130’s and the low 200’s is usually fairly minimal. Outside of Daniel Gafford the other returning players are likely to be role players. So it’s a bit of a mystery who will be the second, third and fourth guys in the scoring column. So in this space I’m going to pick Mason Jones, the JUCO guard from Connors State in Oklahoma.

Jones is the younger brother of former Duke Blue Devil Matt Jones and was a solid reliable scorer in his one season at Connors State. He put up 15 points a game, over 6 rebounds and played a bit of a combo guard role. With his physical maturity and ability to score the ball, Jones should be able to step into a starting role right away and provide some much needed perimeter scoring following the exits of Barford, Macon, and Beard.

Mike Anderson put together a big recruiting class and he did so out of necessity. The 2018 class in the state of Arkansas was a relatively good one and fortunately for Hog fans Anderson was able to keep the top three players in state. Ethan Henderson, Isaiah Joe, and Desi Sills were all members of the Arkansas Wings AAU team. Joe is the sharp shooter and Arkansas Gatorade Player of the year in the state. Henderson is a perfect forward for Mike Anderson as he’s both active and aggressive. He’s still on the lithe side but his activity on defense should find him early minutes. Sills reminds me a little of Anton Beard, a lefty point guard with good feel and solid athleticism. Sills stands a little taller and projects well long term in the position.

Keyshawn Embery is Sills biggest competition at the position in his class. Though Embery could be considered a bit more of a combo guard he certainly has point guard skills. He’s a smooth fluid athlete with a quick release and has the ability to find the rim on drives quiet easily. Reggie Chaney is a nice pickup, he’s a little more physical around the rim than Henderson, but he and Henderson should be a nice combo once Gafford moves on as they fit each others style and compliment each other well. Jordan Phillips is a bit of a bigger more physical wing who should be able to challenge for a starting role early. The last was a late pickup in Ibrahim Ali, a big physical post player who doesn’t have a 247sport profile so it’s hard to know exactly where he’d fit in. He’s certainly got the size and looks the part of a big time college post player.

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

With so many new faces it’s really difficult to know which direction Anderson is planning on going with his group. As usual, I tend to give the early leg up to experience so I have Adrio Bailey, Jalen Harris, and Mason Jones starting over the likes of Jordan Phillips, Isaiah Joe, or Keyshawn Embery. I expect to see a lot of these guys get minutes early as Anderson tries to figure exactly what he has, but fortunately for everyone the Hogs play with a quicker pace and it’s easy to see them getting to 10 deep well into the season .

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 15 - 16 | KenPom Projected Record: 17 - 14

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Baylor Andrew Dieb-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

What’s an odd way to break in a roster full of freshmen? Match them up opening game against a team on the rise. Shaka Smart and Texas have a long and athletic roster with depth. Taking on the Indiana Hoosiers with Romeo Langford could be a loss if they aren’t careful. Indiana should be better than they were last year which left me tempted to throw a toss up game the other way, but I gave the Hogs the edge at home. Overall this is a manageable schedule, much like Mike Anderson prefers. The other catch games are Western Kentucky and Georgia Tech, with a very likely loss coming against Texas Tech.

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

Ways to exceed expectations in the SEC? Get your tough games on the road and play the top teams once. Arkansas has Kentucky, Tennessee, and Auburn ALL on the road. Those are games the Hogs aren’t likely to win anyway, so they swap in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida which are all winnable games. Then you add in Ole Miss and Texas A&M, two teams likely to struggle, along with teams with questions marks in Missouri, LSU and Vanderbilt, Arkansas might be able to take advantage of their schedule. Realistically this looks like the kind of schedule Arkansas can get a few early breaks and end up with a few extra wins.

OVERVIEW

I’ve spent a lot of my summer trying to figure out why Daniel Gafford decided to come back to school. When you look at the turnover from last season the likely outcome of an influx of a moderately regarded recruiting class to couple with virtually no experience it just seemed like the smart decision to go get paid. But Gafford wanted to do more and accomplish more in college and now here he stands on a roster with just about 4% of their offensive value returning outside of Gafford himself.

If you’re a system guy, like Mike Anderson is, there is a belief it can work. The “Fastest 40” minutes or whatever they like to call it these days has been mostly a challenge to keep going with the way the college game has changed with it’s officiation. But Anderson has kept at it for the most part. And there are enough guys in the recruiting class that if a few work out it might be enough to execute the fastest 40. Throw enough bodies at the problem and maybe it works out?

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

What we know about Gafford is he’s a finisher. His best action was moving towards the rim without the ball. Pick-and-rolls with a hard roll, long rim runs, and offensive put backs. The next level for Gafford is developing a more effective arsenal with the ball in his hands. Being less of a reactor and more of the actor. In the case of a step forward Gafford will desperately need some consistent shooters around him, and the Hogs only return two made three pointers from a year ago.

Two.

To be good there has to be one or two breakout performers of the group above, and they’ve got to get reliable shooting as well. It’s difficult to project those sorts of things out of a group of unknowns like the Razorbacks have. They don’t particularly run out a highly complex offense to confuse defenses so Anderson teams have always been at their best when they can get reliable attacks and consistent shot making from the perimeter and a sturdy post attacker.

Think of Demarre Carroll and Leo Lyons with Missouri, and Bobby Portis just a few years ago. When Anderson has a reliable interior he’s got a major component to find success. Daniel Gafford may prove himself to be the most elite of the bunch. But in order for the Hogs to utilize Anderson is going to have to find something from the mass of leftovers and new comers and I’m just skeptical with what remains.


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.