Arkansas Razorbacks 2017-18 Season Preview
Head Coach: Mike Anderson (128-74, 6 years; 328-172 overall, 15 years)
Last year: 26-10 (12-6 SEC); KenPom rating: 35
Returning starters: 3
Returning possession-minutes: 60.5%
Recruiting class ranking: #35 nationally; #8 in SEC
How Did We Get Here?
Sometimes, hiring a coach with a connection to past glory doesn’t go so well — see, for instance, Alabama football for most of the period from Bear Bryant to Nick Saban.
But sometimes, it works out. Mike Anderson needed a couple of years, but he got Arkansas back to the NCAA Tournament in his fourth year and, after a dip in 2015-16, got the Razorbacks there again last year. They led North Carolina by five points with three and a half minutes left in the second round of the tournament before losing late.
Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas hasn’t been exactly like the glory days, when he was an assistant coach under Nolan Richardson and Arkansas made the tournament 13 times between 1988 and 2001 — and reached the second weekend six times between 1990 and 1996, winning a national title in 1994 and making two other Final Fours. But it’s probably the best shape the program has been in since then, though Arkansas still hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since 1996.
Now that the program is back, the next step is maintenance. That might be difficult this year. Arkansas must replace its leading scorer (Dusty Hannahs) and leading rebounder and defensive stalwart in the paint (Moses Kingsley.) But this is one of the SEC’s most experienced teams. The Hogs have six seniors on the roster, and four of those started at least 11 games last season. Last season, they ranked 2nd in the SEC in offensive efficiency, third in effective field goal percentage, and first in turnover rate.
The flipside, though, is that last year’s team was lacking in Mike Anderson’s hallmark: forcing turnovers. Anderson’s first four Arkansas teams ranked 37th, 12th, 8th, and 20th nationally in defensive turnover percentage. Last year’s team ranked 174th. That contributed to a defensive that ranked 11th in the SEC in efficiency. Arkansas could outscore a lot of teams, because the offense was that good, but things occasionally got out of hand, like in a 97-71 loss to Kentucky and a 99-71 loss to Oklahoma State. And that defense, by the way, had the SEC’s best shot blocker at the back end. What will happen now that Moses Kingsley is gone?
|0||Jaylen Barford||6'3"||Sr.||12.8 ppg/3.8 rpg|
|3||Khalil Garland||6'5"||Fr.||#165 recruit|
|4||Daryl Macon||6'3"||Sr.||13.4 ppg/2.2 apg|
|11||Jalen Harris||6'2"||So.||sitting out 2017-18|
|23||C.J. Jones||6'5"||So.||2.4 ppg/0.6 rpg|
|31||Anton Beard||6'0"||Sr.||7.2 ppg/1.9 apg|
Arkansas didn’t really have a “true” point guard last year, which made the Razorbacks’ low turnover rate all the more remarkable. What they did have were a bunch of guys who could hit jump shots and collect steals on the defensive end, and while Dusty Hannahs -- a deadly weapon from long range — is gone, the Razorbacks do return three senior guards who can make life difficult for opponents.
Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford, both 6’3” seniors, get the bulk of the attention here. Macon and Barford were two of the top junior college transfers in the country last year, and they didn’t disappoint. Macon was a deadly accurate shooter from distance, hitting 38.7 percent of his three-point attempts — and that number went up to 42.2 percent in SEC play. He also averaged 1.1 steals per game.
Barford was more of a driver, making 50.3 percent of his attempts inside the arc, but struggled shooting from deep — he shot just 26.6 percent from three-point range last season. Like Macon, he notched a decent number of steals as well (1.2 per game, to be exact.)
Those two will be joined in the backcourt by 6’0” senior Anton Beard. Beard is the closest thing to a “true” point guard on the roster, though after a promising freshman year he’s only started 12 games over the last two seasons. Beard is less dangerous as a scorer (43.9 percent on twos, 35.6 percent on threes) and still needs to find his niche as a creator.
Anderson tends to make liberal use of his bench, so 6’5” sophomore C.J. Jones and 6’5” freshman Khalil Garland should see significant minutes. Jones had a couple of 11-point games early in his freshman season before playing sparingly once SEC play rolled around; he did shoot 12-of-24 from three-point range on the season, however. In a relatively thin backcourt, though, Jones should see more than the 127 minutes he played in 2016-17. Garland is a high three-star recruit from Little Rock who has good size for a guard and will spell Barford and Macon on the wings.
|1||Trey Thompson||6'9"||Sr.||2.4 ppg/3.2 rpg|
|2||Adrio Bailey||6'7"||So.||1.9 ppg/1.3 rpg|
|5||Arlando Cook||6'8"||Sr.||2.8 ppg/2.3 rpg|
|10||Daniel Gafford||6'11"||Fr.||#37 recruit|
|13||Dustin Thomas||6'8"||Sr.||5.3 ppg/3.8 rpg|
|20||Darious Hall||6'6"||Fr.||#296 recruit|
|22||Gabe Osabuohien||6'8"||Fr.||#318 recruit|
Exit Moses Kingsley — enter Daniel Gafford.
Kingsley blocked 256 shots in his four years at Arkansas, though it took a couple of years for him to polish his offensive game. Gafford comes in more polished on the offensive end, and while he’s not as good of a shot blocker as Kingsley, his mobility and length might be an even better fit for Mike Anderson’s pressure-based system. With that said, Gafford will have to be in peak physical condition and be able to defend without fouling, which are two difficult tasks for many freshmen.
But it’s probably telling that the first player I’m writing about here is a freshman. As of this writing, seniors Dustin Thomas and Arlando Cook are currently suspended from the team. Thomas started 27 games as a junior but played just 18 minutes a game and wasn’t terribly effective; Cook was even less effective, shooting just 43.8 percent from the floor.
6’9”, 265-pound senior Trey Thompson wasn’t a huge part of the offense — he attempted just 55 shots all season — but was effective when called upon, shooting 61.8 percent from the floor and averaging 3.3 rebounds per game, and Thompson was a surprisingly good passer for his size: his 4.5 assists per 40 minutes were actually better than any of the Razorbacks’ guards.
With the frontcourt being a bit unsettled, sophomore Adrio Bailey and freshman Darious Hall and Gabe Osabuohien could have an opening for playing time. Bailey played sparingly as a freshman but made the most of his playing time, shooting 56.4 percent from the floor. Hall is long and athletic and will be another body for the press. Osabuohien is an unknown — Rivals and ESPN didn’t rate him as a recruit — but the 6’8” Canadian should provide extra depth.
|12/16||vs. Troy (North Little Rock, AR)|
|1/2||at Mississippi State|
|1/30||at Texas A&M|
|2/13||at Ole Miss|
Like a lot of SEC teams, Arkansas’s nonconference schedule is fairly light on big names, but it’s also light on truly easy games: Oral Roberts, ranked #239 in the preseason KenPom, is probably the worst team on the slate, though they did go 8-22 last season. But home games against Bucknell and Fresno State won’t be pushovers, and Minnesota and Oklahoma State were both in the tournament last year. And Arkansas will face a rather loaded PK80 bracket in November as well; in addition to Oklahoma in the first round, the Razorbacks could see North Carolina and either Michigan State or Oregon.
In SEC play, the Razorbacks catch a bit of a break with Florida and Kentucky only being on the schedule once, and Kentucky comes to Fayetteville. They face Texas A&M twice, but the other four double opponents are Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, and Missouri.
Mike Anderson’s first six seasons in Fayetteville haven’t exactly hearkened back to the glory days of the 1990s, when the Razorbacks were seemingly a perennial national title contender. But they’re also a vast improvement over the state of the program from Nolan Richardson’s firing in 2002 through the end of John Pelphrey’s tenure.
Now the challenge is maintenance. While everybody focuses on two potential All-SEC talents in Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, it’s probably best not to simply gloss over the departures of Dusty Hannahs and Moses Kingsley. Especially the latter: Arkansas already struggled to get stops; how will the Razorbacks react to losing their best defensive stopper? And that didn’t matter much last year simply because the Razorbacks could outscore a lot of teams, but how does that work without their leading scorer and three-point threat?
At the same time, it’s kind of hard to bet against a team with this much experience. Arkansas has six seniors on the roster, and while only Barford and Macon are proven contributors, it’s not unheard of for seniors to essentially come out of nowhere to be solid contributors. Trey Thompson probably isn’t going to be an All-SEC player, but stranger things have happened than a player like that suddenly averaging 10 and 8 as a senior. And there’s also some upside in the four-man freshman class, too, particularly Daniel Gafford.
There are enough question marks with Arkansas that I don’t want to project them to do huge things, but a third NCAA Tournament trip in four years isn’t out of the question, either.