SEC Transition Basketball: Arkansas RazorbacksPosted by Brian Joyce on August 21st, 2012
It’s hot out there, and to many of us, college basketball is the last thing on our minds. But here at the SEC Microsite, we’re going to be rolling out mid-summer resets of each of the (now) 14 basketball programs in our league. We’re calling it Transition Basketball, and you can expect we’ll cover three or four teams a week until we’re done. By that time, we’ll actually start to be turning the slight corner into the fall, and from there it’s a smooth slope down to Midnight Madness in mid-October. Today’s update: Arkansas.
State of the Program
In year one of the homecoming of Mike Anderson, he had the Razorbacks on the brink of returning to the NCAA Tournament as they stood 16-6 on February 1 with an RPI inside the top 50. The final month doomed the squad, however as they won only two of their final 10 games. After starting 16-1 at home, they limped in with a 1-3 record in front of the home faithful, defeating only bottom-dweller South Carolina in that stretch. Inexperience and untimely injuries proved too much for the Razorbacks to overcome.
The young Hogs return eight players from last season’s team including junior Marshawn Powell, who was averaging 19.5 points and 6.0 rebounds before suffering a season-ending knee injury, and second-team All-SEC sophomore guard B.J. Young, who led SEC freshmen in scoring. The Razorbacks return 69 percent of their offense and 55 percent of their rebounding from a year ago. Returners made 125 of the 160 starts with only Marvelle Waithe (eight starts) and Michael Sanchez (27 starts) graduating. Many thought that Arkansas’ talent and new style could push the Razorbacks into the surprise team of the SEC last season. While the Hogs never made that push, the secret is out, and they won’t be sneaking up on anybody this season.
Anderson added five recruits into the mix for the 2012-13 season. Three star forward Coty Clarke, a junior college transfer from Alabama, has already made an impact on the team’s Italy trip this summer. The 6’7″ forward averaged 14.3 points per game during the trip, including a 17-point and eight-rebound performance in the final game against All Star Italy. Deddrick Tarver, Clarke’s junior college coach, said, “he can make an immediate impact in the SEC. A lot of schools didn’t want him because of his size, but he is a great rebounder.”
In addition to Clarke, the Razorbacks welcome in 5’10″ point guard Dee Wagner, 6’3″ shooting guard Anthlon Bell, 6’8″ forward Jacorey Williams, and 6’5″ forward Michael Qualls. Anderson will likely go deep into his bench, so players like Qualls or Bell could see playing time immediately. Qualls is an incredible athlete and could be serviceable in Anderson’s patented full court attack. Bell said Anderson has already told him he could be an asset. “He thinks I can come in and contribute right away as a shooter,” he said, “but he’s also looking for me to be more of a combo guard.”
Mike Anderson has talent. With everyone healthy, he has depth. He has a team that knows how to score in a hurry. The key element he needs is a low post defender who can provide consistent rebounding. And with more consistent minutes from 6’10″ sophomore center Hunter Mickelson, that is likely what he will get this season. Mickelson had a 13.5% block rate on opponents during his freshman season, while he averaged 2.2 blocks per game. He blocked seven shots against Texas Southern, and turned around several weeks later and blocked seven more against LSU. The big man even broke the record set by a former Hog, Oliver Miller, for most blocked shots by a first-year Arkansas player.
The signs are evident that the sophomore center will be a major contributor in the low post this season. Mickelson averaged just 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds last year, but played in only 16.7 minutes per game. His offensive (8.9%) and defensive (15.4%) rebounding percentages were some of the best on the team indicating that with more minutes and steady growth in the offseason, Anderson may have a force to be reckoned with down low. And Anderson likes his progress, which means he is sure to get a chance to showcase his skills. “He’s very aggressive at this point,” Anderson said late last season. “I’m an aggressive coach, and I like aggressive players. So he’s been doing a good job.”
Three Questions With ArkansasSports360.com and Arkansas Expats’ Doc Harper
With a name like Doc Harper, one would expect a pretty cool dude. And that’s exactly what we got when we sat down with the Arkansas Razorbacks guru. Harper is the managing editor for the SB Nation blog, Arkansas Expats, and also writes for the Arkansas sports news site, ArkansasSports360.com. He was nice enough to share his thoughts with us on the upcoming Arkansas basketball season, and it sounds like we agree that the Razorbacks could have a very good season this year. Or they might not. We just don’t know at this point, but it’s nice to dream big. It’s August after all. So dream on, Doc. Dream on. And we hope you get to hog heaven for that Arkansas sports fan’s dream weekend. But if it doesn’t happen? Blame Harper for getting your hopes up.
Rush the Court: I hate to reminisce over painful memories, but sometimes it’s inevitable. The Hogs started out at 16-6 with victories over Mississippi State, Michigan, and Vanderbilt. From then on, they were only 2-8 with a 22-point loss to Georgia, a 19-point loss to Tennessee, a 30-point loss to Florida, and a 20-point loss to Mississippi State. What happened on February 1st to change the course of the season?
Doc Harper: The popular answer is that the team hit the mythical wall. Arkansas did not have a deep bench. The number of available scholarship players was only about 8-9 guys most of the season, and four of those were freshmen. When you mix those numbers with Mike Anderson’s system, you can definitely see how a team could get worn out by February. BJ Young was the only player who didn’t seem to get tired. Also, Marvell Waithe wasn’t the same player after he was injured in the Michigan game. The Hogs were already dreadfully thin in the post, but when he went down, that really hurt Arkansas. Even though he came back after only missing two games, his numbers weren’t the same. He averaged 9.2 points per game in the 10 games leading up to his injury and only 1.9 points per game after he returned. But ultimately, Arkansas was just a really streaky team last year, and the inconsistency bit them hard during the last month. When Arkansas won, it was usually because the Hogs were shooting lights out at home, and when those outside shots weren’t falling, scoring was really difficult. The lack of inside scoring proved to be too much of a hurdle for Arkansas to overcome. You’ve got to be able to get easy baskets when outside shooting isn’t there, and the Razorbacks simply didn’t have that.
RTC: With everyone healthy (for now), do the Razorbacks finally have the tools to maximize Anderson’s “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball?”
DH: They certainly have the depth, so that’s one thing we can mark off the checklist. The team just finished a 4-game tour in Italy, so we do have a small glimpse of what we expect to see this season. JUCO transfer Coty Clarke has put up some impressive numbers, averaging 14.3 points and 8.3 boards, while converting an incredible 73.5% of his field goals. Freshman guard Michael Qualls averaged 11.7 points on the trip. The team did run Anderson’s system in Italy, and finished the trip by collecting 23 steals in the last game, so hopefully that’s a sign of things to come. Arkansas does have some talented returning players to look forward to. Mardracus Wade really came into his own last season and we hope that continues. Marshawn Powell isn’t full speed yet, be we’ve seen positive reports on him. We’re also hoping to see further development from the remaining players of last year’s highly-touted freshman class. Young, Ky Madden, and Hunter Mickelson all have the talent to be stars, so fans are expecting things from them In particular, Mickelson was one of the premier shot blockers in the SEC last year, and you could see evidence of his progress on offense as the season went on. There’s plenty there for fans to be excited about. We also have a couple of other transfers coming in. Fred Gulley is a point guard who played at Oklahoma State and will be available for the SEC season. And Alandise Harris is a forward from Little Rock who transferred in from Houston. He actually had a great game against the Razorbacks last season and if the NCAA approves his request to be able to play this year, that will be a huge plus for Arkansas.
RTC: So I’ve already mentioned Arkansas’ notable victories over Michigan and Vanderbilt last year, but neither were what I would call a signature win — the type of win that officially signifies the Razorbacks’ return as a college basketball powerhouse. Arkansas has four big home games this season against Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, and Syracuse. Now winning one of those would be a signature win! Could the Hogs pull off one (or more) of these games at home, and if so, which one is the most likely for Anderson and company to come away with?
DH: Yeah, you can’t really have a signature win when you don’t even make the NIT. I think if Arkansas had continued January’s momentum and made the NCAA Tournament, Michigan would’ve been that game, but we already discussed what happened after that. Yes, I believe Arkansas can beat anybody at Bud Walton Arena. I don’t really know which of those will be most likely since they’ll all be pretty different teams than they were last year. Personally, I’m really looking forward to the Syracuse game. It’s always fun to bring in a big-name non-conference opponent, and it will be on a Friday night, which is always fun. Something that hasn’t been realized yet by most people in Arkansas, is that Syracuse game is played the Friday night before the SEC Championship Game in football, so if things fall the right way this autumn, that has a chance to be a magical weekend for Arkansas fans. Or Arkansas could get blown out and football won’t come close to playing in Atlanta and the whole thing could be a disaster. But it’s August, so we always look to the bright side, right?
Twitter Style 2012-13 Outlook
Barring any injuries, Anderson’s Hogs have the talent and depth this season to be a major force at the top of the conference.
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball @bjoyce_hoops. Eric Moyer also contributed to this article, and you can follow him on Twitter @ericdmoyer.