SEC Season Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 7th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Arkansas.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Strengths. This is year four under head coach Mike Anderson, and he finally has the depth and firepower to run his “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” style of play. Last year’s star freshman Bobby Portis returns for his sophomore year, along with Ky Madden, Michael Qualls, Alandise Harris, Anthlon Bell and Moses Kingsley, just to name a few of the expected contributors. In addition to depth, the Razorbacks have size with Kingsley and Portis standing at 6’10”, junior forward Jacorey Williams at 6’8”, West Virginia transfer Keaton Miles at 6’7”, and even Madden checking in at 6’5” from the point guard position. Anderson took both UAB and Missouri to three NCAA Tournament appearances each, respectively, and it is past time for his first trip as the head coach at Arkansas.

Mike Anderson is Big Dance or bust this season (Arkansas Business).

Mike Anderson is Big Dance or bust this season (Arkansas Business).

Weaknesses. Anderson’s Hawgs have struggled mightily on the road throughout his tenure. Arkansas won one road game in each of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons before making a huge leap to three away victories last season (including a win in Rupp Arena over Kentucky). This season will present an arduous test for the Razorbacks venturing away from the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena, with match-ups scheduled at SMU, Iowa State, and Clemson. Anderson’s squad could certainly use a signature win in non-conference play that demonstrates it can win outside of Fayetteville.

Toughest non-conference test. The stiffest non-conference test that Arkansas will face is its venture into the Hilton Magic at Iowa State. Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue return for the Cyclones, along with transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones from UNLV, to give Fred Hoiberg the #14 team in both major polls to start the season. The Cyclones are obviously really good, but to make matters worse, they have only lost at home twice over the last two years (both times were to Kansas). If the Razorbacks can pull off the upset in Ames, the college basketball world, and most notably the NCAA Tournament selection committee, will surely take notice.

Toughest conference stretch. Sometimes the NCAA Tournament bubble debate centers around quality wins, and sometimes it becomes more about avoiding bad losses. The latter was more detrimental to Arkansas’ chances of going dancing last season, after the Hawgs lost at Alabama on the last game of the regular season and then to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament. Anderson’s team needs to win the games they are supposed to win in order to remain in the conversation among the teams at the top of the conference. During a stretch in mid-February, the Razorbacks travel to Auburn, only to turn back around and go to Oxford to face Ole Miss. Neither game will be easy, but the Hawgs need to win one or both before heading into the home stretch of the SEC slate. Finish strong and the Razorbacks could be dancing for the first time since 2008.

Projected starters:

  • G Ky Madden (6’5” – 12.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.8 APG)
  • G Michael Qualls (6’6” – 11.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.9 APG)
  • F Alandise Harris (6’6” – 9.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.2 APG)
  • F Bobby Portis (6’10” – 12.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.5 APG)
  • F Moses Kingsley (6’10” – 4.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.2 APG)

Anderson returns three starters and seven major contributors from a 22-12 team from a year ago. It would not be surprising to see several combinations in the starting five, but Madden, Qualls and Portis should be there no matter what. Arkansas’ big three will lead the Hawgs toward big expectations this season. Kingsley should get the start because of his rebounding skills, an area of concern for last season’s Razorbacks.

Projected bench:

  • G Anthlon Bell (6’3”)
  • F Jacorey Williams (6’8”)
  • F Keaton Miles (6’7”)
  • G Jabril Durham (6’1”)
  • G Anton Beard (6’0”)
  • F Trey Thompson (6’9”)

The good news is that Arkansas has enough depth that Anderson could likely employ a platoon system if he wanted to, but don’t bet on it. Anderson goes deep into his bench, though, and he has enough depth to run 10 to 11 players in his rotation. Expect to see a lot of these reserves logging minutes throughout the year, especially Bell, who started 14 games in 2013-14.

If everything goes right… Arkansas is dancing, comfortably. Of course, this is not to imply that Anderson is wearing his finest loafers and softest socks while cutting a rug to disco music, but rather that his Razorbacks should not need to break a sweat on Selection Sunday if things go as planned. The Razorbacks beat SMU and Clemson on the road, take down a good Iona team and very good Dayton team in Bud Walton Arena, and run through the SEC with just four losses on its way to a 25-5 overall and 14-4 conference record — tied for a second place in the conference. Not bad. And of course, Qualls comes in on the weak side for a tip-dunk to get Arkansas into the Sweet Sixteen like he did last year against Kentucky and already this season in the Red-White game.

If nothing goes right… Arkansas continues to hold serve at home but struggles again on the road. Losses to SMU, Iowa State and Clemson early lead to a disappointing conference slate with seven SEC losses. After an 11-7 conference record and a 20-10 regular season record, the Hawgs once again bow out of the SEC Tournament too early. As a result, the Razorbacks are left out of the NCAA Tournament. Again. Madden and Harris graduate; Portis declares early for the NBA Draft; and the future appears bleak for Anderson and Arkansas.

Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

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2 responses to “SEC Season Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks”

  1. Jerry Brooks says:

    I think Durham or Beard starts in place of Moses…key to this team starts with the NEW guards if they can do well at the point then this team is for real…J.Williams does finally live up to what he can bring to the table look out
    this team can go BIG in a hurry…

  2. Brian Joyce says:

    I would expect that both of the new guards will see plenty of action. They both played really well in the red/white game. I like Kingsley for his rebounding abilities, but agree there are several ways Anderson can go with this lineup. This team could definitely go 10 or 11 deep this season.

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