Doc Harper: Last Thoughts Arkansas’ 2014 Basketball Season; Keys For 2015

 

Last Thoughts Arkansas 2014 Basketball Season

Doc Harper Bio PageA year ago in this space, I said Razorback basketball made progress but still underachieved. It’s hard to avoid the same conclusion this year – at least until you remember the questions we all had going into this season.

Questions like, “Can Arkansas replace Marshawn Powell and BJ Young’s scoring?” “How good will Bobby Portis really be?” “Will the Hogs have any backcourt scoring?” “How big a jump can we expect from any of the returning players?” “No, seriously, what’s up with Arkansas’ guard situation?”

Few seemed to expect the Razorbacks to make the NCAA Tournament before the games started. But then, funny thing, the games started and Arkansas started answering some of those questions. Ky Madden blossomed into something like the player everyone hoped he’d be when he signed with Arkansas. Michael Qualls added a more reliable jump shot to his game. Coty Clarke became one of the better all-around players on the team. Bobby Portis earned All-SEC status as a freshman. Alandise Harris provided a physical element that had been lacking. Fred Gulley was better. Anthlon Bell was better. There was a lot of better.

And that’s when expectations changed. We all started seeing the Razorbacks listed in NCAA Tournament projections which obviously led to visions of Dancing dancing in everybody’s head.

There’s no need to rehash the losses that cost Arkansas the NCAA Tournament bid – they could have made it but didn’t, which is disappointing – but the point I want to make, and what should be the focus on fixing in the future is the dramatic droughts that the Hogs suffered this year.

We’ve heard a lot about how close the Hogs were and how many really close losses would’ve been victories if a single shot had gone differently. That’s all true, but when you play a lot of close games, you’re not going to win all of them. Even the 1994 team lost two of them. The flip of that is Arkansas also won some really close games. What happens if Madden’s shot doesn’t bounce directly into Qualls’ hands for the putback against Kentucky? Or if Qualls misses the shot at Vanderbilt? Or if the Razorbacks don’t shoot 100% from the free throw line in Lexington? It’s the law of averages. Play enough close games, you win some, you lose some. That doesn’t bother me. Much.

What bothers me from this season is how erratic the team was, which led to the maddening spurts of games that made fans question whether anybody on the court knew what they were doing. The Razorbacks would far too frequently experience the type of scoring droughts that would turn easy victories into those close games, or turn a close game into a blowout defeat.

The second half against Texas A&M and the first halves at LSU, Alabama, and Cal are the most egregious examples. But there were also what became trademark scoring droughts that would last for about five minutes or so throughout the season.

I think this, improving consistency, is the most important thing the team can do for next season, and why I think the further development of not just Portis, but especially Moses Kingsley is the key to 2015.

You could argue that at times this year, Arkansas made an effort to be too balanced by spreading too many shots around to different players. When shots aren’t going down, sometimes the best thing to do is attack inside and try to get easy baskets. Both Portis and Kingsley led the team in field goal percentage from inside the arc (both just over 53%). If those two can establish a more dominant inside presence next season – and if Arkansas makes a concerted effort to get them the ball in the post more frequently – that could help reduce those types of debilitating droughts.

Further reason to hope for the development of Kingsley and Portis, short of Arkansas landing a late transfer or juco signee, it doesn”t appear they’ll land any elite big men that can come in and immediately replace Coty Clarke (nothing against Trey Thompson, but I don’t expect him to be on Clarke’s level immediately. Would love to be proven wrong). It of course remains to be seen if Jacorey Williams has the ability to make the jump in productivity we’ve seen from his classmates in Qualls and Bell, but it would surely be welcomed.

Of course there are other questions going into next season. How good will Jabril Durham and Anton Beard be? Can they replace the production being left by the four departing guards? Will Keaton Miles be able to contribute more than he was at West Virginia?

So many questions left to be answered next season even though fans will probably be expecting an NCAA bid in Year 4. Not the least of which is the schedule, which is quickly becoming my most favorite/most tired topic. The SEC could be worse next season depending on how many players leave for the pros, and it should be one of the easier SEC slates for Arkansas if the scheduling rotation holds true. If so, the teams Arkansas would play twice next season are Missouri, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and South Carolina.

Razorback fans were able to get quality victories this season because Kentucky was on the schedule twice and the Hogs won both times, but that may not be available next year. Missouri, Tennessee, and Ole Miss are all losing at least some, if not most, of their best players. It means, as always, non-conference scheduling will be vital. That doesn’t mean you have to schedule Duke or Kansas, but Arkansas will have to do better than a schedule that allowed them to win 21 games, 10 SEC games, and end up as a 3-seed in the NIT.

Yes, Arkansas has every right to cling to its NIT appearance as tangible evidence that the program is making progress. But in order to get the program where everyone wants it to be, there’s still a lot of  work to be done. Progress can happen at varying rates of speed, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a big step at some point.

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Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at heydocharper@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

 

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  • NewYorkHogFan

    I like Anderson. He has been successful everywhere he’s been and I’m glad he came home. But I have some reservations based on what I have seen and read about this team. What I like about what he is building: He is recruiting players that are athletic and long and that can run up and down the court. He likes to create depth. His system causes turnovers that result in easy baskets. I also like his demeanor during games. In other words, he is not a hothead jerk that yells and curses at his players. What I don’t like: His half-court offense is weak. The team doesn’t seem to have set plays. They don’t play fundamentally sound (box out for example). It seems to me that college basketball has changed since Nolan burst on the scene. Compared to 30 years ago, high school players are better ball handlers. A full court press is easier to break today than it was 30 years ago. Today, 6’9″ forwards can handle the ball like the guards of yesterday. Maybe pressing all game tires teams out, but so far it has not given us much of an advantage. To play that defense means frequent substitutions. So one of our players comes into the game cold, runs around on defense like a chicken with his head cut off, takes 2 shots that miss, and is taken out of the game for a breather before he is able to get into a shooting rhythm. Could that account for our poor shooting? A pressing defense also leaves you more vulnerable around the basket. Maybe I just don’t know as much about this as Mike. I’m sure I don’t. And I don’t get to see the practices to know what Mike is trying to get these kids to do. I just wonder if Mike’s philosophy needs to be tweaked to match the changes in college basketball. But I think next year will be better