Anderson has Arkansas pointed in NCAA direction once again
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Mike Anderson has finally returned Arkansas to being a regular of sorts in the postseason, having reached the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three years.
Now the Razorbacks coach is ready to do more than just make the field.
He’s ready for Arkansas to reassert itself as one of the premier programs in the Southeastern Conference — and he just might have the team to do exactly that this season.
“I still want to win a championship, that’s who I am,” Anderson said. “We’re knocking on the door, we’ve just got to keep going forward and getting better.”
The Razorbacks finished 26-10 last season and lost to eventual national champion North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They reached the postseason thanks to a late surge that featured eight wins in nine games and a berth in the SEC Tournament championship game, and they enter this year with two of the key cogs in that success back in the fold.
Guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon both stayed at Arkansas this offseason after briefly entering the NBA draft to have their professional prospects evaluated.
The duo combined for 26.2 points per game a year ago in their first year after transferring from junior college, and they’re full of confidence entering their second year of major college basketball.
“I feel like we have some of the most experienced guards in the country, and some of the best guards in the country,” Barford said. “It’s a strong point for us and the team.”
Some things to watch as Arkansas tries to reach the NCAA Tournament for a third time in four seasons:
With center Moses Kingsley gone after graduating, Arkansas will turn to 6-foot-11 freshman Daniel Gafford. The talented center has shown an ability to finish with force close to the basket in practice and he had eight points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes during the team’s preseason opener last week.
“If it’s any indication from what’s taken place throughout the summer and what’s taking place in practice right now, he will impact our team,” Anderson said.
Anderson expects guard Anton Beard to play a pivotal role this season alongside Barford and Macon. Beard missed the first semester two years ago after an arrest on forgery charges, but he played well in a full season a year ago — averaging 7.2 points while playing in all 36 games. The senior lost 15 pounds during the offseason and has his sights set on returning to the form that earned him a spot on the All-SEC freshman team three years ago.
Forward Arlando Cook has been suspended indefinitely to begin the season after being arrested on accusations of first-degree assault, public intoxication and disorderly conduct. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 2.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game last season after transferring from junior college.
“We’re going to let the law take its course, and then we’ll go from there and I’ll be able to make my decision about what takes place,” Anderson said.
C.J. Jones didn’t see much action a year ago as a freshman, totaling only 126 minutes and averaging 2.6 points in 21 games. However, the 6-foot-5 sophomore is being counted on to fill the 3-point shooting void left by the graduation of sharpshooter Dusty Hannahs. Jones hit half of his 24 3-point shots a year ago, and Anderson needs him to improve defensively.
Standout freshman Khalil Garland will miss the start of the season with an undisclosed health condition, but Anderson is optimistic the 6-foot-5 guard will be cleared to return to the court at a later date. Garland averaged 12.9 points as a senior in high school at Little Rock Parkview.
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