October 08, 2014

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Mike Anderson still won't say the words ''NCAA tournament'' when talking about Arkansas' expectations.

The Razorbacks' coach, however, left little doubt Tuesday on the first day of practice that reaching the school's first NCAA tournament since 2008 is the goal this season.

''This is our best team,'' Anderson said. ''We want to make it a very special year.''

Arkansas took its biggest step forward yet last season under Anderson, who is entering his fourth year after leaving Missouri to return to the school where he won a national championship as an assistant coach in 1994.

The Razorbacks finished 22-12 and nearly reached the NCAA tournament after a six-game winning streak late in the season. However, they lost their final regular season game and the opening contest of the Southeastern Conference tournament - resulting in a trip to the NIT.

It was the school's first postseason berth since 2008, but the second-round exit to California left Arkansas' players with something to be desired.

''They've got a bad taste in their mouth coming off of the last game we had,'' Anderson said. ''We got to a tournament, but not the tournament we want.''

This season, the Razorbacks return a roster loaded with experience, depth and talent - highlighted by sophomore Bobby Portis. The 6-foot-11 forward was a second-team All-SEC selection last year after averaging 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, and Anderson is counting on his improved post play to lead a team that returns six of its top seven scorers.

Arkansas finished fifth in the SEC last season with a 10-8 conference record, including two wins over national runner-up Kentucky. However, the Razorbacks lost six games by five points or fewer - something Portis hopes to improve along with reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time under Anderson.

''It's extremely important, just because last year we (were) this close to doing it,'' Portis said. ''Last year, we didn't finish. This year, that's one of our goals. Just to not only get there but go far in the tournament.''

Portis will have plenty of experienced frontcourt help this season, with senior Alandise Harris and sophomore center Moses Kingsley returning at forward.

Also, Anderson hopes the additions of junior-college transfer Jabril Durham and freshman Anton Beard can help boost the point guard position - where the Razorbacks struggled last season.

Whoever takes the reigns at the point will have plenty of offensive options surrounding him, with senior Ky Madden returning after averaging a team-high 12.7 points per game. High-flying Michael Qualls is also back for his junior season after averaging 11.6 points per game, and sophomore Anthlon Bell returns after scoring 28 points in the NIT opener against Indiana State.

''I feel like the sky's the limit this season,'' Bell said.

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