Kingsley, transfers, lead Arkansas' renewed NCAA hopes
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Mike Anderson had plenty of good will with Arkansas fans when he was hired in 2011, thanks to his time as an assistant coach during the school's glory days.
Those 17 years next to former coach Nolan Richardson, including the 1994 national championship, never seemed as far away as they did during last season when Arkansas finished 16-16.
That's why, in an attempt to reclaim some of that good will lost over the course of five seasons with only one NCAA Tournament appearance, Anderson brought in an influx of top junior-college talent this year to go along with Southeastern Conference preseason Player of the Year Moses Kingsley .
Whether the additions of guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, along with forward Arlando Cook, are enough to return the Razorbacks to their 27-win level of two seasons ago is unclear. But it's a start.
''The thing that excites me is we've got more pieces now,'' Anderson said. ''Pieces to the puzzle that fit what we want to do.''
Arkansas spent much of last season unable to recover from the early departures of former SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis and All-SEC performer Michael Qualls.
This season, the Razorbacks hope to mesh quickly around Kingsley, who considered leaving for the NBA before deciding to come back for his final season.
The 6-foot-10 Nigerian center emerged from Portis' shadow last season to average 15.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and he had an early glimpse of his new teammates during a 10-day, four-game team trip to Spain over the summer. He liked what he saw, just as Arkansas fans hope the same in Anderson's sixth season.
''I feel like the team has help now,'' Kingsley said.
Some other things to watch as Arkansas attempts to return to the NCAA Tournament after missing it last season:
Kingsley isn't the only top returner for the Razorbacks, with sharp-shooter Dusty Hannahs also back after leading the team with 16.5 points per game last season. The senior was fifth in the SEC in 3-point percentage last season, hitting 43.3 percent from behind the arc, and said he ''absolutely'' expects Arkansas to return to the NCAA Tournament this season.
The Razorbacks were 247th in the country last season while allowing opponents to average 74.7 points per game. Not surprisingly, defensive improvement has been a point of emphasis for Anderson - who is counting on better perimeter defense with Barford and Macon, along with junior Anton Beard. ''We have to make teams uncomfortable with the basketball,'' Anderson said.
Former Arkansas point guard Jabril Durham graduated after leading the Razorbacks with an average of 6.4 assists per game last season, and Anderson expects the 6-foot-3 Barford to try and take over that position of lead playmaker. Barford averaged a national-best 26.3 points per game in junior college last season, but he also averaged 5.1 assists per game two years ago and has good passing ability.
Beard played in 23 games last season, but he never appeared fully comfortable after missing the first semester following his arrest on forgery charges. The junior has stayed out of trouble's way this year, and Anderson is counting on the guard to return to his All-SEC freshman form of two years ago - when he averaged 5.8 points per game.
The power forward position was a prime weakness for Arkansas last season, and Anderson hopes 6-foot-8 Colorado transfer Dustin Thomas can help fill that void. Thomas averaged 4.4 points per game as a sophomore with the Buffaloes two seasons ago, and he was second on the Razorbacks in rebounding during their four games in Spain this summer.