FAYETTEVILLE — The competition provided by Central Missouri University and Emporia State prove nothing.
But the numbers the Arkansas Razorbacks provided in those two 87-60 and 90-44 exhibition game victories NCAA mandated to be against down a division Division II schools proved plenty.
Surely these 2016-2017 Razorbacks officially opening their season Friday night against Fort Wayne University will be a deeper, more defensively aggressive and just plain better team than last season’s Razorbacks.
Last season’s defections-suspensions-injury wracked Razorbacks of Coach Mike Anderson overachieved just to be 16-16 overall and 9-9 in the SEC.
While projecting this current team to match the 27-9 and 13-5 overall and SEC records of Anderson’s Bobby Portis led Razorbacks of 2014-2015 could be a stretch, expect this team to play in the college basketball postseason be well beyond last year’s mediocrity.
Anderson plays with a 13-man full deck of scholarship players this season. And one of them, senior center Moses Kingsley, was voted to be by SEC media as the SEC Preseason Player of the Year which Portis achieved postseason in 2014-2015.
Even with Kingsley falling into a horrendous free throw shooting slump, his season of averaging 15.9 points and 9.3 rebounds with 76 blocked shots, his season statistically rivaled Portis’ year of the season past.
Together Kingsley and 3-point shooting star Dusty Hannahs, 16.5 points average, made Arkansas a .500 team. They at least treaded water even as the Razorbacks were below par defensively. They lacked the manpower and overall team quickness to play the all over the place in your face aggressive defense that is basic to the defensive style that Anderson preaches.
They have the numbers and talent now to play like Anderson likes to play.
Anderson returns Kingsley of Nigeria, Hannahs of Little Rock, and blue-collar energetic sixth man guard Manuale Watkins of Fayetteville to be his senior class. As juniors he returns forward Trey Thompson of Madison via Forrest City High and North Little Rock High alum guard Anton Beard.
Beard amounts to be welcomed back for the first time. A disciplinary suspension for the fall semester put Beard out of baseball sync from which he did not recover.
The starting point guard as a freshman on the 27-9 Razorbacks, Beard has practiced and played to the form of two seasons ago but for now comes off the bench.
Junior college transfer guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, a Little Rock Parkview alum, play so well to be the starters now.
Power forward, often statistically nonexistent last season, it seemed, sports plenty of applicants with junior Dustin Thomas, 6-8, 225, eligible after last season’s mandatory redshirting as a transfer from the University of Colorado, junior college transfer Arlando Cook, and freshmen Adrio Bailey and Brachen Hazen joining Thompson, 6-9, and the biggest big man most likely to spell Kingsley, 6-10.
All this on hand and two on the shelf. Freshman guard C.J. Jones, the surprising shooting star of Arkansas’ exhibition tour of Spain, sprained a knee in preseason practice and likely will miss the season’s first two weeks of the season.
And recruited walk-on RJ Glasper, the freshman guard from Forrest City, who impressed during early preseason practices, has twice injured a shoulder requiring surgery that likely will cause him to redshirt.
Arkansas’ strength in numbers, Anderson said, means Kingsley and Hannahs no longer having to pace themselves like they did last season.
“We will be looking for quality minutes over quantity,” Anderson said. “Moses is doing what he’s supposed to do. “Block shots, rebound be an anchor in the middle. He’s a little more versatile running the floor and making nice passes.”
Kingsley repeatedly burned Emporia State running the floor for dunks off outlet passes from rebounding guards or initiating breaks off rebounds of his own.
He blocked four shots against Central Missouri and blocked six against Emporia in part because he could rely on guards like Watkins and Barford, 25 rebounds between them for two games, to go for the board if he missed blocking the shot.
“To see Manuale and Jaylen go to the boards like that takes a lot of pressure off our big guys,” Anderson said. “I still want our big guys rebounding, but it’s nice to have some other guys helping.”
Against Central Missouri when the Razorbacks hit but 1 of 11 3-point tries, Hannahs missed both attempts. He also missed two free throws yet still led Arkansas with 17 points.
Anderson loved it.
“It was good to see Dusty attack the basket and do other things,” Anderson said.
Last season’s Hogs led by Kingsley, Hannahs, and graduated guard Anthlon Bell, could score.
It appears these Hogs can do but in more ways off their defense.
“Barford, I actually have to tell him to shoot more,” Anderson said during the Emporia post game. “Daryl Macon is capable of scoring but what I really liked was our defensive intensity. We had 28 deflections at halftime and our goal is 44 a game. We had Emporia playing on the back of their heels.”
Both Central Missouri Coach Doug Karleskint and Emporia’s Vandiver said Arkansas’ defensive pressure unraveled their teams.
Anderson wasn’t hearing that much last season, not even in exhibition games.