April 17, 2024

2016-2017 SEC basketball preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

Last season, the Arkansas Razorbacks finished a meager 16-16 and tied for eighth in the SEC. Will they produce another mediocre result, or can the Hogs turn the corner in 2016?

Arkansas Razorbacks forward Moses Kingsley (33) shoots the ball past Tennessee Volunteers guard Robert Hubbs III (3) during the first half. Gunnar Rathbun-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Arkansas Razorbacks finished a mediocre 16-16 under head coach Mike Anderson, tying with Florida for eighth place in the SEC. The Hogs were picked to finish 11th in the SEC, but after finishing beside the Gators, Arkansas barely escaped some already brutal preseason predictions.

This season, the Razorbacks roll into Bud Walton Arena with a spring in their step. Gone is the need to rely on only a couple of playmakers, as Anderson has brought in several blue-chip prospects to aid what many hope to be another run from Fayetteville to the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas is predicted to finish fifth in the conference, according to the SEC media preseason poll.

Strengths

The Hogs’ biggest strengths lie in Moses Kingsley and Dusty Hannahs, two big-time players who comprise the core of Anderson’s 2016 team.

Kingsley’s decision to return for his senior season should pay off in spades for Arkansas’ hopes for this season. The media’s pick to win SEC Player of the Year, the big man racked up 15.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks (second in SEC) per game last season.

Kingsley’s efforts led his Hogs to a No. 22 ranking in blocks per game in 2015, a trend he can only hope will continue as Arkansas’ shot-blocking ability counts towards another strength for the Razorbacks.

Hannahs, meanwhile, contributes in no small part on his own. The senior guard just recently landed on the 2017 Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award watch list, and for good reason considering Hannahs’ team-leading 16.5 points per game last season.

Hannahs storms into his senior season in Fayetteville holding 976 career points, and he capped off the Hogs’ 2015 campaign with a career-high 33 points in the Razorbacks’ SEC Tournament loss to Florida.

Another strong presence in the Razorbacks’ frontcourt can be found in rising junior Trey Thompson, who crashed the boards for 4.3 rebounds per game last season, second only to Kingsley’s whopping 9.3. And as a sophomore, Thompson led the way in field goal percentage, having shot 60.7 percent last year.

At the free throw line, the Hogs came in at 69.4 percent, and Hannahs lead the way at 87 percent. The Razorbacks’ success at the charity stripe is a statistic Anderson shouldn’t take lightly when crunch time rolls around for his team.

Also, Arkansas’ 356 turnovers in the 2015 season ranked as the 37th fewest in the nation, and the Hogs ranked 12th in the country at 39.7 percent from behind the arc.

Lastly, the Razorbacks have added a few star-studded recruits to the roster in junior college transfers Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon and Arlando Cook, and Colorado transfer Dustin Thomas adds some needed depth at the forward position.

Weaknesses

The Hogs’ greatest weakness lies on defense.

Arkansas allowed nearly 75 points per game —ranked 251st in the nation —and its defense against the three-pointer stacks in at 172nd in the country.

For a team whose defense will be facing elite shooters in SEC competition, that’s a glaring weakness that needs to be improved before the Hogs’ opener against Fort Wayne.

Players to watch

F Moses Kingsley, Sr. — Kingsley leads the way for an experienced Razorback backcourt. A native of Abuja, Nigeria, Kingsley racked up second-team All-SEC and SEC All-Defensive honors last season. Furthermore, Kingsley played his way to a top-10 finalist spot for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, which is given each season to the nation’s top center. Rather than declare for the 2016 NBA Draft, Kingsley elected to return to Fayetteville, which should pay dividends for this 2016 team. He ranks third in the SEC in rebounds per game and second in blocks, proving just how valuable the 6-foot-10 big man is for the Razorbacks’ hopes for this season.

G Dusty Hannahs, RS Sr. — A hot hand when needed, Hannahs comes up big for the Hogs. Last season, Hannahs led the Razorbacks in scoring 15 times, six of which came off the bench. He also ranked fifth in the SEC in three-point field goal percentage. The Little Rock native has been named to the 2017 Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award watch list, and stuffs the stat sheet as a playmaking leader for a Razorback team looking to make a run this year.

F Arlando Cook, Jr.  A junior college transfer, Cook made his name known as the sixth-ranked JUCO transfer of the 2016 class. He averaged 16.0 points per game at Connors State and was one of 21 players in the NJCAA to average a double-double on the season. Cook crashed the boards quite a bit, ranking 20th in rebounds last season with 10.1 per game. His presence down low should give Kingsley some much-needed room to work, and they could make quite a duo if Anderson can put them in spots to succeed.

Matchups to watch

Dec. 17 vs Texas (in Houston) — The Longhorns are ranked at No. 22 in USA Today’s preseason coaches poll, so a win over Texas in the Lone Star State would be a vital piece in putting together a solid resumé for this season. Shaka Smart knows how to put solid playmakers in their best positions, so even with Arkansas’ experience, Texas has enough young talent to be a threat. A win against the Longhorns could prove to be a big morale boost for the Razorbacks heading into conference play.

Florida (home and away) — To kick off its SEC schedule, the Hogs tangle with the Gators on Dec. 29. Fortunately, the matchup is at home in Fayetteville, but unfortunately, the Gators were picked to finish second in the preseason media poll. Canyon Barry is a big incoming weapon for the Gators, but one of the best matchups of the day should be between Florida’s John Egbunu and the Razorbacks’ post players, most notably Kingsley. If the Razorbacks want to get off to a good start in SEC play, a win over the highly-touted Gators at home is the way to do it. The Razorbacks travel to Gainesville on March 1.

Jan. 7 at Kentucky — Arkansas has a few tough tests early in the season, but none will be tougher than facing John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington. The Wildcats enter this season without playmakers such as Tyler Ulis, but in the same way Nick Saban’s Alabama football team reloads rather than rebuilds, so does Kentucky. Once more, Calipari boasts one of the nation’s premier recruiting classes, including but certainly not limited to five-star prospects Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Arkansas’ experience could again prove vital if Kentucky somehow falls apart due to a lack of experience. But seeing as how the Wildcats have done just fine with one-and-done players thus far, the Hogs need to be ready for a dogfight when they walk into Rupp Arena. A win against the Wildcats isn’t one that will come easily, especially not against a crowd like Kentucky’s Big Blue Nation, but it could launch the Razorbacks further into tournament discussion if they can get it done.

Prediction

The Razorbacks’ veteran experience and discontentment from last year’s mediocre showing will put them back on the map to success in 2016. Led by Kingsley, Hannahs, Thompson and a slew of talented transfers, the Hogs will finish fifth in the SEC, just as the media predicted. They’ll fall just short in winning the SEC Tournament and won’t earn a bid to the Big Dance, thus making an appearance in the NIT.

Edited by Dalton King 

Featured image by Gunnar Rathbun, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

+ posts

Sports editor Jake Nichols has been part of the TNJN staff in two different capacities. His freshman and sophomore years, Jake worked as a staff writer before moving on to write for Rocky Top Insider, and he also worked with VFL Films and the SEC Network for a semester his junior year. When asked the summer before his senior year to return to TNJN as the sports editor, Jake jumped at the chance to end his time in Knoxville working with the organization he first began with as a freshman. Jake is excited to help lead younger writers, much like former editors Cody McClure and Jordan Dajani aided him. Jake also does freelance sports coverage and photography for The Mountain Press in Sevierville, Tenn., and in his spare time, he can be found with family, his girlfriend or driving his Jeep, most likely with his Canon in tow. Be sure and follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram at @jnichols_2121, and keep up with TNJN Sports on Twitter as well!