Analysis: An early look at Arkansas' 2018-19 basketball team

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Monday, March 19, 2018
Daniel Gafford of Arkansas reacts in the second half against Butler Friday, March 16, 2018, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
Photo by Ben Goff
Daniel Gafford of Arkansas reacts in the second half against Butler Friday, March 16, 2018, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

Eligible to Return

G/F — Darious Hall, sophomore

Outside of Daniel Gafford's possible return, Hall is the player currently on the roster that has fans most excited. Hall always brings energy and great intensity to the floor on both ends. His athleticism and potential was on full display against Butler, skying for a put-back dunk off a missed Arkansas free throw and coming up with several big plays defensively, particularly around the 10-minute mark when the Razorbacks needed stops.

Arkansas was markedly better with Hall on the floor late in the season, outscoring its opponents by 10 points over the final four games when Hall came off the bench. The Razorbacks held Butler to .85 points per possession in 39 possessions, while scoring at a 1.16 PPP clip with Hall in the lineup. His length and savvy play give players fits. The Bulldogs' turnover rate rocketed to nearly 26 percent, and that's a direct correlation to Hall's play.

Many believe that he has a shot at winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year before his time at Arkansas is over. The next step for him is to become a more consistent 3-point shooter. He shot 41 percent this season in limited attempts, so he's capable. Should he continue to improve defensively and better his game on the offensive end, look out.

F — Gabe Osabuohien, sophomore

Osabuohien showed flashes of potential in limited minutes during his freshman season. He is a guy who could make a jump from year 1 to year 2, but it will likely have to be a significant one considering Arkansas' incoming class features frontcourt players Ethan Henderson and Reggie Chaney to go along with Adrio Bailey and Darious Hall.

Gabe's best stretch in 2017-18 came during a time when Arkansas was near desperate for wins, and he provided tremendous energy, enthusiasm and defense off the bench. Osabuohien spelled Arkansas' bigs early in games when either Bailey or Dustin Thomas found themselves in foul trouble. He received his first extended minutes as a Razorback against South Carolina and blended right in.

The Toronto native played just 136 minutes this season. His impact was felt most on the defensive end. Any offense Anderson got from him was an added bonus. But, in those minutes, he took eight charges - second most on the team - and finished with 41 deflections, which averages out to .3 per minute played. Stretch that number out to cover his seven minutes per game and he was able to create turnovers with his length fairly well.

F — Adrio Bailey, junior

Bailey started in 16 games this season and in each of the last four following the dismissal of Dustin Thomas. He stuffed the stat sheet against South Carolina in the SEC Tournament, his first start since Arkansas' Feb. 6 meeting with the Gamecocks, finishing with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and a pair of blocks.

He tended to play better against better competition, which speaks well for him. In 15 games this season against Tier A teams - top 50 KenPom opponents - he had an offensive rating of 115.3 and a true shooting percentage of 52.3. An area that Bailey improved upon as the year progressed - especially late - was his midrange game, so that could certainly be a positive heading into next season.

The Razorbacks' offense ran at a 1.16 point per possession clip in his 775 possessions this season. Arkansas' two-point (53.9) and three-point (40.1) field goal percentage were both better with him in the lineup. He is already a solid scorer at the rim both in the halfcourt and transition, so shoring up and growing more consistent with the jump shot would be beneficial moving forward.

G — C.J. Jones, junior

Jones had an interesting year. Very up and down would be a better way to put it. Jones, early on, appeared to be a player Mike Anderson could count on for instant offense off the bench. He hit 28 three-pointers in 13 nonconference games then hit a wall, connecting on just 15 in 22 SEC/postseason games and 13 of 44 (29.5 percent) in Arkansas' 18 league games.

Arkansas shot the 3 at a 30.3 percent clip with Jones on the floor in those 22 games. The Razorbacks could not afford to have Jones on the floor if his shots weren't falling. Jones finished a -30 in conference and postseason play, versus +105 in 12 non-league games plus Oklahoma State.

F — Daniel Gafford, sophomore

The El Dorado native is projected to go high in this year's NBA Draft by virtually every outlet that publishes big boards. Last week, prior to the NCAA Tournament, The Athletic's Sam Vecenie placed Gafford No. 13 on his list of the top 100 players. Sports Illustrated had him in the top 15. Most do.

Gafford coming back for another year would obviously be huge for Arkansas and give it an anchor around the rim and a huge shot-blocking presence. He would also serve as a veteran considering the youth on Arkansas' projected roster for next season. He was special for a large part of his freshman season, and regularly provided glimpses as to why NBA folks are salivating over his potential at the next level.

He had his struggles, yes, and some have called into question his readiness for a league with bigger, faster and stronger forwards and headier guards. But, Gafford was a unicorn in the SEC, running the full 94 feet with grace and finishing efficiently at the rim. Mike Anderson has said Gafford is arguably the most athletic big the program has ever seen. Arkansas outscored opponents by 163 points when he was on the floor this season; the Hogs were -1 when he sat.

Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford, who both entered their names in the draft last spring before backing out, spoke last week of the decision Gafford will have to make in the near future.

"Go with whatever makes you happy. I think he has to remember it's nobody else's choice but his," Macon said. "You've got live with the choices you make in life, and if he decides to go to the NBA, that's a decision that he made personally and he has to be happy with it whether it's wrong or right. I think that's just all part of becoming a man. You've got to live with the choices you make."

PG — Khalil Garland, redshirt freshman

Garland was relegated to watching Arkansas in street clothes from the bench this season because of an undisclosed medical condition, and his status remains a bit up in the air as of now. But speaking with players after Arkansas' loss to Butler on Friday, they seem optimistic about Garland's future.

Garland was the No. 2 recruit in Arkansas in the 2017 class, leading Parkview to a 5A state finals appearance his senior season. His Patriots club fell to Darious Hall's Mills squad in a highly entertaining game. Should Garland factor in next season, he provides ability as a true point guard, something the Razorbacks have not had in a while.

Perhaps we will know more about his future soon. Having him in the fold would give Arkansas a jolt at the guard spot.

Departures

G — Daryl Macon

Razorback fans are going to remember Daryl Macon for a long, long time. Not only was he a great scorer and a guy that became a very well-rounded player on the offensive end, he'll be thought of for years to come for his love for the program and the state. He wore the Arkansas uniform with a ton of pride, and it showed.

He wrapped up his career as Arkansas' second-leading scorer, averaging 16.8 points per game this season. He also led Arkansas in assists with 138 after totaling just 80 as a junior. His growth distributing the ball made him a dynamic offensive weapon. Teams often struggled to contain both facets of his game and it led to a historic string of 20+ point nights during conference play. He exits the program with the sixth-best career three-point percentage and a fan favorite.

G — Jaylen Barford

Jaylen Barford's meteoric rise in three-point accuracy made him one of the toughest covers in the SEC this season. He was phenomenal from distance all season. He finished the year at 43 percent from beyond the arc, up from 27 percent as a junior.

Barford led Arkansas is scoring at nearly 18 points per game and shot 47 percent from the floor. He'll be remembered as a flashy finisher around the rim in transition and for his brute strength, toying with some defenders to work himself into almost any shot he wanted. His midrange game was strong, especially when he resorted to the step back.

He came out of his shell as a senior and delighted fans with his personality in postgame interviews. He was never one to show a lot of emotion, but he had his moments, and it was fun to watch him blossom.

G — Anton Beard

Anton Beard's journey at Arkansas was a rocky one at times. However, he was a key part in each of Arkansas' three trips to the NCAA Tournament under Mike Anderson. Beard caught flack for some of his in-game decision making, particularly with shot selection, and off-the-court matters, but he left a mark on the program as well, and that can't be understated.

Beard finished his time at Arkansas with the eighth-best career assist-to-turnover ratio, and held the best mark on the team this season at better than 2:1.

He never shot better than 40.4 percent in his four years, but contributed in other areas. He finished with 130 steals - 30 or more in three of four seasons - and became a better distributor as a senior, totaling 105 assists (35 more than his junior year).

F — Trey Thompson

No player in the Arkansas locker room took the loss to Butler harder than Trey Thompson. Red-eyed and emotional, he voiced his thanks and appreciation to Mike Anderson for giving him the chance to play for his homestate team.

Thompson finished his senior season fourth on the team in assists behind Arkansas' three senior guards, and with the third-most assists in program history by a Razorback 6-9 or taller. Thompson will be missed.

His basketball IQ, passing ability and block of eventual SEC Player of the Year Yante Maten in Arkansas' double-overtime win at Georgia will be remembered for years.

F — Arlando Cook

Arlando Cook was the first to say it when meeting with the media prior to Arkansas' Senior Night: his career didn't pan out the way a lot of people - himself included - had hoped. But he did his best to make the most of his situation and grew from it.

Cook scored a career-high nine points early on in his Razorback career against Southern Illinois and added a memorable seven points against Auburn in his final game in Bud Walton Arena in which he finished the night with a +22 when in the lineup. He also scored a pair of big buckets against Florida in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals in his hometown of St. Louis that sparked Arkansas' big run to put the game out of reach.

Newcomers

PG — Jalen Harris, sophomore

Harris played nearly 21 minutes per game as a freshman at New Mexico prior to transferring to Arkansas. It appears he has the potential to be a solid true point guard and on-ball defender.

He had 25 steals at New Mexico - would have ranked third on this year's team behind the three senior guards - and finished with three or more takeaways twice. Harris was +46 in 2016-17 as a freshman with the Lobos. He derived 76 percent on his positive scoring value from shooting free throws, per HoopLens, and 24 percent at the rim in transition, so he’s effective running the floor and had strong games behind the 3-point line on occasion, which, ideally, you'd like from that position.

Traveling back from Detroit, I came across conversations on Twitter about next season's starting lineup. The initial tweet did not have Harris among the starters, but Jaylen Barford quickly joined in and provided a vote of confidence for Harris, stating he should be in that group. So, there's that.

SG — Isaiah Joe, freshman, 6-4, 175

This quote from Fort Smith Northside coach Eric Burnett on Joe tells you a great deal about his shooting ability: "I told him (as a sophomore), 'I want you to know that once you cross half court and you’re feeling it, I don’t want you to hesitate.'"

His handle became tighter this past season and his play on the defensive end improved a great deal. We know Mike Anderson is getting a knockdown shooter, but he's also getting a great ball-handler and a sneaky good defender capable of turning away shots at the rim, too.

He is as pure a shooter that Arkansas has recruited in a long time. He will impact the team from Day One because of that. He got valuable experience playing the point for Northside this season, has a tremendous basketball IQ and should be a great player for Arkansas.

Joe had offers from Alabama and Arkansas-Little Rock.

SG — Desi Sills, freshman, 6-1, 170

Sills is a force who makes winning plays. He is a skilled all-around player that will be a defensive stopper in college. He loves the challenge of shutting down the opponents' top threat.

Offensively, he has high energy and goes fearlessly to the basket. He also is a good outside shooter who is capable of playing the 1 or the 2.

He is a winner who played on one of the most successful programs in the state at Jonesboro.

Sills had offers from Missouri and Alabama-Birmingham.

SF — Ethan Henderson, freshman, 6-9, 190

He is the highest-rated of the recruits, more based on his potential than his production at Little Rock Parkview. He plays best against the best competition, which means he seems to be more dynamic in AAU basketball than he does high school. He has some of the same qualities as Daniel Gafford - long, athletic, good shot blocker and rebounder, and strong to the basket. He needs to add some strength and weight, but should play a part in the rotation next year with or without Gafford.

Henderson is limited offensively. Most of his scoring comes in the paint on put backs, dunks or transition baskets.

Henderson had offers from LSU, Texas, Indiana and Arizona State.

PF — Reggie Chaney, freshman, 6-8, 230

Chaney is a pure power forward who will remind fans of Derek Hood. He is a relentless rebounder and great scorer inside. Production from the 4 should be much better next season, in part because of him. He has a mature body that looks college-ready. Like Henderson, he is mostly an in-the-paint scorer, but also has a good transition game. He likes to use the backboard.

Chaney had offers from Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Wichita State.

SG — Keyshawn Embery, freshman, 6-4, 190

Embery is a dynamic scorer with good length, a good outside shooter and has great handles. Both he and Chaney have played against a higher level of competition while at prep school and should be good to go from Day One. He is a complete combo guard who should develop as a 1.

Embery had offers from Purdue, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Arizona State.

SG — Jordan Phillips, freshman, 6-7, 210

Phillips is more of a small forward than Arkansas has had in quite a while. He is competitive, handles the ball well for a 6-7 guy and can score both inside and out. Phillips is versatile and can the 1, 2, 3 or 4. He might be the newcomer with the most upside.

Phillips had offers from Georgetown, SMU, Arizona State and Virginia Tech.

Notables

-Barring a graduate transfer, Arkansas will not have a senior on the roster for the second time in Mike Anderson's tenure with the Razorbacks. The only other season was 2012-13. That team went 19-13 and its season ended in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Anderson had just one senior on his 2010-11 Missouri team (23-11) that made the NCAA Tournament.

-Arkansas finished 2017-18 ranked 346th nationally in scoring from the power forward position. Production on the interior would be a great starting point for such a young team. Arkansas has not ranked inside the top 200 in that regard since 2014.

-If Khalil Garland is cleared to play next season, the Razorbacks will be two deep at the point guard spot, which would be a blessing for Mike Anderson. Keyshawn Embery could work his way into the point guard spot as well alongside Jalen Harris.

Breakdown by position

PG — Jalen Harris, Khalil Garland*

SG — C.J. Jones, Isaiah Joe, Desi Sills, Keyshawn Embery, Jordan Phillips

SF/PF — Darious Hall, Gabe Osabuohien, Ethan Henderson, Reggie Chaney, Adrio Bailey, Daniel Gafford*

Schedule

As of right now, we know Arkansas will face Texas in El Paso, Texas, to begin the season, Colorado State on the road in December and Western Kentucky in Bud Walton Arena. It is believed the Razorbacks will play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic, but that has not yet been officially confirmed.

In the coming months, we will find out just how much Mike Anderson is going to test his young team in the nonconference. Texas, Colorado State and Western Kentucky will be solid tests.

Gaining experience by playing away from home early on could be beneficial for this group in developing team chemistry and learning one another’s tendencies. Another benefit is that several of Arkansas’ newcomers have played together on the AAU circuit, so perhaps adjusting to the speed of the college game will prove to be their biggest hurdle.

But at the same time, many of them played in highly competitive classifications in high school and should be able to pick up the pace barring unforeseen setbacks.

Dudley E. Dawson and Richard Davenport contributed information to this report

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