Arkansas prepares for first test in exhibition
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)
Mike Anderson looked down for an information sheet when he was asked about Texas A&M-Commerce.
The first-year Arkansas coach admitted he didn't know much about the Razorbacks' first exhibition opponent, but he offered no apologies. Anderson's been focused on learning his own team over the past few weeks, and he expects to learn plenty more during Arkansas' two preseason exhibition games - beginning Friday night.
''We've still got a lot of question marks about our team,'' Anderson said. ''It gives us an opportunity to play someone else. We may outmatch them; I don't know that because I haven't seen them play.''
Question marks are one of the few certainties about the Razorbacks this season. They finished 18-13 last season under John Pelphrey, who was fired in March. However, they enter this season without seven players from that team, three who transferred after Anderson's hiring.
The exhibition opener will provide Anderson his first real opportunity to see how the new-look Arkansas actually looks against someone other than itself in practices and scrimmages. It's an opportunity he's waited for since he was hired away from Missouri.
''I'm anxious to see how we perform,'' Anderson said. ''It's one of those tests, and we're going to have a lot of tests throughout the year.''
From a big-picture perspective, it's an opportunity Anderson has waited for since serving as an assistant coach for the Razorbacks for 17 seasons under former coach Nolan Richardson. Anderson interviewed for the Arkansas job following Richardson's firing in 2002 but was bypassed in favor of Stan Heath - eventually landing at Alabama-Birmingham for four seasons before spending the last five with Missouri.
He faced a rebuilding job when he was hired at Missouri, and what awaits him at Arkansas is similar. The Razorbacks have missed the NCAA tournament in each of the past three seasons and haven't reached the second weekend of tournament play since 1996.
Much of Arkansas' hope this season will likely ride on the progress of a highly touted group of four freshmen - Ky Madden, Devonta Abron, BJ Young and Hunter Mickelson. Abron had 26 points and Young 17 in a recent scrimmage, and Anderson is eager to watch the group in game-action.
''You've got four freshmen who've never donned a Razorback uniform,'' Anderson said. ''They get a chance to go out now in front of the fans, the officials in a game setting. It's going to be interesting to see how they respond.''
Forward Marshawn Powell is the only returning starter after averaging 10.8 points last season, and his experience showed during a 35-point effort in the scrimmage. The junior showed little effects of an offseason foot injury and is being counted on to provide consistent scoring and rebounding.
More importantly, Anderson is looking for a point guard to lead his up-tempo attack. Junior Julysses Nobles saw the most action last season, averaging 8.4 points, and he is expected to see time along with sophomore Rickey Scott early on.
''That's a good problem to have, to have a couple of guys that can handle the basketball,'' Anderson said. ''I'm still trying to figure out who's the truest (point guard) we've got.''
Whether it's the Razorbacks who have experience or not, Anderson has a clear vision of what he wants to see as he aims to transform what has been a half-court team into a pressing, fast-paced one.
''I'm looking for the young guys to get a little taste of college basketball and just see how they go out and perform,'' Anderson said. ''But from the older guys, I just want to see a team go out and play unselfish and have fun.''