Arkansas looks for improvement under Anderson

Mike Anderson has refused to shy away from the past since he was

hired at Arkansas.

The Razorbacks coach has reminded followers consistently about

the school’s 1994 national championship, one he was part of as an

assistant to then-coach Nolan Richardson. Anderson has also made it

clear he thinks the Razorbacks can return to that level – starting,

perhaps, with a trip to the NCAA tournament this season.

Arkansas started quickly before fading late last season,

Anderson’s first since leaving Missouri, and missed the tournament

for the fourth straight year. The injury-depleted Razorbacks lost

nine of their final 12 games to finish 18-14, a mark Anderson hopes

to improve on this season behind a reloaded and replenished

roster.

It’s an expected improvement that Anderson hopes is another step

toward his eventual goal.

”My focus is unbelievable in terms of getting Razorbacks

basketball to the highest level,” Anderson said. ”There’s a

standard here, and I understand that. Myself and my staff have been

working night and day to make sure we’re doing all the right things

to change the culture and get our guys on the same page we

are.”

Anderson thought he had his foundation set last season with

forward Marshawn Powell and electrifying guard BJ Young. Powell

only lasted two games before missing the rest of the season with a

torn ACL – opening a leadership role for Young, who averaged a

team-high 15.3 points per game as a freshman.

After an offseason of rehabilitation for Powell and Young’s

decision to bypass the NBA draft, both return this season. The duo

is expected to lead an overhauled roster that features seven new

players.

”We’re certainly looking forward to preparing for year two and

building on some of the things we did in year one,” Anderson said.

”Obviously, we want to address some of the concerns or things we

didn’t do well in year one, and that is to get some depth and more

guys who fit what we’re doing.”

Arkansas played much of last season with only eight scholarship

players because of injuries. Anderson said the lack of depth played

a role in the late-season swoon, keeping the coach from playing as

much high-tempo and swarming defense as he likes. The result was a

Razorbacks defense that was worst in the Southeastern Conference,

allowing an average of 69.7 points per game.

To counter the lack of numbers this season, Anderson added four

freshmen along with a trio of transfers. Anderson liked what he saw

from the freshmen – Michael Qualls, Jacorey Williams, DeQuavious

Wagner and Anthlon Bell – during a four-game exhibition series in

Italy, and the new faces have been welcome relief for the

veterans.

”Definitely,” Powell said. ”We’re going to need numbers

playing in the system we play in.”

Powell only played in two games last season before injuring his

right knee in practice, averaging 19.5 points and shooting 71

percent from the field in his limited action. The junior didn’t

have much of an opportunity to play and mesh with Young, but he

paid close attention to the sophomore’s game – particularly during

the summer trip.

”I feel like him and I will work well together,” Powell said.

”He’s a very speedy and heady guard, and I’m just going to play

off of him and see how I can make it work.”

Young, who is expected to see time at both shooting and point

guard this season, wouldn’t say if he decided to return to college

with the intention of leaving after this season. However, he was

adamant about his excitement of playing with Powell.

”I felt like if I came back I could help the team improve on

stuff that we did last season,” Young said. ”With the new talent

we had coming in and the coaching staff being under them for

another year, I feel like we can rise up even more from where we

were at last year.”

A lack of size was an ongoing problem last year for Arkansas,

which was outrebounded by an SEC-worst 3.8 rebounds per game. The

6-foot-7 Powell is expected to provide help in that area this

season, as is 6-7 junior-college transfer Coty Clarke.

Anderson had hoped to receive another boost in Houston transfer

and Arkansas native Alandise Harris, but the 6-6 forward – who

averaged 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds last year for the Cougars –

was denied immediate eligibility by the NCAA and must sit out this

season.

Regardless of who plays, the Razorbacks will have to play well

quickly against a nonconference schedule that includes Arizona

State, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Michigan. Arkansas will also face an

18-game SEC schedule for the first time – including a trip to

Anderson’s former school, Missouri, on March 5.

”We’ve got to come out with it from day one, in terms of

bringing the energy, bringing the focus,” Anderson said. ”I’m

anxious to see how this team develops, but I’ve just got a feeling

it’s going to be an exciting team.”