Anderson eyes third-year improvement at Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Mike Anderson's third season at Missouri marked the turnaround in his five seasons there, with the Tigers making a deep NCAA tournament run.
Now about to begin his third season in his return to Arkansas, Anderson hopes to follow that blueprint for success with the Razorbacks.
Arkansas has largely struggled to gain a foothold among the Southeastern Conference's top teams since Anderson's return two years ago. The Razorbacks were 19-13 last season and finished 10-8 in the SEC, an improvement from 6-10 the season before, but they were a dismal 1-12 away from home and missed the postseason for the fifth straight season.
Anderson is counting on even more improvement this season, much like his third Missouri team that went 31-7 after a finishing 16-16 in his second season.
''I expect this team to perform at a high level this year,'' Anderson said. ''Each year, improvement has been made. Now we need to take that next step. Every year, we're trying to win a national championship. And the only way you're going to win one is you've got to be playing in postseason play.''
If Arkansas is to return to the NCAA tournament, where it hasn't been since 2008, it will be behind a largely new group of leading players this season - led by junior transfer Alandise Harris and top freshman Bobby Portis.
The two are being counted on to replace the production the Razorbacks had last season from leading scorers BJ Young and Marshawn Powell, both gone.
The 6-foot-6 Harris sat out last season after transferring from Houston, where he averaged 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds as a sophomore. The Little Rock native had 26 points and nine rebounds in the team's Red-White game, and he's being counted on to help provide much-needed rebounding help.
Portis, meanwhile, had 18 points in the Red-White game - just the starting point for what Anderson hopes is a freshman season in which the 6-foot-10 forward shows why he was among the country's top recruits.
''I see a guy that's humble and hungry and he wants to be of impact,'' Anderson said of Portis. ''Now how much of impact? That remains to be seen, but the beauty of it to me is that we've got some other pieces to the puzzle.''
Five things to watch as Anderson looks for a third-year jump at Arkansas:
FORMIDALE FRONTCOURT: Harris and Portis are just two of the new pieces Anderson hopes bring a new and improved look up front this season. Arkansas also signed 6-foot-10 freshman Moses Kingsley, which will help ease the defensive loss felt by the transfer of center Hunter Mickelson to Kansas, and forwards Coty Clarke and Jacorey Willams return to provide depth.
OUTSIDE THREAT: The Razorbacks struggled with consistency from behind the 3-point line last year, connecting on just 30 percent of their outside shots. Part of the problem was the dropoff of guard Mardracus Wade, who hit just 29.1 percent of his 3-point shots last year after leading the SEC as a sophomore by hitting 70 of 147 (47.6 percent) of his outside shots. Wade returns for his senior season this year, and he and sophomore guard Anthon Bell are expected to provide the bulk out of the outside shooting.
POINT OF ATTACK: Anderson still hasn't found a true point guard to run his up-tempo system like he had at Missouri with Phil Pressey, or during Arkansas' glory days with Lee Mayberry or Corey Beck. Anderson expects a by-committee approach to the position this season, with senior Kikko Haydar and junior forward Ky Madden seeing much of the time serving as a distributor. ''That's what you want, is to have someone who can calm the team down when things get out of hand.'' Madden was suspended for the opener along with two exhibition games.
PORTIS TIME: Portis was the first player Anderson went to watch play after he was hired by Arkansas two years ago, and many of Arkansas' hopes lie with how well the freshman adjusts to the SEC. The forward is the first Razorbacks signee since 2004 to have played in the McDonald's All-American game. ''There are big expectations of me, but I try not to worry about it,'' Portis said. ''I can't worry about everybody else's expectations of me. I have to do it by myself.''
THIRD-YEAR IMPROVEMENT: Anderson is 37-27 in his two seasons with Arkansas, where he was an assistant under former coach Nolan Richardson for 17 seasons. He was 34-28 in his first two seasons at Missouri before improving to 31-7 in his third season.
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