There's one more nonconference game left for Mike Anderson's third Arkansas basketball team, a date with Texas-San Antonio on Saturday. I like what I've seen so far in what should be an 11-2 start.
I'd like it a little more if the Razorbacks had played a true road game. There were three neutral site games in Hawaii and a trip to Little Rock, but I think I've seen enough to make some positive judgments on what is likely to happen in the SEC campaign and possibly an NCAA tournament berth.
First, I'll go on record as saying this is the best Arkansas basketball team in the last decade. The depth, talent and ability to play above the rim and make plays with the basketball is up. Way up.
Worries before the season started that the new rules that prevent hand checking in the open floor might be a death knell for Anderson's style have not materialized. In fact, I think this Arkansas team has been better at moving their feet and playing solid defense and has avoided excessive fouling, especially at guard.
The group of Rashad Madden, Kikko Haydar and Fred Gulley – rotating at the point – has been impressive in staying out of foul trouble. Of course, it helps that they have help behind them with Bobby Portis, Michael Qualls, Alandise Harris, Coty Clarke and Moses Kingsey. The Hogs are much better with forwards defending the rim.
The Hogs have forced turnovers while avoiding fouls. The opposition has committed 220 turnovers and shot only 250 foul shots through 12 games. I'll take that ratio with the new rules.
The depth of this Arkansas team is impressive. Qualls, Portis, Harris, Madden and Clarke lead the scoring, averaging 13.9 points down to 8.2. I thought Anthlon Bell, my pick as the team's best 3-point shooter, might lead the team in scoring. He's sixth best at 7.9 per game. That's a good thing, not a problem.
I've always felt that the toughest thing to guard when filling out a scouting report is balance. The Hogs have that with 11 players scoring at least 41 points in the first 12 games.
The skill has improved on this team, led by Qualls, so much more fluid with his left hand, the off hand. He can finish with either hand this year. Last year, he had trouble at the rim with either hand unless he got a dunk.
It's tough to go from an inside player, as he was in high school, to a perimeter guy. It reminds me of U.S. Reed's conversion from post player at Pine Bluff to off guard in college. Many did not recruit Reed because they feared he could not make such a transition from post to guard.
Qualls has done it and should continue to improve. He's better with the ball and has displayed a nice shooting touch, even some range. So will Portis and Kingsley, the 6-10 freshmen standouts with ability to move their feet and a nice shooting touch.
What I like best about this Arkansas team has to do with chemistry. They all appear to be listening to Anderson. He has mentioned that several times in his media briefings. When players are interested in what the coach wants, things work out. He is emphasizing the right thing and has playing time to distribute evenly to make his point clear.
Watch the turnover numbers as conference play hits. Can the Hogs continue to maintain low totals on offense while forcing mistakes with their defense. It is not lost on me that Madden (20), Haydar (9) and Gulley (8) have limited their turnovers so far this season. Can they do it in the SEC on the road when adversity hits?
The other number to watch is fouls. Kingsley (22), Harris (18), Portis (12) and Clarke (10) have combined to block 62 shots and have not been in severe foul trouble. Will this continue?
And, can the Hogs continue to shoot well from 3-point range? There are seven Hogs shooting at least 40 percent on threes to help the team manage 37.9 percent. Madden has canned a stunning 14 of 27 for 51.9 and Qualls has hit 18 of 40 for 45.0. Those are winning numbers.
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