It’s no secret that Arkansas lost four starters and other significant players from last season’s 27-9 campaign and thus is not the most talented team in the country.
But the Razorbacks (4-4) may have one of the best scoring benches in the nation as evidenced by the fact that it poured in 40 points in Tuesday night’s 89-76 win over Evansville.
Arkansas - who hosts Tennessee Tech (7-2) Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena - is averaging a collective 34 points and 17 rebounds per game off the bench and that is likely to go up soon with the addition of suspended sophomore point guard Anton Beard.
“It's been big,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “The other night we got 40 points off the bench. That's a plus. I've always thought our bench was a lot stronger than other teams' benches.
“That hasn't been the case this year because of the sheer numbers, but when you do get your bench at that position and you've got guys coming off that can score, you look at other people's benches, you don't think they're going to have those kind of people coming off to score at that level.”
That includes leading scorer Dusty Hannahs (18.2), a 6-3 junior in his first-season at Arkansas that is 50 percent from 3-point range, 97.2 percent from the free throw line and 47.3 percent overall from the field.
The Razorbacks are also getting excellent play from 6-3 junior guard Manuale Watkins (7.1, 4.0, 23 assists to 4 turnovers) and 6-10 senior center Willy Kouassi (4.0, 2.8).
The additions of sophomore forward Trey Thompson (6-10, 255), who is expected to play significant minutes on Saturday after playing a few minutes Tuesday and being out the previous three games, and Beard’s return should help that even more.
“From 1 through 5, teams are going to out-talent us, no question about it,” Anderson said. “But hopefully we can find a difference when we got to that bench. And you've got your leading scorer coming off the bench right now. But to me he's like a starter anyway.”
Thompson should be full go for the first time since he injured his ankle against Georgia Tech in the NIT Preseason Tip-Off in Brooklyn on Thanksgiving Day.
“He'll play multiple minutes in this particular game,” Anderson said. “ I was anxious to see him get out there. You know he only practiced maybe a day and a half so I was anxious to see how he did out there..his mobility. And he did ok.
“With the day off yesterday and having the opportunity to get some more treatment, he’ll practice today, practice tomorrow, and he'll be ready to play.”
Beard (6-1, 195) averaged 5.7 points and nearly 20 minutes per game last season as a freshman and started the last 16 games at point guard.
He will be eligible to play next Saturday when the Razorbacks play Mercer in North Little Rock.
Getting Beard and Thompson back is a benefit in practice as well as the games for Arkansas, which has been practicing with just 10 scholarship players.
“It will help our practice number one,” Anderson said. “Sometimes I feel like I need to get out there and play. It is going to help our numbers from a standpoint, even in practice. Can you imagine, you’ve got 10 guys and a couple of walk on kids.
“As you work in your practice, there are times when I just have to take a break so they can get a breather before we get back into practice. So it will be good from that standpoint. Just having those bodies and guys who know how to play, I think that is big.”
It should also help Arkansas to close out games better as it has been playing only eight players over the past four games.
“So hopefully it will be a welcome relief to get some more bodies to go with these guys,” Anderson said. “Guys are playing at a pretty good level right now. You want efficient minutes and that is going to be the charge as we get into these games.
“Hopefully we can spread some more of the playing time out so we can have these quality minutes and have those strong finishes that we are talking about.”
Tennessee Tech will come into the game on a six-game winning streak.
The Golden Eagles have not lost since 76-63 loss at New Mexico State on Nov. 18 and have run off home wins over Jackson State, Robert Morris, UC-Clermont, Mississippi Valley State, East Tennessee State and road victory at Lipscomb since that defeat.
Tennessee Tech rallied from a 16-point deficit to beat in-state rival Lipscomb 81-78 last Saturday.
“Tennessee Tech is a team that is scoring over 83 points a game,” Anderson said. “So we know it’s going to be an up and down game. They are a guard oriented team. They have multiple guys that can really shoot the ball from the 3-point line. They have made 72 threes over the season.
“So it’s one of those scrappy teams. They are 7-2 at this point in time so it’s a team that is probably playing with a lot of confidence.”
The Golden Eagles - who have six players shooting over 80 percent from the free throw line - are led 6-1 senior guard Torrance Rowe (17.6), 6-9, 225-pound senior center Ryan Martin (14.1, 8.4) and 6-3 sophomore shooting guard Aleska Jugovic (10.1).
Martin, a native of London, England, who transferred from South Plans Community College, is a former St. John’s recruit and joins 6-9, 230-pound power forward Anthony Morse (8.2, 6.2) and 6-3 junior guard Simane Thomas in the starting line up
“One of the games that I have seen, they were playing New Mexico State on the road and they were right there with New Mexico State in that game.” Anderson said. “We are going to get their best shot and hopefully we can build on from the last game against a good Evansville team.”
Arkansas is scoring 86 points per game, a surprise to many who expected them to struggle offensively.
But the Razorbacks are also giving up 78 points per game and that troubles Anderson.
“We are scoring,” Anderson said. “We have got to stop somebody. That is the key. That is what we have always talked about - stopping people. So that is my mindset right now. I don’t really worry about scoring.
“…I think some of that scoring comes because of our defense. I feel these guys have worked extremely hard, I think they want to prove themselves. So offensively they have done that.
“So now we have to pull together from a defensive standpoint and to me it is just some little tweaking, some little understanding and the nuances of pressure defense, even half court defense.”