Jason Ivester

Attacking The Rim: A Look Back And Ahead

Arkansas had its up and downs during a 16-16 season, but should be in position to get back in the postseason in 2016-2017 after missing it this March for the first time in three seasons.

An Arkansas basketball team that had plenty of ups and downs and seemingly rode a rollercoaster throughout the season finally leveled out in the end.

The Razorbacks (16-16, 9-9) were riding a four game-winning streak before losing their final two games to South Carolina 76-61 in the home finale and to Florida 68-61 in the SEC tournament to finish at .500.

It was a tough end to a season that was expected to be a rebuilding one with six of its top seven scorers gone and Arkansas picked 12th or 13th in most preseason polls, but nevertheless showing promise at times.

The Razorbacks finished tied with the Gators for eighth in the league race with juniors Dusty Hannahs (16.5) and second-team All-SEC selection Moses Kingsley (15.9, 9.3) and senior Anthlon Bell (15.7) being the highest scoring trio in the SEC. 

“I can't say enough about these guys here, especially these guys to my right,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said after the tournament loss. “ They've been kind of the heart and soul of this basketball team.

“They made this season a memorable one because you've got to remember, no one had us (picked high) -- probably had us picked dead last in the league, and we ended up 9-9. So there was some improvement with this team.”

That’s not to say that Anderson was happy with the season, which meant his team would not make its second trip to NCAA Tournament in five years and missed the postseason for the first time in three years.

 Hannahs poured in a season-high 33 points against the Gators – the second-most by a Razorback in the SEC Tournament behind Todd Day’s 39 in 1992 - while Kingsley had 10 points and 14 rebounds for his 16th double-double of the season.

“I'd trade all those points for a W to keep playing in March," noted Hannahs, the former Pulaski Academy star that transferred from Texas Tech. "That's the bottom line.  It doesn't matter. We're going home. I'd rather have zero (points) and us moving on to play A&M."

 

Hannahs will look back at several close games that Arkansas lost.

“We were a team that we just came up short,” Hannahs said. “I would say ten games we lost by four points or two possessions or a possession. We were just so close so many times.

“In hindsight, that makes it painful because a couple more balls roll our way and you make a different play here and there, it's a totally different season.

“I had a lot of fun playing with these guys and this coaching staff. Like Coach said, everyone is we guys, and we were all coming every day trying to figure out what we could do better.

“We ended the season on a good run and then lost those last two. I think it was a testament to everyone battling adversity on our team and throughout the whole year.”

Bell, whose 52 3-pointers meant he led the Razorbacks in three-pointers made in all of his four seasons, struggled in the final game of his Arkansas career.

"It's tough for the season to end like this," Bell said. "As a senior, you want to go as far as you can in March, but sometimes it doesn't happen like that." 

Bell and Hannahs were a deadly duo most of the season with 99 3-pointers combined as Arkansas shot a single-season record 39.6 percent as a team from 3-point range after being over 40 percent until the final contest.

"Dusty carried us the whole game,"  Bell said. "They didn't have an answer for him. He just did everything he could.

 

"Me, I should have stepped up more. I should have, but it doesn't work like that sometimes. But give Dusty credit. He came out and did what he had to do to help the team."

Still Bell – who played significant minutes last season in Arkansas’ 27-9 squad that got to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament – was pleased with his team’s effort his season. 

“This team got better each game,” Bell said. “We had some mishaps throughout the season, but didn't nobody give up. Everybody just stuck with it. Going to SEC play, we got some key wins we needed.

“We just grew. Didn't nobody expect us to do what we did. People probably expected us to be playing yesterday (in the opening round), but we're playing today. 

“So I wouldn’t pick a different group of guys and a different group of guys to play with.”

Senior guard Jabril Durham played limited minutes as a junior, but ended his second season with 204 assists, the fourth-most ever in a single season by Razorback. 

He was one of four seniors that combined to score just 13 points in the final game with 8 of those coming from Bell. 

Arkansas will have an influx of talent to replace those four seniors with at least six new players on the roster – all between 6-4 and 6-9 – and all extremely athletic.

They all should make immediate impacts according to Razorback assistant Melvin Watkins.

“Some of the new bodies that we are bringing in – and we don’t talk a lot about recruiting – but have got some players that are going to come in that are going to add value to what we already have coming back,” Watkins said.

“When a season ends, it almost starts the new season immediately where a guy has to get in the gym and where ever he had some deficiencies they have got to come back a better player next year.”

That includes players such as 6-4 freshman guard Jimmy Whitt (6.1), a top 60 player nationally who had an inconsistent rookie season. 

He joins juniors-to-be Anton Beard (7.0), Manny Watkins (5.1), Trey Thompson (3.1, 4.3) in returning along with Hannahs and Kingsley.

 "I think you are going to see more of what we want to look like next year," Anderson said. "This team will be hungry and will be older and more talented."


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