Alabama's challenging schedule to begin league play continues with a trip to always tough Bud Walton Arena. If there's one team that could emerge as that third team in the SEC with Kentucky and Florida, I'm betting on this group. They're one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the conference, well-coached, great fan support and have a potential breakout star in Bobby Portis, who Bama fans may remember for his 35 point, 9 rebound, 6 block performance in Bud Walton a year ago. If Arkansas improves on defense and wins a few more on the road, they will return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.
Arkansas returns 6 of their top 8 scorers, including their top 3 scorers from a year ago, the aforementioned Portis, Rashad Madden (12.6 ppg) and Michael Qualls (11.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg). Other returning players of note are Alandise Harris (8.9 ppg), Anthlon Bell (7.1 ppg) and Moses Kingsley (4.0 ppg, 1.5 bpg). Keaton Miles, a transfer from West Virginia will also be eligible this season after sitting out last season.
Two major question marks for this Arkansas team will be at point guard and on defense. Rashad Madden was forced to run the point for the team last season. He did a manageable job, but he's better playing off the ball. In an effort to address this, Mike Anderson signed two point guards. Juco recruit, Jabril Durham, may get the first shot at running the team. At Seminole State College last season, Durham averaged 21.2 ppg, 6.7 apg, 5.5 rpg and 2.5 spg. The freshman guard, Anton Beard, was a 3-star, ESPN top 100 recruit.
We've yet to see any of Mike Anderson's teams at Arkansas really stand out defensively. It's strange really, as the identity of his teams at UAB and Missouri was made on the defensive end. Last season, Arkansas was 13th in the SEC in opponent points per game (74.4). If this team hopes to compete for the SEC title and return to the NCAA tournament, they've got to improve on the defensive end.