David Cloninger

Previewing SEC basketball: Arkansas

Jimmy Dykes shut up his critics last year by guiding a nine-woman team to the NCAA tournament. What does he have in store for Year 2?
Jimmy Dykes shut up his critics last year by guiding a nine-woman team to the NCAA tournament. What does he have in store for Year 2? AP

South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches.

Other previews

Oct. 31 Alabama

ARKANSAS

Men

Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Mike Anderson (86-58, fifth year; 286-146, 15th year)

2014-15 record (SEC finish): 27-9 (13-5)

2014-15 postseason: Second round, NCAA

Roster

Schedule

He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Nick Babb (transferred to Iowa State, 0.7 ppg, 0.8 rpg), G Rashad Madden (9.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg), F Alandise Harris (7.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg), F Bobby Portis (NBA, 17.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg); G Michael Qualls (NBA, 15.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), F Jacorey Williams (dismissed, transferred to Middle Tennessee, 4.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg)

He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 6-10 C Willy Kouassi (Sr., transfer from Kennesaw State, 4.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg), 6-7 F Dustin Thomas (Jr., transfer from Colorado, will sit out this year), 6-7 G Lorenzo Jenkins, 6-4 G Jimmy Whitt

Top returners: 6-3 G Anthlon Bell (7.9 ppg, 1.2 rpg), 6-0 G Anton Beard (5.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg), 6-10 F Moses Kingsley (3.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg)

Arkansas made the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years last season, and did it with a sterling team. Bobby Portis was one of the elite big men in the game and Michael Qualls was a modern-day Dr. J in the way he could invent new ways to jam a ball.

It was just like old times. Mike Anderson was around for many of those, having served under Nolan Richardson for 17 years that included five Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights, three Final Fours and a national championship. There was no doubt that a return to the big-time was coming, and it finally arrived last year.

Now, though …

Arkansas fans should enjoy last year’s memories. It may be a while before the Hogs get back to the NCAAs. This offseason has been one to file with motorcycle accidents on lonesome roads.

Portis and Qualls left for the NBA. The rest of the graduating class gutted the Razorbacks of five of their top seven scorers. Four-star recruit Ted Kapita didn’t qualify and Dustin Thomas, Jacorey Williams and Anton Beard were busted for passing counterfeit money over the summer (Williams was booted, the other two are suspended). If those two miss any games, Arkansas has nine eligible players.

The "Fastest 40 Minutes of Basketball" led the SEC in five categories last year, including scoring, assists and turnover margin. While Dusty Hannahs adds some scoring after sitting out last year and Willy Kouassi is a mountain of a center, the offense wasn’t expected to carry the team this year. The defense was.

The defense allowed 44.1 percent shooting in SEC games, and lost most of that "productivity." While the Razorbacks still have the most intimidating home court in the league, it may be a long year in Fayetteville. 

Women

Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Jimmy Dykes (18-14, second year/overall)

2014-15 record (SEC finish): 18-14 (6-10)

2014-15 postseason: Second round, NCAA

Roster

Schedule

She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Calli Berna (5.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg), F Jhasmin Bowen (10.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg), C Katie Powell (transferred to UNLV, 2.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg), G McKinley Bostad (transferred to Texas State, 2.5 ppg, 0.8 rpg), F Joey Bailey (no longer on team, 0.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg)

She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 5-10 G Devin Cosper (So., transfer from Coffeyville (Kan.) CC), 6-4 C Alecia Cooley (Jr., transfer from State Fair (Mo.) CC), 5-8 G Jordan Danberry, 5-9 G Briunna Freeman, 5-5 G Malica Monk, 6-3 C Tatiyana Smith (Jr., transfer from Arkansas Baptist), 6-1 G/F Keiryn Swenson, 6-0 G/F Bailey Zimmerman

Top returners: 6-3 F Jessica Jackson (14.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg), 5-9 G Kelsey Brooks (13.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg), 6-0 F Melissa Wolff (8.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg)

Hat in hand – Jimmy Dykes, I’m sorry.

I was one of the ones who wondered what exactly Arkansas was thinking when it hired Dykes, a longtime TV commentator who had coached men once upon a time but had never coached women. Yeah, he’s a Razorback alum and knows the program, but what did that have to do with finding players and then getting them to win?

I should have listened to one of his seniors, Calli Berna. She said that he talked about basketball and players every day, which is exactly what coaches do.

And then, with only nine women, Dykes beat some solid teams, got his first squad to the NCAA tournament and won a game before bowing out. Had Dawn Staley not gone 15-1 in the SEC and Vic Schaefer hadn’t put Mississippi State into the national conversation, Dykes would have challenged for SEC Coach of the Year; as it is, he’s calmly smiling with an "I told you so" look for guys like me.

"We did have the really good first year," Dykes said at SEC Tipoff. "Never for one minute last year did I ever, ever, coach or work a day in my office as in ‘I’ve got something to prove.’ If I listened to either one of (the two sides), it was going to affect how I did my job."

Dykes obviously steered a team with not many faces and not a lot of top talent to a stellar first year, and shouldn’t be doubted. Yet even he admitted that this year’s team is basically a do-over.

"We’re starting all over again. It’s another Year 1, is what it is," Dykes said. "Only John Calipari may have fewer returning minutes than we have."

The Razorbacks return four players. They signed a whopping eight, including three junior-college prospects who can play right away. Dykes is having to work all of them into his system and knows it will be a growing process.

His plan? Same as last year. Lean on his veterans, and he has one of the SEC’s best in Jessica Jackson. Kelsey Brooks and Melissa Wolff are three experienced cogs of the lineup, and Dykes can work his newbies into the other two spots and hope it gels again.

Everybody knows it’s possible, and after last year, even realistic.

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