The new-look Arkansas Razorbacks hold their exhibition opener tonight, but just call it the next big audition for the "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball."
Mike Anderson is looking for "guys that can bring it when we turn the lights on."
Through off-season workouts, practices and the preseason tour of Italy, the Razorbacks’ new faces and old were able to show Coach Mike Anderson what they can do. But today’s 7 p.m. game against Division II Southwest Baptist at Bud Walton Arena – in front of a crowd flocking to Fayetteville for homecoming weekend – will be a little bit different.
“I’m looking for the guys that can bring it when we turn the lights on and put officials out and you’re playing someone other than yourself,” Anderson said. “You want to see how they perform, perform as a group. What they bring to the table.
“We’ve got to have some guys, especially when they come off that bench, which guys give us the energy that we’re going to need? Not only the energy, the hustle, and the guys starting out, can they set the pace? Who are those guys going to be? Defensively, we want to be a much better basketball than we were last year defensively. Which guys will pick up on the defensive schemes that we’re talking about? Who’s going to be the guy that’s going to go get us 10 boards a game? Do we have a guy like that?”
Anderson knows what he has in preseason All-SEC sophomore guard B.J. Young, who scored a game-high 28 points in Tuesday’s Red-White scrimmage. Young is the centerpiece of this team, and there are quality veterans surrounding him in preseason second-team All-SEC junior Marshawn Powell, junior guards Mardracus Wade and Rickey Scott, and sophomore standouts Rashad Madden and Hunter Mickelson.
Junior college transfer Coty Clarke figures to be that guy who could get 10 rebounds a game, but Mickelson made a strong case to be a starter at forward alongside Powell when he had 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots in the Red-White game. Mickelson’s activeness on the boards was something Anderson had been seeing recently in practice, but seeing it under the lights and in front of fans was new.
Of course, with Anderson’s up-tempo system, there will be eight or nine guys who’ll log a lot of minutes. That game makes this big for four freshmen who are hoping to be in the rotation – Anthlon Bell, Michael Qualls, DeQuavious Wagner and Jacorey Williams – and even a couple of walk-ons – Kikko Haydar and Davion Spivey.
“I think when you put all those pieces together, you can see some guys have come back much improved,” Anderson said. “So now if we can put those pieces together, along with the guys coming off the bench, I think depthwise we’re going to be a lot better than we were last year.”
Anderson said he’s looking for “quality of minutes, not necessarily the quantity of minutes.”
“What they do in those minutes will dictate what will take place during the rest of the season,” he said.
“And I think we’ve got some guys hopefully understand that a little bit better about the quality minutes,” he said.
Some of the veteran Hogs are looking forward to competing against someone other than themselves.
“We’ve been practicing all these months just to get ready for the season,” Mickelson said. “Now, it’s finally here. Everybody’s ready to play somebody else. Hopefully, that’ll show when we come out Friday. We might be a little sluggish, just a little culture shock for everybody, but we’ll get in there and we’ll play our hardest.”
“I’m definitely ready to play somebody else,” Scott said, “other than our team. It gets boring just going against these guys sometimes. Finally we can put the pressure, just 40 Minutes of Hell, against somebody else.”