The Razorbacks are on the cusp of returning to the NCAA Tournament in year three under Mike Anderson. The Hogs are attempting to continue Mike Anderson's trend of getting his programs into the Tournament in Year 3.
But what about Year 4 or 5? Arkansas has an exciting group of players coming to play in Bud Walton Arena for 2014-15, including a pair of in-state talents, but Anderson and his staff may have another piece or two to add to the class before all is said and done.
Anderson will be losing five seniors at the conclusion of this season, some being more replaceable than others. But it's always difficult losing the toughness and leadership players like Coty Clarke, Kikko Haydar and Mardracus Wade brought in their time in a Razorback uniform.
The progress from year one to year three for Arkansas under Mike Anderson has been remarkable. He slowly but surely brought in the right pieces to fit the puzzle to build up a program that has long been in the dark and nationally irrelevant.
When the 2014-15 season begins, Anderson will have only three players on his roster in which he did not recruit to Fayetteville himself as freshmen – Alandise Harris, Keaton Miles and Rashad Madden (although Anderson is responsible for bringing in Harris and Miles as transfers). The makeup of the team will consist of mostly Mike Anderson-recruited players. The table is set for a big year.
At the forefront of the 2014 recruiting class is a homegrown, four-star talent from North Little Rock, Anton Beard. Many Arkansas fans point to the fact Arkansas does not have a true point guard on its roster when the team struggles. That argument won't hold up after this season. Beard should be able to come into the program and contribute right away.
Beard is an interesting story. The six-foot, 180 pound point guard originally committed to play for Frank Haith and the Missouri Tigers. He decommitted, however, and joined forces with Mike Anderson and Arkansas. But that's not all. Beard also changed high schools following his junior season, transferring from Parkview in Little Rock to North Little Rock High School and teamed up with Kevaughn Allen, Adrian Moore, and KJ Hill, a trio of recruits Arkansas hopes to nab in the near future.
And as far as Beard's game, it translates well to college, especially in Arkansas' free moving system. He's a lefty, which makes him unique, and shoots the ball very well. He can attack the basket using either hand and has, as every point guard should have in their repertoire, a great floater.
The second guard the Razorbacks have signed and lined up for 2014 is three-star shooting guard Nick Babb of James Martin High School in Arlington, TX. Babb chose the Razorbacks over Creighton, and up-and-coming Larry Brown-led SMU. He also drew interest from Gonzaga and Iowa, so Arkansas could be getting a steal.
Babb is the No. 9 prospect out of the state of Texas and the No. 31 SG in the class of 2014, and it's not hard to see why with his incredibly smooth jumper. He can do more than shoot, though. At 6-foot-4, he is excellent at driving the ball to the basket, absorbing contact and finishing around the rim. He should flourish in Anderson's up-and-down system, and be a tremenoud complement to Anthlon Bell.
And with the third and final signed recruit of the class, Arkansas added some beef to its roster with 6'10", 240 pound Trey Thompson of Forrest City, Arkansas. He is another in-state talent the Razorbacks are glad to have on board. Anderson and staff did a terrific job of putting up a fence around the state in the 2014 class.
Thompson is the No. 2 player in the state of Arkansas, behind Beard, and the No. 67 PF in the 2014 class. Arkansas fended off the big dog programs for Thompson, who also received offers from Florida and Memphis while drawing interest from Tennessee. He has tremendous upside and has a great frame that will easily bulk up after time in the weight room.
There is one part of Thompson's game stands out above all else – his passing. He is a tremendous outlet passer, which caught the eye of Mike Anderson, who likely began having flashbacks to the days of Oliver Miller and his dynamite passing skills. His offensive game will need fine-tuning, but he poured in 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the 5A state tournament last week, all with a lame hamstring.
Another piece to the puzzle for 2014 that is often forgotten is West Virginia transfer Keaton Miles. At 6-foot-7, Miles will add even more length and athleticism to Arkansas' roster. Miles is a slashing, skilled forward who takes pride in his defense, according to Mike Anderson.
Miles was a prized four-star recruit out of the prestigious Dallas Carter High School in Texas, but his tenure in Morgantown was short-lived. He saw his minutes dip to 11.5/game his sophomore season after starting 30 games as a freshman. Miles displayed the ability to knock down the perimeter jumper and take care of the basketball his last season at West Virginia, losing the ball just eight times in 333 minutes. He seems to be a perfect fit in Arkansas' system.
As previously mentioned, Mike Anderson and staff may not be finished with 2014's recruiting class. Arkansas is looking at a pair of junior college prospects to fill the holes of the soon-to-be-gone senior class, and both could make immediate impacts upon arrival.
The two JUCO prospects the Razorbacks are looking at are PG Trey Dickerson of Williston State CC (ND), and PF Willie Atwood of Connors State CC (OK). But bad news rang out Saturday as Dickerson committed to Iowa during his visit to Iowa City. The two are apparently close friends and have been said to want to play team up together at the D1 level.
Atwood hasn't committed anywhere yet, but should he come to Arkansas, would be Coty Clarke's heir apparent. He and Clarke's games are eerily similar. At 6-foot-8, Atwood can score facing the basket extremely well, has a great motor, and rebounds with purpose. He is the No. 3 JUCO PF and No. 6 JUCO prospect in the 2014 class. Atwood averages 21 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game at Connors State.
Arkansas has its work cut out for them, however, as Arizona State, Iowa and Wichita State are all interested in Atwood. Adding Atwood to its class for 2014 would be tremendous for Arkansas, and would fit in great alongside Portis, Kingsley, Harris and Miles.
The Razorbacks will be losing five seniors who all contributed well at some point in their careers, but can be replaced if the 2014 class lives up to its potential.
Beard will replace Fred Gulley's role and be an upgrade from the standpoint of a playmaking point guard. Babb will easily replace Haydar and Scott's production and be an offensive upgrade. Thompson can be a solid backup to Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley and add more bulk along Arkansas' frontline. Miles will add more length to an already lengthy team, and the possible addition of Atwood would make Arkansas a real player moving forward.
Although Arkansas fans are focused, and rightfully so, on the 2013-14 season and whether or not the Razorbacks will finally break into the NCAA Tournament, it never hurts to see what's on the horizon for the program. The future of the Arkansas basketball program is bright. Adding the necessary pieces, and putting a fence up around the state of Arkansas will be vital for Arkansas moving forward.
And yes, it is perfectly fine to be excited about Razorback basketball once again.