At some point in the last decade or so, the basketball world became engrossed in the concept of a "Big 3".
Anytime a team had three elite, or at least really good players, they would (often lazily) be dubbed "The Big 3". When the Boston Celtics brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to team with Paul Pierce, they were given the nickname and even made SportsCenter parody video about it. When LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami, Big 3. When the San Antionio Spurs resurged the last couple of years and faced Miami in the NBA Finals, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were an olde tyme Big 3.
Of course in Razorback basketball history, "The Triplets" is a much more prominent term.
Expectations for this year's Arkansas basketball team are significantly higher than they've been in recent years, and while Bobby Portis is deservedly receiving much of the attention as a big reason why, the real reason the team is expected to be successful starts with the Hogs bringing back a trio of double-digit scorers from last season.
Call them a Big 3, the latest variation of Triplets, the Triforce of Hog or whatever three-centric term you want, but if the Razorbacks are able to achieve their goals this year, Portis, Rashad Madden and Michael Qualls will likely be the main reasons why.
As mentioned, most of the headlines will likely belong to Portis as he is the best player on the team and the one most likely to be a high draft pick next year, should he have a great year and decide to come out early (a decision that is far away from being made). As a sophomore this year, Portis should be much more comfortable and in control as opposed to getting used to the new world of college basketball. Even in press conferences, Portis sometimes came across like a wide-eyed kid just trying to fit in. After the Red-White Game last week, he was comfortably leaning back at the table, smiling, joking with his teammates in front of the media. He was much more confident and in control. If that translates on the court as many expect, it will mean good things for Arkansas.
Rashad (I'd call him "Ky" but our system only recognizes "Rashad" for tagging purposes. Stupid.) Madden returns from a junior year that saw him finally live up to his lofty recruiting ranking. He unexpectedly became the best shooter on the team, going 50% from 2-point range (really high for a guard) and 40% beyond the arc - and don't forget his 82.1% from the free throw line, the highest number on the team while attempting the most free throws on the team. He also led the team both in scoring and assists.
Madden's production was a huge jump from his freshman and sophomore years, and if he can maintain or surpass that as a senior, it obviously only means great things for Arkansas. His role will be slightly different this year, however. Mike Anderson has frequently note this offseason that Arkansas' new point guards, Jabril Durham and Anton Beard, will allow Madden to move from the point guard spot to a more off-ball role, which they say is his more natural fit.
Everyone knows Michael Qualls for his frequent appearances on the SportsCenter Top 10 highlight reel, but he became more valuable to the team as an overall scorer. After knocking down just 6-of-27 (22%) threes as a freshman, he became a much more efficient shooter as a sophomore, hitting 42-of-120 (35%) last season. He also made 48% of his two-point field goals and finished the year averaging 11.2 points per game. However, he likely would have led the team in scoring if not for a funk during the first month of SEC play in which he scored 5 or fewer points five times, not including a suspension for the LSU game.
If, like Madden last season, Qualls can improve his consistency and further develop his game, that alone could be worth a few extra wins for these Hogs.
That's not to say the rest of the team isn't vitally important. Alandise Harris has a great chance to increase his numbers as he's likely to play more minutes this year since he won't be backing up Coty Clarke in the lineup. He averaged 9 points in 18.8 minutes per game last year so averaging double figures for him isn't out of the question. Anthlon Bell had some brilliant games last year but also struggled through much of the middle of the season. Improved consistency from him will win a few more games for Arkansas this season.
Jacorey Williams and especially Moses Kingsley will also play big roles, and whether the new trio of guards can replace the 14 points per game lost from the departing senior guards will be a significant question for the team to answer.
All that being said, the trio of Portis, Madden, and Qualls is the motor of this team. Their varying degrees of talent and experience will be heavily relied on early in the year, as the Razorbacks play three of their first eight games on the road against SMU, Iowa State, and Clemson. It will be extremely important for Arkansas to play well in those games as they represent the best chances for the team to earn big non conference resume wins for the NCAA Tournament.
Arkansas' home schedule throughout the season is weak compared to the road (Kentucky, Florida, and Georgia are all away from Fayetteville) and typically it's on the stars to come through on the road. That's where Portis, Madden, and Qualls can really earn headlines for themselves.
This won't be a season of mostly tune-ups for SEC play. The Hogs will have to play well in November and December away from Bud Walton Arena. The team hasn't had this much returning talent and experience since, well, the last time they made the NCAA Tournament, so if they're ever going to do it, it has to be this season, with these players.
After making tiny steps of progress the last three years, this team is legitimately capable of elevating the status of the program, and it all starts with the three players at the core.