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Arkansas Razorbacks Basketball 2015-16 Season Preview: Not Untalented, But Unproven

Mike Anderson's fifth season at Arkansas could be, um, let's say interesting.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

If you've been following the Razorback basketball program at all since the Hogs lost to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, the refrain is all too familiar to you.

Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls cashed out. Ky Madden and Alandise Harris, graduated. Nick Babb bolted for the corn fields of Iowa State to sign for a coach who promptly left Ames to coach Portis and others in Chicago. Jacorey Williams is really, really gone. Anton Beard is, um, preoccupied.

That leaves last year's roster looking like this:

arkansas basketball roster

There's no getting around it, that's pretty ugly. Only programs that recruit at an elite level can take a hit like that without it affecting the program, and while Arkansas signed a great prospect in Jimmy Whitt last November, the Razorbacks pretty much whiffed on the spring signing period. Ted Kapita was a top-50 prospect at power forward, but he was ruled ineligible and signed a professional deal to play overseas. There was a time when it appeared KeVaughn Allen would seek a release from Florida after Billy Donovan resigned, but he ended up sticking with it.

That doesn't mean Arkansas didn't sign anybody. They certainly did. Arkansas brought in Willy Kouassi, a 6'10" senior transfer from Kennesaw State, and freshman Doobie Jenkins from Florida. The Hogs also signed Dustin Thomas, who transferred in from Colorado. He'll have to sit out this season regardless of what happens with his involvement in the offseason forgery incident. Kouassi will get some solid minutes this season as a senior big man with solid rebounding ability, but he likely won't be asked to score a lot of points.

So, basically, Arkansas is a clean slate this season. We just don't know much. The departing players, not including Beard, attempted 1,518 field goals last season and 627 free throws. Those shots aren't going to just go away. They'll be divvied up somehow. The question is who's going to take them and how many are they capable of making.

The season will come down to a few key questions:

1. How good will Jimmy Whitt and Dusty Hannahs be?

Of the newcomers, Whitt and Hannnahs are the two players most capable of scoring consistently. Both reached double digits in the two exhibition games. Hannahs is known more as a three-point shooter, but has shown a willigness to put the ball on the floor and score closer to the basket, which is good because he's a tremendous free throw shooter, making 60 out of 65 free throws during his last season at Texas Tech.

Whitt averaged about 15 points in the two exhibition games but only attempted one three-pointer (he missed it). It will be interesting to see if he works on developing that shot as the season goes on, but as of now, unless he's been hiding it, he appears to be much more of an attack-the-rim type of player. He also showed flashes of a solid mid-range game during exhibition season.

It goes without saying, but we'll say it anyway, Arkansas really, really needs these guys to be really effective this season.

2. Can any of last year's backups make a jump?

At least some of them absolutely must show some development. If they all play at the same level they did last year, it's going to be an ugly season.

The good news is, we've seen several players make surprise jumps in productions throughout the Mike Anderson era. Portis, Madden, and Qualls all continually got better. Specifically, coming into his junior season, Madden made a huge improvement. Qualls and Portis both consistently improved every season they were here.

Even a player like Coty Clarke came in as a juco transfer and had some success as a junior before becoming a key contributor as a senior. Mardracus Wade came out of nowhere to be considered among the nation's best shooters as a sophomore (unfortunately he couldn't quite keep it up afterward).

The most obvious player to point to is Moses Kingsley. Kingsley was a highly-rated prospect out of high school but hasn't lived up to that biling - yet. For the first time in his career this year, he will be the team leader in the frontcourt. He'll get a lot of the shots Portis took last year. He's been working on a short jumper game, which the team will desperately need from him.

It will also be interesting to see what we get from Anthlon Bell in his senior season. Like Hannahs, he's also known as a three-point threat. Bell has slightly improved his three-point shooting each year, from 31% as a freshman to 33% as a junior and 35% last year. Can he get closer to 40% this year? I think it could be good to have Bell and Hannahs both in the lineup this year because I'd like to think they'll be competing with each other to be the team's three-point ace, and a little internal competition is always good.

Also, while I don't expect him to be a major scorer, I think the coaches are also hoping Jabril Durham can make more of an impact in his senior season. Juco transfers are generally known to be much better in their second seasons, and Durham is off to a good start in a point guard role. He had 16 assists and only three turnovers in the exhibition games. He's very athletic, and the team will need a lead distributor with Madden gone and Beard suspended.

3. How big of an improvement will Trey Thompson make?

There's no sense in asking whether or not Thompson will make a jump because it's obvious he will. He rarely entered games last season and appeared extremely timid and uncertain when he was on the court. Since then, he's lost weight and is already a much more assertive, confident player. He's taken and made more shots in the two exhibition games than he did all of last season.

Since Arkansas is so thin in the frontcourt, Thompson will obviously play significant minutes this year, and he'll be better than last season. The question is, how much better?

4. When will Anton Beard return, if ever?

When you see the rest of the team out there, it's easy to forget that Beard, Arkansas' Freshman All-SEC guard, is still a part of it, at least in name only. As the only starter from last season still in school, it would obviously be a boost for the Hogs to get him back, but it's completely up in the air when or if that will happen.

Since Anderson didn't kick him off the team, it's pretty clear they want him to come back and are at least waiting on the legal system to play itself out. Beard is facing felony forgery charges, so it's certainly very serious, but he pleaded not guilty earlier this fall and until that's played out, it seems he won't be back. The trial was originally scheduled for late October, but I suppose it has been postponed.

5. What should expectations be for this season?

This is the big question. And I really don't know that I have a great answer. I'm certainly not looking at this season like they should make the NCAA Tournament or even the NIT. But this is a team that can win some games.

If anybody is frustrated by how this season unfolds and want to criticize the coaching staff for bad recruiting in the years since Portis signed, that's a totally valid criticism. There will be plenty of people happily pointing out that next year's team will include three of the top junior college transfers in the nation and there's reason for optimism for the future.

But that doesn't fix right now. I have small hopes at first. Avoid any embarrassing home losses to non-conference cupcakes. That's my first goal for the season. The Razorbacks do have some tougher road games in non-conference, and winning any of those would be gravy, but the Hogs really need to win the home games.

After that, try to avoid the Wednesday night games in the SEC Tournament, which are occupied by the bottom four finishers. If they do that, they'll have won at least a few games.

However, expectations are a fluid thing. What we think the team is capable of right now can change pretty quickly with a great win or a disappointing loss. If they can win some tougher games early, fans should expect more of them come SEC play.

Also remember, despite the new faces and departing stars, this is not a young team. Arkansas will likely start three seniors (Bell, Durham, and Keaton Miles) tonight, a junior (Kingsley) and only one freshman (Whitt). It's an athletic team. They've got some good shooters. They'll definitely play fast and force some turnovers. They seem a little smaller than last year, but they don't seen totally untalented, just unproven.