Crucial year for Anderson
When you look at Arkansas' roster and the types of recruits the Razorbacks are hoping to land in the next year, I can't help but come to the conclusion that this is the most critical year for the Mike Anderson era. I don't mean how the team does on the court - obviously that's important - but in recruiting. Between the rest of the class of 2015 and the class of 2016, Arkansas has at minimum 7 scholarships available to join a roster made up of Moses Kingsley, Dusty Hannahs, Anton Beard, Trey Thompson, Jimmy Whitt, and Ted Kapita (and Manuale Watkins as a walk-on).
Factoring in this is the Malik Monk class Arkansas has been targeting for years (which features not only Monk but other elite players Arkansas has been known to be targeting) it seems like this is the time the Razorback program could seriously make a move. Additionally, Anderson has all his recruiting tools available now: the practice facility should be complete this summer, proven ability to develop NBA talent in Portis and hopefully Qualls, and a relevant, winning program. Anderson has done a tremendous job in getting Arkansas to this point, and with the roster turnover that's happening, now's the time to go further.
Don't count out the 2016 season
It's true, Arkansas was set for a potentially truly special season next year if Portis and Qualls both came back, but just because they didn't doesn't mean the Hogs are doomed. First, we still don't even know who's going to have those three scholarships, nearly a quarter of the roster. Second, some of the returning players could make a jump similar to how Ky Madden and Qualls both made significant improvements in between seasons. Like Madden, Moses Kingsley showed flashes of potential as a freshman, then had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season. Can he make a big jump as a junior like Madden did? We'll see. Could Jabril Durham enjoy the bump that often accompanies juco players in their second season? Anton Beard will likely be better. The team will have four seniors, which should be significant.
Quit debating whether or not Portis and Qualls are ready
They're ready to get paid. That's what matters. Are they ready to be all-stars? No. But that's irrelevant. All indications from the NBA make it appear Portis is a mid first round pick and Qualls is a second round pick. If so, they're ready to get paid.
That being said...
And quit saying it was a no-brainer choice they had to make
This was not an easy choice. They're not top-5 picks. It took 3+ weeks to make their decisions for a reason. Yes, there was some risk in coming back, but as we laid out, there was also a decent chance they could have ended up making more. If Portis is a lottery pick, it's hard to argue he didn't make the right choice, but if he falls to around 20th, you can definitely make a case that he would have made more by coming back and improving. And simply, if Qualls is a 2nd round pick, there are no guarantees. There's no 2nd round pick that has to leave early. This is not saying they made the wrong choice, there's a great chance they both made the right move, but they made a choice not to take an option that wasn't that bad of an option. Absolutely no hard feelings. We'll be rooting for them. They were both great Razorbacks who put their names in the record books and we'll miss them. I hope they both get drafted in great spots.
And we can also hope that Anderson is able to use all this positive momentum to take this program to the next level.