by Chris Bahn
Posted 10/11/2012 08:08 pm
Updated 8 months ago
A quick glance to his right and Mardracus Wade could see a couple of his Arkansas basketball teammates. To his left sat another five Razorbacks. Behind him stood eight more.
“It’s like a football team out here, huh?” Wade later joked when asked about the 16 players who dressed for the 2012-13 team photo.
Wade might be stretching things a bit with the football roster comparison. But when compared with last year’s team — which included an actual football player just to get the roster to nine guys at one point — there is no question Arkansas has much better numbers this season.
Having more players — on display for the first time Friday night at 8 p.m. during Prime Time at the Palace — is significant, and not just because they make for an impressive looking team photo.
More players conceivably means more fresh bodies on the floor more often. More fresh bodies on the floor means more defensive intensity for longer periods of time. More defensive intensity means — in theory — more victories for the Razorbacks in Mike Anderson’s second season.
Arkansas started strong in Anderson’s debut, but faltered down the stretch. Mentally and physically the team was spent about two weeks into the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule.
A promising 16-6 start gave way to a 2-8 finish. While the team and Anderson tried their best last year not to dwell on a lack of depth and what became a limited number of healthy players, it was an obvious challenge for the team in the closing weeks.
“I’ll be the one to admit it,” Wade said. “We hit the wall.”
Wade wasn’t alone in acknowledging the struggles the Razorbacks had last season. Forward Marshawn Powell, who missed all but two games with a knee injury, said he felt bad for coaches because of the team’s numbers issues.
“We were limited, man. Everybody knew we were limited,” Powell said. “Then the injuries. These coaches did a great job and then we just ran into a wall.”
Fatigue hit hard. Plus, player development was stunted by the lack of a bench.
A freshman like Hunter Mickelson saw his only real competition in games. He wasn’t pushed by teammates in practice the way he would have been with more options to challenge him.
Nobody on the roster will go untested in practice. The team's newcomers — all seven of them — will be pushed and help push others.
Arkansas’ limitations in 2011-12 might have been most apparent on defense. Anderson was forced to use players for what he describes as a “quantity” of minutes, rather than divvying up “quality” minutes.
Ideally, the depth will allow this year’s team to get its best players rested for the most crucial moments. Now a scorer like BJ Young or a shooter like Wade will have the energy to make plays late in games as the grind of the season sets in on the Razorbacks.
“I thought our defense was not very good,” Anderson said. “That had something to do with the depth issues. We kind of hit that wall and it’s hard to guard people — especially the way we wanted to — for 40 minutes.”
It should be noted that Arkansas won’t be at full strength in games to begin the season.
Forward Alandise Harris, a Little Rock product, is awaiting word on his eligibility after transferring from Houston. No word has come from the NCAA yet on the status of Harris. Guard Fred Gulley won’t be eligible until after Christmas.
There is still work to be done in getting Powell back to full strength. He said he’s not quite 100 percent from last year’s knee injury, though he’s getting closer and he could be ready by the Nov. 9 season opener against Sam Houston State.
Still, Anderson has plenty of Razorbacks at his disposal. A slumping player, an offensive liability or defensive loafer won’t be left on the floor simply because there’s nobody left on the bench.
“I’m anxious to see how this team develops,” Anderson said. “But I’ve just got a feeling it’s going to be an exciting team.”