Arkansas will put a wrap on the exhibition season tonight when they host Missouri Western at 7 p.m. CT in Bud Walton Arena.
The Hogs defeated Central Oklahoma last Friday 78-66 in the first exhibition game. The Bronchos proved to be a better opponent than most realized going in. It also didn't help that Arkansas only had eight scholarship players available due to medical issues, injuries and suspensions.
The Razorbacks will get one of those, true freshman Darious Hall, back tonight. He missed last week's game as a precautionary manner after he got hit in the head in practice. Jalen Harris will redshirt this season after transferring in from New Mexico. Freshman guard Khalil Garland is still undergoing some health-related issues while a pair of senior forwards, Arlando Cook and Dustin Thomas, remain suspended.
Mike Anderson was asked if playing a short-handed roster was something that hampered him this preseason?
"So we had eight scholarship players," Anderson said. "We'll have nine this time. We'll do it with nine. In one sense you can sense we're short-handed. But at the end of the day, there are going to be games where that's going to take place, and guys have to be able to go out and still continue to play at a high level.
"But this is a process. That's what these games are for and you'll see me throwing out different combinations just trying to get a feel for how these guys will react when they get out there. But the key is now you're still trying to figure out what the guys bring to the table. Guys start understanding their roles, and being effective out there defensively as well as offensively."
Anderson wasn't pleased with a few different things against Central Oklahoma, but he is using that to help prepare the team for tonight's game.
"Of course it's an opportunity to get some guys playing someone other than ourselves," Anderson said. "We've really been getting after it in practice so it'll be good to see us have another little test against someone other than ourselves. Missouri Western, a team I think I played while I was at Missouri. But this is not necessarily about Missouri Western. It's about us.
"Seeing if we can somehow control some tempo. I didn't like the tempo the other night. We only shot the ball 56 times. We normally shoot 56 times in one half. I just didn't think we made the game a fast game. I've talked about this team hopefully playing a lot faster. Running and executing. But making it more about possessions than a half-court game."
Do you feel like the players have responded to the feedback from that first game?
"I think we've got to be one of the most tenacious defensive teams hopefully that we've had here," Anderson said. "And as we get more bodies and more people ready to play, I think that's going to make a big difference. I think we have versatility. We can do a lot of switching. We can be athletic where guys can make plays.
"So the message being, obviously we want to play at a tempo that's suitable for us and make people uncomfortable. So I think it's getting these guys to understand it's got to be as a whole. It can't just be one guy or two guys, because if you've got one or two guys taking off, it affects the whole. Even as we got a chance to watch some tape, they got a chance to see where they too plays off. And you can't take plays off."
One player who came to Arkansas with a lot of hype around him is true freshman Daniel Gafford from El Dorado. He got fans excited when he scored 23 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in the Red-White game. However that was in 35 minutes. Last week he only played 15 minutes in the exhibition game. He finished that game with eight points and seven rebounds. Does Anderson see a bigger role for him tonight?
"Daniel was very active," Anderson said. "When he was out there, I thought a lot of good things happened, so you'll see him out there even more minutes this game. Because he rebounds above the rim. He's making them take shots. He's a guy that's running on a dead sprint down the floor.
"There were a couple times he probably was out of place, but the only way hoe's going to learn how to rotate in a game setting is to be out there. For a guy to play 15 minutes, I think he ended up with like 8 and 7, changed a lot of shots. I think that shows you there's a lot of promise there with him."
As one would expect, senior guards Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford paced the Hogs in the opener. Macon had 23 points and five assists while Barford added 19 points, six assists and five rebounds. Anderson talked about what he expects from those two.
"I’m looking for them to be more consistent," Anderson said. "I thought last year they were like typical guys, new guys coming in trying to find out their roles, but accept their roles early on and knowing they’re going to be the guys that the other guys are looking up to in terms of leadership. Obviously they can bring scoring. I want to see them be more well rounded players. That means defensively, spearhead our defense. They have quickness, they have toughness, they have athletic ability, they have pretty good basketball IQ.
"I don’t want them to be taking plays off. I think sometimes, especially when you’re coming back, you’re a senior, you think it’s old to you. Even right now, I don’t have any starters, so to me, I want to keep these guys working and working and not thinking that it’s entitled to them where they’re going to be starting. That’s not the case. I just think with their play, based on what they’ve done in the past and hopefully what they’re going to do in the future, they can be examples in terms of that leadership by how they go out and play and compete and be a calming force. I think Barford can be a guy that can be a calming force with our basketball team. I want to see those guys utilize that experience to make this team even better."
Arkansas will open the regular season on Friday, Nov. 10, when they host Samford at 7 p.m. CT in Bud Walton Arena.