OK, so, now what? Arkansas loses 6 seniors and possibly Daniel Gafford
SEC Country reporter Eric W. Bolin will candidly answer your Arkansas Razorbacks sports queries each weekday in our Mailbag Question of the Day. Join the conversation by sending your questions via Twitter to @SECCountryHogs or by email to Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question of the Day: Friday, March 16, 2018
Was the Friday loss to Butler the end of an era or can Arkansas basketball be expected to continue to climb next year?
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the $64,000 question.
No matter when the Arkansas basketball season would have come to an end in 2017-18, this question was going to rear its head. It’s crummy timing for Razorbacks fans that it comes so early into the NCAA Tournament. Certain segments of the fan base, ones who were absolutely pumped about this being the start of something amazing, are livid right now. They think their Hogs were a failure, that coach Mike Anderson was a failure. They want to burn it down.
Madness. Levelheaded takes are rare anymore. We saw that in the final month of football season. Knee-jerk reactions are the rage. So I’m going to try to avoid that.
The truth is it’s impossible, right now, to tell what the future holds for Arkansas basketball. The program hasn’t been on this precipice in four years. When Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls were asked after their second-round loss to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament if they would be back, no one knew. Anticipation was one of them would, one wouldn’t. Maybe both would. Unlikely both would leave.
Both left. Arkansas finished an even .500 the next season as Anderson narrowly avoided his first losing season as coach. They immediately bounced back in 2016-17 and nearly knocked off the Tar Heels in the second round of that NCAA Tournament. Didn’t quite take. Then, of course, this year, the question is begged again.
Arkansas loses six seniors, if you include Dustin Thomas, who was dismissed with a handful of games left in the year. Jaylen Barford (first-team All-SEC), Daryl Macon (second-team All-SEC), Trey Thompson, Anton Beard and Arlando Cook are all gone. It leaves a massive hole on the roster to be filled with a recruiting class that does include two 4-star players.
The hinge, though, is on a player such as Portis and Qualls that year, who may or may not leave. Freshman big man Daniel Gafford is a generational talent. Depending on where you look, his NBA draft stock ranges from 10th overall to just on the edge of the first round. If he leaves, he will be drafted. The question is how high and whether that height is enough to convince him to leave.
If Gafford returns, he blends with a good recruiting class and holdovers Darious Hall, Adrio Bailey and C.J. Jones to form a team capable of having a similar season to this one. If he doesn’t, Arkansas may be looking at a year similar to when Portis and Qualls left.