FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas had its first go-around in front of a live audience Friday night at the team’s annual Red-White scrimmage.
The White won the exhibition, 95-69. They were led by 23 points from freshman Daniel Gafford and another 17 from senior guard Daryl Macon.
The rosters did not appear evenly matched. The White team had Macon, Gafford and guard Jaylen Barford. Those three are arguably the three best players on the team. The Red’s leading scorer was C.J. Jones, who averaged just 2.4 points in 21 games last season.
The Red-White scrimmage provided an opportunity for the public to see the team live for the first team. Gafford and freshman Darious Hall drew a lot of attention.
Gafford was a top-50 recruit in the Class of 2017. A 6-foot-11 center, he is the most highly touted high school recruit Arkansas has landed since Bobby Portis in 2013.
Arkansas plays its first real exhibition game Oct. 27 against Central Oklahoma. The regular season begins Nov. 10 against Samford.
What went well for Arkansas
Daryl Macon looks like an All-SEC player
Macon entered the NBA Draft this past offseason but pulled out before the deadline. His return gives Arkansas a dynamic wing scorer who can shoot from 3-point range and drive to the basket. Macon was adept at both Friday night, shooting 6 of 14 from the field and 4 of 10 from 3. He appears to be out to prove something this season. If he plays like it against other teams, the Razorbacks have a bona fide star.
The frontcourt is long and athletic
Gafford looks at least 6-foot-10 (teams tend to overstate the height of their players), but he’s probably lighter than his listed 234 pounds. His could become an elite college shot-blocker thanks to his long arms.
Fellow freshman Darious Hall also has freakishly long arms. He’ll mostly play on the wing and could be a shutdown perimeter defender. The question is whether he will be able to handle heavier, more inside-orientated players this year, if it comes to that.
What didn’t go well for Arkansas
Frontcourt lacks offensively
Gafford can be a scorer, but his range is limited. His shot is flat and easily blockable for a player his size. Gafford can convert at a high percentage close to the rim, but he might struggle against teams with real centers and power forwards.
Trey Thompson is the best passer on the team. He lacks a good shot, though. Thompson and Dustin Thomas are best when they are distributing from the high post and the elbow rather than taking jumpers. And Thomas has a tendency to take them. He has shown in practice he is a capable mid-range player and occasionally can convert from beyond the arc, but last season his mechanics and tendency to fade away and drift were troubling.
Hall and Adrio Bailey, likely a starter or at least a rotation player, are far from finished products. Both players have mechanical jump shots and are poor ball-handlers. They’re at their best when driving to the basket. Both are supremely athletic and might be the best two dunkers on the team. But it’s just going to be difficult for them to the rim with the sub-par ball-handling.
This is not a great shooting team
Macon is a good shooter. Jones can grow into a reliable perimeter threat. But that might be the extent of the Razorbacks’ marksmen.
Few teams shot the 3-pointer less often in the country last season than Arkansas and that was with sharpshooter Dusty Hannahs on the roster. That total should further decrease this season. This team’s best bet is to spread the floor, move the ball and get open lanes to the basket. If the Razorbacks have to rely on jump-shooting, they’re going to be in trouble. They shot just 11 of 40 from beyond the arc Friday.