FAYETTEVILLE -- These Razorbacks are supposed to be better than last season's team.
They aren't. At least not yet.
Partly it's what Mike Anderson fretted even as the Arkansas coach preseason predicted this team would be "deeper and more athletic" than last season's 26-10 squad.
Though with six seniors on the roster, none entered this season with the leadership skills of 2016-17 seniors Moses Kingsley, Manuale Watkins and Dusty Hannahs. All three were naturally vocal and paid dues as Anderson's three most improved Razorbacks from their first-year arrival through their final Arkansas game.
"Without a doubt," Anderson said of the start to finish improvement of the trio.
Kingsley was an athletic center who grew up playing soccer in Nigeria. Fayetteville High's Watkins was a seldom-used freshman walk-on who became an integral, blue-collar three-year cog. Hannahs was strictly a jump-shooting transfer from Texas Tech, and in two seasons became a complete offensive player and sneakily effective defender like former Razorbacks Todd Day and Scotty Thurman in the Nolan Richardson regime.
"Gym rats and good kids," Anderson said. "Basketball junkies that wanted to win."
He's still got basketball junkies wanting to win such as senior guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. They proved their impact last season as junior college transfers and lead the team in scoring this season. Both arrived as scorers and have become more complete players -- Macon had eight assists and six rebounds Saturday against Missouri.
However, impacting on the court doesn't always correlate vocally to impacting the locker room which came naturally to Kingsley, Watkins and Hannahs.
"Moses had been here for four years and Manuale had been here for four years," Anderson said. "And Dusty had a phenomenal career from his three years here. It's taken some adjusting to get those other guys in those leadership roles. You've got to understand to be in that role."
Arkansas (12-5, 2-3 SEC) needs all six seniors coming to the front, but the two 4-year lettermen -- starting guard Anton Beard and alternating big man Trey Thompson -- have the most background to lead, Anderson said.
Anderson said he noticed their different tone after the 0-3 on the road Hogs hit bottom by losing the 75-54 debacle to LSU at home. Arkansas responded by starting fast then recovering from losing an 18-point lead to edge Missouri 65-63.
"Anton and Trey they probably weren't as vocal as those guys were," Anderson said. "But I think having those stumbling blocks early on gave those guys opportunity to adjust and do and say some things on their own. After that LSU game, I think they got together themselves and said 'we've got to talk to these guys and show these guys.'"
Starting tonight at Florida where the Razorbacks haven't won since 1995, their challenge looms overcoming the same 1-3 SEC start that began their 12-6 SEC 2017 campaign by finally taking a winning show on the road.
Sports on 01/17/2018
Print Headline: Time for senior Hogs to lead team