Hogs to put a bow on preseason against D2 Southwest Baptist on Friday

LITTLE ROCK — by Kevin McPherson
For the 2018-19 Arkansas Razorbacks, they’ve got one more dress reheasal before the real thing tips off next week against old Southwest Conference rival Texas: It’s Southwest Baptist University, an NCAA Division II program in Bolivar, MO, that rolls into Fayetteville for an exhibition game at 7 p.m. on Friday at Bud Walton Arena.
“It’s game two of the exhibition season,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said Thursday during his press conference. “I think it’s an opportunity for us to find out a little more about our basketball team. Get them out there with officials, fans and get more of a playing setting in their mind.”
The Razorbacks, looking to move to 16-0 in exhibition games under Anderson tomorrow night, won their first exhibition game of the season, 96-47, last Friday against DII Tusculum out of Greenville, TN. Arkansas struggled in the first half against the Pioneers when both teams combined for 32 turnovers and only 10 assists, and the Hogs shot 40% (8 of 20) from the free throw line, en route to a 30-24 Arkansas lead at the break. But the Hogs spurted out of the lockerroom with a 14-0 run that eventually fueled a 66-point second half and a 49-point win.
Sophomore center and preseason All SEC 1st team pick Daniel Gafford is solidifed as the centerpiece and face of these Razorbacks, and through two dress rehearsals he’s averaged a double-double — 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds to go with 2.0 blocks. Apart from Gafford, Anderson is still working out how to mesh roles and distribute minutes between the two other returning scholarship players and the nine newcomers. It’s the youngest Anderson-led team in his 8 years at the helm of the program, so one more tune-up should be helpful before Arkansas faces old Southwest Conference rival Texas in the regular-season opener on Friday, Nov. 9, in the Armed Forces Classic in El Paso — a game that starts at 6 p.m. CT and will be televised nationally on ESPN. 
“Hopefully it will give me an opportunity to figure out the guys since you look at Friday you’re a week from opening up,” Anderson said. “So I’ve got to have some guys in mind that are gonna be playing. Can we put two halves together? The other night (against Tusculum) I thought for the first half we kinda, well you saw it, we didn’t take care of the basketball. So we’ve got to clean that up. Then of course the free throw line, we were horrendous especially in the first half. The second half I thought we settled down and played like we have been practicing for the most part.
“I want to see a continuation of that second half instead of the first half … see if our guys can come out defensively, rebound and be a little more physical around the basket. Scoring and get into our defense. Again, you’re getting good minutes from this guy, that guy, first half, second half. Now we have to do it both halves. But in terms of the combinations, we’re still searching. We’re still trying to find the guys that when they come out there, they’re clicking, they’re doing some really good things.”
Sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien has used the preseason to display his improvement over a year ago, and he followed a 20-point, 8-rebound effort in the Red-White game by providing a shot of energy heading up the second unit that inspired an 18-4 Hogs’ run to erase an 8-0 early deficit against Tusculum on Friday. Osabuohien, who started the second half against Tusculum, had a fall during practice earlier in the week but returned to practice on Wednesday, according to Anderson.
“I thought Gabe came in (against Tusculum) and ignited us,” Anderson said. “I thought he gave us that glue, energy guy that he did last year, doing multiple things for us like creating fouls against the opponents, attacking the basket, rebounding the basketball, making some nice passes out there, taking charges. I thought him coming out there injected a lot of energy with our basketball team.”
Following his team-high 22 points for the White squad, junior Adrio Bailey started against Tusculum and finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block in 20 minutes.
So far among the newcomers, freshman guard Isaiah Joe has arguably put the biggest stamp on the preseason. The Fort Smith Northside product scored game-highs in the Red-White (31 points) and Tusculum (18 points) contests, hitting a scorching-hot 14-of-22 combined from the 3-point line. That’s 63.6% from distance. Joe has turned the ball over only once, an indication that his shooting/scoring has been unforced and has come through the flow of Arkansas’s motion offense.
Sophomore transfer guard Jalen Harris has also made the most of the preseason so far, averaging 14.5 points, 8.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 3.5 steals — a stat-sheet-stuffing start for a player who excels in the open-court. Harris has also averaged 4.5 turnovers in two games.
“I think it’s his time to hopefully go out and try to lead a team,” Anderson said of Harris. “I see a guy that’s looking forward to the opportunity to do that. He’s worked extremely hard in practice and in the offseason in terms of shooting the basketball and ball-handing, and leadership. I thought the other night he was playing too fast in the early part of the game. He got a couple of fouls hand-checking and trying to do things real fast. The second half we saw the impact he can have on a game. Whether it be distributing the basketball, harassing on defense, rebounding. He’s pretty athletic, too. He’s kind of sneaky athletic.
“I think he can be great with our pressure defense with the understanding of you’ve got to have patience. What I mean by patience is that you’re not trying to steal every pass. Your’e just trying to disrupt. And the more he does that and has the patience, then I think it’s going to trickle down to our team. Because the other guys are watching him. Keyshawn (Embery-Simpson), Isaiah Joe. Those guys are watching him in terms of what he’s doing. Desi (Sills). He’s in an important spot, I’ll tell you that. So hopefully he can lead by example in terms of how he plays.”
Sophomore wing Mason Jones (15.0 points); freshman forward Reggie Chaney (a double-double: 13 points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes against Tusculum); freshman guard Keyshawn Embery-Smith (13 points including 3-of-6 from 3, plus 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals in 21 minutes against Tusculum); and freshman guard Desi Sills (16 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals in the Red-White game) have all given Anderson quality minutes as they look to carve out meaningful roles on a young team.
“I thought Chaney in the first half when he came off (the bench), I thought he came in and was one of those guys playing above the rim, getting offensive rebounds,” Anderson said. “Gotta get better at the free throw line. Again, these guys are getting some seasoning. The combinations, we’re going to have about 7 to 8 starters with this team. I say that every year and it may be true to form.
“Desi Sills, I thought Desi was a spark plug out there on the floor. Had multiple assists, especially with the start Jalen Harris had, so it was good to see those guys come in and contribute. Adrio, the second half was better than it was in the first half.”
Southwest Baptist comes to Fayetteville on the heels of losing, 87-78, on Saturday against D1 Southest Missouri State in the Bearcats’ first exhibition game. Four players scored in double figures for Southwest Baptist led by sophomore guard Chris Rossow’s 15 points.
My best guess at Hogs’ starting lineup and 2nd unit against Southwest Baptist
Starters …
C – Daniel Gafford, 6-11 sophomore
F – Gabe Osabuohien, 6-8 sophomore
G – Mason Jones, 6-5 sophomore
G – Isaiah Joe, 6-5 freshman
G – Jalen Harris, 6-2 sophomore
2nd unit …
F – Adrio Bailey, 6-8 sophomore
F – Reggie Chaney, 6-8 freshman
F/C – Ethan Henderson, 6-8 freshman
G – Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, 6-3 freshman (my wildcard to possibly get a start vs. Southwest Baptist)
G – Desi Sills, 6-2 freshman
5 Things on My Radar during Arkansas-vs-Southwest Baptist
1) Turnovers! Hogs combined for 34 turnovers in the Red-White game, then had 20 more Friday night against Tusculum. Will be watching to see what sophomore point guard Jalen Harris does to limit his own miscues while running the team. Arkansas played its cleanest basketball so far in the preseason in the second half against Tusculum (only 7 turnovers), so a continuation of that will please Anderson with the Texas Longhorns and Shaka Smart’s creative pressure defenses looming just a week away.

2) Hot Cup O’ Joe! Freshman guard Isaiah Joe has a well-earned green light after a mercurial start from distance, and one wonders if Southwest Baptist is the next victim on his NBA-range hit list. As mentiioned, Joe has only one turnover while averaging 24.5 points through two dress rehearsals. Will he have another performance that helps answer the big offseason question: “How do you replace two All SEC 1st teammers and volume shooter-scorers in Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford?”
3) We speculated last week in this space that Reggie Chaney eventually would start making a scoring impact, and he did that and more registering his double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds) to go with 3 steals while being pesky at the top of Arkansas’s pressure defense against Tusculum. Maybe more importantly, he picked up the slack for Daniel Gafford who only logged 18 minutes due to foul trouble. From this vantage point, at some point as a freshman Chaney will earn a starter’s role — whether that means starting the game, playing heavy and meaningful minutes, and/or finishing games at crunch time.  But how quickly? Arkansas needs production inside apart from Gafford, and Chaney appears to be the leading candidate to provide it. Another statement-game from Chaney on Friday?
4) Keyshawn Embery-Simpson is my darkhorse pick to break into the starting lineup Friday, but I’m not counting on it. Still, he was instrumental playing off the bench with the second unit that turned things around against Tusculum in the first half, then in the second half his offense came alive when he scored 9 of his 13 points, including 3-of-6 from 3. With 6-5 sophomore wing Mason Jones getting a start against Tusculum, it might be a good idea to plug Embery-Simpson into that role this week and see how it goes. Either way, both options seem solid as Anderson tinkers with backcourt lineups, rotations, and depth.
5) Playing through Daniel Gafford. Didn’t see enough of it last season as Arkansas was a team absent a facilitator-first guard while being driven by alpha-scorers in the backcourt. In half-court offense, even secondary transition opportunities, we’ll be looking to see how often and how effective the Hogs are playing through Gafford, meaning running the offense through him to make sure he gets touches and forces defenses to pick their poison in either doubling him and leaving open shooters or putting a big on an island to defend him. Advantage Gafford and Hogs the more Arkansas plays through him, so we’ll see if that is a priority tomorrow night.
Pro Hogs report
Bobby Portis (6-11 forward, Chicago Bulls, 4th NBA season): Portis, a 1st-round pick in 2015, is out at least 5 more weeks with a moderate strain to his right knee suffered last week against Charlotte. Prior to injury, Portis started all of the Bulls’ first four games and averaged a double-double — 10.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks in 28.3 minutes. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds in the Bulls’ season-opening road loss against Philadelphia.
Patrick Beverley (6-1 point guard, Los Angeles Clippers, 6th NBA season): Beverley is a starter and is averaging 5.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.7 assists in 23.3 minutes for the 4-3 Clippers.  He picked up a flagrant-1 foul after diving on the floor and making contact with his long-time nemesis Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City on Tuesday, and the play resulted in both players mouthing at each other and picking up technical fouls — an entertaining sideshow during the Thunder’s 128-110 home win. Beverley was 2 assists shy from a triple-double on  Oct. 23 — 12 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists — in Los Angeles’s 116-109 loss at New Orleans.
Daryl Macon (6-3 combo guard, Dallas Mavericks, undrafted free-agent NBA / G-League rookie): Macon has been assigned to the Mavs’ G-League affiliated team, the Texas Legends, who begin their season on Saturday against the Austin Spurs. Macon was on the Mavs’ active roster for 4 of their first 5 regular-season games, and he made his NBA debut playing 1 minute while recording no stats against Toronto last week. Macon signed a 2-way contract with Dallas is August, which means he can be part of the Mavs’ roster and play in the NBA for up to 45 days during the regular season while alternating as a player in the G-League.
Jaylen Barford (6-3 combo guard, Greensboro Swarm, G-League rookie): Barford was on the Charlotte Hornets’ preseason roster, and is currently on the roster of the Hornets’ G-League affiliate team, the Greensboro Swarm. The Swarm being regular-season play Friday on the road against the Wisconsin Herd.
Dusty Hannahs (6-3 shooting guard, Memphis Hustle, 2nd G-League season ): Hannahs was a reserve for the Hustle last season, and had several double-figure scoring night playing off the bench. It’s year two of pro basketball for Hannahs, who said earlier this week of his opportunity: “Time to work.” The Memphis Grizzlies’ G-League affiliated team opens the regular season Saturday on the road against the Rio Grande Valley Vipors.
Michael Qualls (6-5 shooting guard, Wisconsin Herd, 2nd G-League season): Qualls played in 23 games for the Herd in his G-League rookie season in 2017-18, starting once and averaging 8.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 19.2 minutes. Qualls and the Wisconsin Herd open their season Friday against Barford and the Greensboro Swarm team.

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