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Bad time for Arkansas basketball to be rebuilding



Let's run the Betamax all the way back into mid-March.

Arkansas loses a fevered matchup against North Carolina, ending its winningest basketball season in two decades in the NCAA Tournament. The consensus at that time was that even if Bobby Portis did take the expected plunge into the NBA, the program's renaissance was secured. Michael Qualls would come back to be that rare breed of a do-it-all senior, combine with Anton Beard in the backcourt and let new blood in the form of Jimmy Whitt and Ted Kapita basically ensure that the progression marched onward.

Four months later, Portis is a Chicago Bull, and he's pretty much the only one flashing that familiar childlike grin. Qualls ended up getting suspect counsel, departing for the draft himself, and his visage was one of excruciating pain after he blew out his knee in Phoenix as he tried desperately to prove himself better than a second-round talent. Kapita failed to hit the academic marks and is now on his way to prep school, presumably never to land back in Fayetteville.

As for Beard, along with fellow returnee Jacorey Williams and Colorado transfer Dustin Thomas? They ended up getting snagged for some sort of thoroughly unsophisticated (read: idiotic) currency forgery ring, and it's utterly likely that the touted North Little Rock point guard, the mercurial Williams, and the athletic but untested Thomas never see the court again.

Certainly didn't take long for any scant traces of optimism to drain swiftly out of the tank, did it?

Mike Anderson's 2014-15 turning point now looks more like the anomaly, or the peak, and there are going to be understandable questions about why a scholarship was invested in Kapita when his credentials were dubious. Arkansas does return Moses Kingsley, who is good for one sustained burst of offense per season, and Trey Thompson, who may actually have more innate physical gifts than Kingsley but hasn't been afforded the same court time yet. The post likely will be manned by two guys who may do well to average double-digit points together.

Your incoming backcourt is Whitt, senior Anthlon Bell, transfer Dusty Hannahs and senior Jabril Durham. Whitt is believed to be dynamic, and he'll have to be. Bell's streakiness is a known quality. Durham was hardly allowed to do much last year, and Hannahs' body of work is one middling season for a horrid Texas Tech team. And yet, taking all that into account, the backcourt is the relative strength.

If Anderson thought the temperature beneath his seat rose to uncomfortable levels last year when a promising bunch lost a batch of close conference games, he's going to practically want to relive that by the time, oh, December rolls around. This portends as the worst bunch since Stan Heath arrived in 2002 to collect all the parts of the USS Richardson's floating debris, and perhaps it won't even rise to that level. The SEC still isn't the most daunting league on a week-to-week basis, but Arkansas now resembles an average mid-major anyhow. This is not how anyone envisioned things, and it's accordingly amplified the pressure surrounding the coach who may have invested unwisely in a risky project like Kapita.

The Malik Monk pipe dreams may have summarily died, too. This program went from bull market to disarray in record time, and at the worst possible time, too. Band-Aids in late July simply don't exist, and if they do, they usually are of the off-brand variety. Anderson now finds himself in territory that, to be frank, he never had to suffer at any of his prior stops, and how he can possibly reconstruct this will be an oddly compelling little storyline this fall.

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