While it is a little difficult to prognosticate on anything pertaining to college basketball anymore, short of the blue bloods getting bluer every recruiting season, what has happened to Arkansas since it finished off an accomplished 2016-17 campaign is probably as subtly bewildering as any offseason machinations you'll see.
Right after the Hogs' season came to a controversial and undeniably painful end with a second-round loss to eventual national champion North Carolina, the locals' attention turned to the future, with good cause. The departures of senior anchors Moses Kingsley and Dusty Hannahs, along with quiet floor general Manuale Watkins, meant that the Razorbacks were going to rely on their JUCO stalwarts Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon in 2017-18. Or at least that's how it appeared for a stretch.
Macon, notably, seemed to be ill at ease with the idea of returning, which was really problematic because even with Kingsley's demonstrable progress offensively over his last two years, the 6-10 center just went undrafted. That tells you that Macon, who is a pretty brilliant scorer and reliable shooter but is of a slight build and isn't terribly ballyhooed for his defense, should have never entertained the idea of entering the draft (although in fairness, these days you can live and play quite well across the globe in any number of foreign venues).
Barford and Macon both, ultimately, snuffed out any belief that they were bailing out early by penning fairly poignant missives that were posted to the program's official website, which again sets the tone for how strange this one-and-done era has become. Two guys who played extremely well over the final weeks of the year but still had only one season of major college ball under their belts were compelled to announce their return to the program publicly, through carefully prepped statements, even though neither of them really showed up on the professional scouting radar.
That's not a knock on either player, and not to condemn them to a journeyman future on the periphery of the world basketball stage. Macon sort of reminds you of another short-term Hog of the past, Jannero Pargo, who toiled in Fayetteville for a couple of years after transferring from the junior college ranks and then, after grinding his way through some camps stateside and dabbling in playing ball overseas, ended up crafting a lengthy and fairly solid NBA career for himself on the strength of his quick-strike shooting ability. Barford recalls Patrick Beverley, who recently went west from Houston to the L.A. Clippers in the Chris Paul deal, with his tenacity on defense and his fearless style of play, and Beverley went into the pro game a little bit tainted after he was dismissed from Arkansas for academic misdeeds. In short, both of the current backcourt players have skills that could easily be embraced by general managers and scouts next summer, and they're thankfully going to stay put for their senior years despite the flirtations, temptations, and rumors to the contrary.
Of course, Mike Anderson's challenge from his arrival has been sustaining the talent pipeline, and it appeared that Macon and Barford would be the experienced nucleus for a program that would be transitioning to the likes of Daniel Gafford and Khalil Garland. Both of those in-state prospects will be relied upon heavily, but those who paid attention to recent headlines know there's some concern to be had when the lean and long Gafford had an allegedly "slight" meniscus tear to overcome, and Garland was cryptically said by Anderson to be tested for something undisclosed before he hit the practice courts.
The most bizarre and unsettling episode of all, though, was when Class of 2018 mega-prospect Reggie Perry fired off a one-word tweet — "Decisions" — a few days ago and sent much of Hog country into speculation and/or panic mode. Perry's parents tried to restore calm with a statement on their son's behalf (and he deleted the social media flashpoint post pretty soon after it went up), but it likely created more cynicism about Perry, a 6-10, five-star prodigy from Thomasville, Georgia, who has been committed to Arkansas for months and would be the linchpin of another A-list class if he doesn't deviate. Is he being courted by other teams? Absolutely, and you can bet that as his stock continues to rise, the pressure is going to rise exponentially.
All of this, in the final analysis, may just be ancillary drama. But it does speak to how difficult it can be for a coach like Anderson, who is highly respected for his recruiting acumen, to maintain poise and control in a frenzied environment. I've been critical of Anderson here on various occasions, but a snapshot of the past few weeks does reveal how exacting that job can be.