College basketball: Arkansas thinking of NCAA tournament return led by Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — For much of last season, Arkansas appeared on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament for a fifth time in six seasons under coach Mike Anderson.
A late-season surge landed the Razorbacks in the postseason for a second time in three years — relaxing the pressure on Anderson and leading to a second-round NCAA exit at the hands of eventual national champion North Carolina.
Arkansas has its sights set on topping last year's 26-10 record this season, thanks in large part to the return of senior guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. The Razorbacks began practice this week ahead of their season opener against Samford on Nov. 10, and they did so with one of the top backcourts in the Southeastern Conference.
Just ask them.
Day one— Razorback Basketball (@RazorbackMBB) October 3, 2017
Practice No. 2 coming up in 3 hours. pic.twitter.com/5a9qknwanh
"I think we have the best backcourt in the country," Macon said. "I don't think there's (any) other pair of guards you can choose before me and Jaylen."
Both Barford and Macon were in their first seasons with Arkansas a year ago after transferring from junior college. While they both experienced struggles along the way, their transitions to the Division I level were relatively smooth and the duo combined to average 26.2 points per game.
Each of the guards entered the NBA draft following last season in order to have their professional prospects evaluated. But they did not sign with an agent and eventually announced their decision to return to Arkansas together.
That was just fine with Anderson, who couldn't hide his excitement about his guards — or the possibility of making it to the NCAA tournament for a third time in four seasons — on Tuesday.
"I like this team right now," Anderson said. "The veteran guys from last year, they're dialed in ... Now, we're talking about taking it to that next level."
Macon was second on the Razorbacks with an average of 13.4 points per game last season, including a career-high 30-point outburst in a late-season win at home over Mississippi. The 6-3 guard was at his best as a shooter, knocking down 86.7 percent of his free throws and connecting on 38.7 percent of his 3-pointers.
The 6-foot-3 Barford, meanwhile, brought a physical element and ability to get to the rim. The guard averaged 12.8 points per game while also finishing second on the Razorbacks in both steals and assists.
In addition to Barford and Macon, the Razorbacks also have another returning senior guard with plenty of experience in Anton Beard — along with a talented group of freshmen including 6-foot-11 forward Daniel Gafford.
All in all, it's a mix that has hopes high in Fayetteville for more postseason fun this season.
"I think we're a little slept on right now, but that's all right," Barford said. "We've got a lot of experience, so we're going to be great."