After winning 22 games with five players averaging between nine and 12.2 points per contest in 2013-14, there was optimism in Fayetteville that No. 25 Arkansas had the pieces needed to take the next step and make the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008. And with five of their top six scorers from last season back on campus, an NCAA tournament bid is a realistic expectation for Mike Anderson’s bunch.
Sunday afternoon the Razorbacks used their depth and rebounding prowess to take down Iona, 94-77, moving to 6-0 for the first time since the 1997-98 season. While the Gaels, the preseason pick to win the MAAC who in their last outing scored 126 points on an overmatched Delaware State team, prefer to play fast they don’t have as many options to turn to as the Razorbacks.
That proved to be an issue for Tim Cluess’ team in the second half, as Arkansas went on a 17-4 second half run to push a two-point lead out to 15 with 3:26 remaining.
Michael Qualls and Anthlon Bell scored 20 points apiece to lead the way for Arkansas, but if there’s a player to focus on with regards to the Razorbacks’ 6-0 start it may be senior guard Rashad Madden. Against Iona, Madden accounted for 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and through six games he’s been far better as a distributor than he was a season ago.
In 2013-14 Madden accounted for 2.8 assists and 2.3 turnovers per contest, which worked out to an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.2. By comparison, Madden’s averaging 6.0 assists and 2.3 turnovers per game through six games in 2014-15 (2.6 A/T ratio). As a team Arkansas entered Sunday’s game leading the SEC (and the nation) in assists, and they dished out 18 more with just 11 turnovers against Iona.
Qualls and forward Bobby Portis may be the headliners for the Razorbacks, but this is a group that gets things done by committee. But if Arkansas is to take the next step, their efficiency when it comes to distributing the basketball needed to improve. With Madden leading the way that’s been the case through the Razorbacks’ first six games, which included a win at previously ranked SMU.
But outside of that win and Sunday’s victory over Iona, Arkansas’ schedule hasn’t provided the tests that would make those on the outside believe. Next up for Arkansas is a game at No. 13 Iowa State, and if Madden and company can continue to play as they have in front of a tough Hilton Coliseum crowd look for the bandwagon to add some passengers.