What we are sorely lacking - and this has been a consistent problem at Arkansas for years now - is a big-time difference maker in the back court; what I have taken to calling (for several years now) an “alpha” guard.
The few true studs we have had in the program recently have been bigs, such as Gafford and Portis. We DO have a lot of “nice” players - guys who can be part of a championship caliber team. But we need “the straw that stirs the drink”, and that is what we are missing.
Used to be, Arkansas was known for cranking these types of guys out. Brewer Sr. Moncrief. Delph (though he deferred, somewhat, to the other two triplets). US Reed. Darrell Walker. Alvin Robertson. Lee Mayberry. Todd Day. Corey Beck. Scotty Thurman. Brewer Jr. These were guys who, when things were going poorly, you could count on to lead the team back in the right direction. Guys you would WANT to have the ball in their hands as time was running out on the shot clock, or late in the game.
Last guy we had that was truly like that was Joe Johnson - or maybe, Patrick Beverley; but neither one stayed around very long. Barford and Macon came close (and I’d LOVE to have either on this year’s team). Seems like we’ve settled into a pattern of signing “nice” players - good, talented recruits who belong at Arkansas, and I’m glad we signed them. Problem is, all of them are looking for that alpha to give the ball to in late game situations - and we don’t have one.
Yes, Gafford is a stud. But a stud guard can control the ball for 25 of the 30 seconds of the shot clock - something a big cannot. They run the show. If Daniel had such a teammate, my goodness - what a different team you would see.
Harris tries to be that guy, and he is a very effective distributor. But he just doesn’t have the scoring threat himself to be what we really need. The defense invites him to shoot and he does - to our detriment. We need someone who can deliver a dagger if the defense dares him to. And we don’t have that person. It’s the one critical dimension we are missing.
I think Mason Jones is starting to become that kind of player, especially over the past month.
He made several plays late in the game against Western Kentucky, including a 3 that gave Arkansas the lead in the last couple of minutes. He was a go-to guy late against Georgia Tech (scored the final five points) and he stepped up when the Texas State game was tight. He almost single-handedly willed the team back into last night’s game.
He is inconsistent now, but has some big-time upside.
We’ll see. I am unconvinced as of this point. I do like Jones; today, I’d characterize him as another “nice” player. Can he elevate into “alpha” status? I don’t know that he has the overall athleticism to fill that bill.
I hope so - but the jury is out.
I will also point out that past “alphas” have jumped out relatively quickly - the old Darrell Royal “bite you as a pup” thing. Some players do develop from car wrecks to solid, dependable - even “plus” players (Keith Wilson and Darrell Hawkins come to mind). But few non-alphas “develop” into true alphas.
Agree, Mason Jones is going to be a great Razorback and a team leader. He basically is a totally new player to basketball these last 2 years. I was shocked to read that he has lost 70 pounds since he was a senior in High School. He’s not a great athlete now, but I believe he is, and can be, more athletic than even he knows. Playing basketball at that weight in high school certainly didn’t do his knees any favor. He’s still testing the athletic abilities he has in his relatively new body. I’m thinking he needs some special physical training in flexibility, leg strength, quickness, agility, etc. I’m hoping he’s getting that at Arkansas.
His ceiling is very high because his basketball IQ is very high. With his shooting stroke, he’s just whiskers away from being a consistent great 3 point shooter. That should come with increased confidence and lots of continued practice. He’s very good in most every other phase of basketball. He needs to tighten up his handle and work on his passing skills a bit. He’s sound defensively and hopefully can improve his flexibility and quickness while defending. He also comes from great basketball genes as his brother played for Duke and his sister is or was a terrific basketball player. Because of all the above, I believe we will see him improve at a rapid rate the rest of this season and through the off-season.
Mason Jones IMO is one of the most pleasant surprises in recent history. I agree with you I think he will turn into the leader and alpha dog on this team, he just has “it”. A lot of guys shy away from big moments, the bigger the moment the more he steps his game up. After this season I see him leading us in scoring the next 2 years.
Mason Jones if alpha would have seen the Hogs win at Texas, WKy and GTech. We lack the outside winner who can control a game. Im not a fan of Mason Jones but he or some other outside player not named Isaiah Joe will always have a chance to be an alpha leader because of where opposition defense has to concentrate. Mason will be a pleasant surprise overachiever to me but not a difference maker in most games. Missing a free throw to win a game is his biggest achievement to me. He had the chance to win the Texas game (I won’t say he lost it because it is team) and blew his chance.
I guess I’d call them “alpha lites” in this context. IMO, this team would definitely be better with either/both of them. But, I still wouldn’t put them in the class of the group I mentioned. The primary difference is the “winner” gene. Some guys just won’t accept losing, and it becomes contagious. And these types are also are stand-out defenders, so they have that going for them even when their shot may not be falling.
Honestly, as much as I liked both DM and JB, one thing that did disappoint me was their ineffectiveness in game-end situations. Yes - Macon had “ice water veins” at the FT line down the stretch (and that is something we could REALLY use). But I don’t remember either being effective in scoring baskets late when we had to have one. In fact, much to my puzzlement and dismay, it was Beard who always seemed to want the “last shot” in those types of situations, and I don’t remember him making many of them at all. Barford, to my recollection, would often attempt to drive at the end of games but usually would either miss or be called for a turnover. And I don’t really remember Macon even attempting many end-game shots. He seemed to defer to Anton and Jalen in those situations (unless it was when we were up and he was going to be fouled to put him on the FT line).
Yes, their ability would be welcomed, and we might even be undefeated if they were still on the team. But I still yearn for “that guy” who you just feel good about regulating things on the court, and delivering at crunch time. I was spoiled for about 20 years there, and I guess that’s the standard I will always use for comparison.
Like you said earlier, the Brewers, Moncrief, Mayberry, Day, Beck, Thurman, Walker, Reed types. Who could keep everyone out of panic mode & let them know we got this. Then make the play, the shot, the pass, the steal, get the foul or what ever that helped win the games late.