FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson needed guard Ky Madden to handle the ball in critical situations last season.
The junior was Arkansas’ best at breaking down defenses in its point guard by committee approach.
But Anderson is hoping Madden — who also finished as Arkansas’ leading scorer (12.7) last season — won’t have to shoulder those ball-handling duties as a senior.
“I think with the personnel we have here and the guys coming in it’s going to give us a chance to get Ky off the basketball,” Anderson said Wednesday, during his first press conference since Arkansas’ season ended with the loss at California. “I thought Ky had the ball in his hands a lot and there were times he had it too much.”
Madden led the Razorbacks in assists (2.8 a game) and turnovers (2.3) last season without a true point guard on the roster. That will change next season when Arkansas welcomes North Little Rock High’s Anton Beard and junior college transfer Jabril Durham to campus as part of the 2014 signing class.
Anderson believes the newcomers will benefit Madden.
“He was trying to create for himself and for others,” Anderson said. “You push him to an off guard position and I think he is a lot more effective.”
The Razorbacks believe it will help their offense as well.
Arkansas struggled to break down halfcourt defenses last season. The biggest problems came against zones. So Anderson said having true point guards on the roster next season should only make Arkansas harder to defend.
“There are times in a game when you have to have somebody that you can put the ball in their hands and they can get you into something and make plays,” Anderson said. “We did it by committee and I thought those guys did a good job. …
“But having guys that can make plays and even more importantly not only make plays for themselves, but for other people … To have some guys that can embody that and now some guys with the experience of understanding that a little bit more, those are the toughest teams to defend.”
Anderson said he plans to visit with players and staff members after the Final Four wraps up to evaluate the program. He said none of the nine scholarship players scheduled to return have informed him they intend to leave the Razorbacks.
Anderson said the focus of the offseason will be building on the program’s first postseason tournament experience in six years.
“I know there’s work to be done,” Anderson said. “We’re not where we want to be, but I think we’re gaining traction. One of the things you always want to do is you want a chance to be in postseason play. So that’s another step for our basketball team. But obviously there are bigger goals for our team.
“My quest continues to be to win a national championship and the only way you’re going to do that is you’ve got to be in the tournament. So our offseason will really be designated to getting better and I think we’ve got the guys to do it with.”
Anderson said David Deets, the program’s strength and conditioning coach, resigned last week to go into private business. Deets had been the Razorbacks’ strength and conditioning coach through the first three seasons under Anderson.
“David was with me for eight years and did an unbelievable job,” Anderson said. “It’s amazing the things he did. All the things I wanted our guys to be, he did a tremendous job. The guys that needed the weight, he put that on them. But more about the explosiveness, flexibility that was what I wanted. The things he did were more basketball specific.”
Anderson expects a “whole bunch of interest” as he searches for a replacement.
The Razorbacks will be playing nonconference road games at Southern Methodist and Clemson next season. Both are the second part of home-and-home series that began with games in Bud Walton Arena last season.
Anderson also said the Razorbacks will participate in a Southeastern Conference/Big 12 challenge. The opponent or location is not known.
Anderson also said Arkansas is working on getting into a preseason tournament.
“The key is you’ve got to win games,” Anderson said about Arkansas’ nonconference plans. “You’ve got to win games. We will continue to play a competitive schedule. I don’t mind playing anybody home-and-home. and I think we’ll see that.”