It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and the Razorbacks have provided a true gift to Hog fans everywhere so far this season. Eric Musselman and company have led the squad to an 8-0 start through their non-conference schedule, winning every single game by a double-digit margin, despite Musselman not being available for their most recent contest. Associate Head Coach, David Patrick, seemed to hold his own just fine.
Of course, all of that goes out the window on Dec 30th when the Razorbacks visit the Auburn Tigers to open conference play.
Musselman has seemingly narrowed down his 10-man rotation to a situation top 8-9 players depending on matchup and scheme. It will be interesting to watch how the rotation takes shape against SEC-level competition, but for now, we can only go off of what we have.
Razorback Player Grades
Moses Moody: A+
The freshman phenom came into this season as a projected NBA Lottery Pick in the 2021 Draft, and it’s quickly becoming apparent why. At 6’6 with a 7’0 wingspan, Moody clearly passes the eye test for an NBA prospect. His jump shot again pleases scouts with fundamental consistency. The kid simply looks like an NBA player already.
Now, combine those physical traits with 16.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG, and 51.2% shooting. Moody has been lighting up the stat sheet in every way possible. His 3-point shot is deadly, his midrange game is silky smooth, and his ability to finish around the rim is awe-inspiring. He hits free throws at just under 80% and 3-pointers at over 41%. The combination of tools and talent is honestly overwhelming.
However, his unique skill set isn’t the only thing that sets him apart. Moody has been extremely active on both ends of the floor even when he’s not the focal point. He’s second on the team in offensive rebounds per game (2.9) behind only Justin Smith, arguably a Top 5 leaper in Razorback history. To recap, the freshman shooting guard has an NBA-like build, elite scoring abilities, a high motor on the court, and to cap it off, he’s extremely coachable and fits seamlessly into any lineup. What else could you possibly want from a college athlete?
JD Notae: B+
Notae has been a much need go-to scorer late in games. He’s the Razorbacks’ best option to create his own shot down the stretch, much like the role Mason Jones played last season, only with a few more shooters at his disposal. Notae is averaging 14.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 2.8 APG off the bench for the Hogs. His presence has not only been felt through eight games, at times it’s also been necessary.
So why isn’t Notae’s graded higher? I’m glad you asked. His questionable shot selection has led to a near team-worst FG% of 41.3%. While this is not abysmal for a college shooting guard, it’s not necessarily helpful to his team. Several times this season, the junior transfer has seen one shot go through the hoop and decided that next time down the court, he was shooting no matter what. I have no problem with the occasional heat check when a player thinks they’re catching fire, but the predictability of Notae’s unwarranted bombs has already led to a small level of frustration from the fanbase.
Nonetheless, Notae is one of five Razorbacks averaging double digits and the only non-starter to do so. He’s been a mainly positive factor for the team, and I expect his late-game scoring ability to come in handy more than once this season.
Desi Sills: A+
A wise man once said, “Desi Sills is tougher than well done Western Sizzlin’ steak.” He wasn’t wrong, but that alone doesn’t capture the full essence of what Sills means to this team. Yes, he’s an incredibly tough and fearless player, but his consistency, much like his toughness, can’t be measured.
Sills (6’1) is in the top five of every single stat category this season aside from blocks where he ranks 6th. He has the most steals, 3rd most points, assists, and minutes, 4th most defensive rebounds, and 5th most offensive and total rebounds, not to mention he’s 2nd on the team in FG% as a perimeter player, a rarity at any level of basketball. The junior guard quite literally does it all.
All of that is impressive, but not everything Sills does even shows up on the stat sheet. Many times, this season, the team as a whole has found themselves in a scoring drought only to have Desi Sills work his way to the basket for a tough finish or a well-earned trip to the free-throw line. His intensity and unwillingness to let his team struggle are intangibles that don’t always translate to numbers but do always translate to winning basketball.
Justin Smith: B+
The Indiana grad-transfer is one of the smoothest athletes I’ve ever witnessed. He often glides to the rim for highlight-reel dunks or offensive rebounds, leading the team in both categories. In fact, in the Hogs matchup against Oral Roberts, Smith tallied 10 offensive rebounds (17 total) to go along with 22 points, 2 steals, and 1 block. While this was far-and-away the grad transfer’s best game, Smith has been a much-needed addition to this Razorback team all season.
Much like Notae, Smith’s occasionally questionable shot selection prevents him from reaching a higher grade. I have no problem with Smith letting it fly from deep with the opportunity presents itself, in fact, I encourage it to open up the offense even more. However, he has occasionally decided to pull a few turnaround, midrange, fadeaway jumpers out of his bag this season, and I’m not sure he’s connected on any so far.
Typically, power forwards and centers lead the team in FG% because they get the best looks close to the rim. This is not the case with Smith as he’s averaging the 4th worst shooting percentage out of the 10 players ranked on this list. Not ideal for the Razorback big man leading the frontcourt in minutes per game.
Jalen Tate: A-
Tate has been an unexpected surprise for me personally. I expected him to be a solid rotation player providing stellar defense, extra length, and occasionally some playmaking. Instead, we got a bonafide winner.
Tate isn’t always the prettiest to watch as he worms his 6’6 frame into the paint, but his numbers don’t lie. In 26 minutes per contest, Tate is averaging 9.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 4.6 APG, and 1.0 SPG. He is soon likely to be the 6th Hog to average double digits this year while also leading the team in assists and contributing heavily in nearly every other major stat. The guy plays winning basketball, plain and simple.
The only downside to Tate thus far has been his over-eagerness on both ends of the court. While it’s natural for your primary ball-handler and playmaker to also lead the team in turnovers, averaging 2.4 turnovers per game against non-SEC competition isn’t ideal. He’s also committing 2.5 fouls per game. The Hogs have great depth, especially for a Musselman-led college team, but they may not be able to afford to have their 6’6 floor general off the court late in close games due to foul trouble.
Connor Vanover: B+
Vanover came out of the gates hot, hitting six of his first nine 3-point attempts through the team’s first three games. This three-game stretch also included a 16 rebound, 6 block performance from the fan-favorite big man. Heart over height might be true, but height sure doesn’t hurt in this sport.
Since then, however, Vanover has cooled off considerably. He attempted eight long-range shots in Game 4 against Lipscomb and only connected on two of them, finishing 25% from deep. In the next four games, the 7’3 sharpshooter has attempted 10 total threes and made only three of them. At such a low volume, 30% from distance isn’t terrible, but neither is a B+ ranking. He’s also had rebounding performances of 4, 3, and 2 rebounds in three separate games this season despite his towering frame.
Vanover has proven to be a liability when playing against opposing big men who can also hit from distance. In the game against Oral Roberts, a team that could field five 3-point threats at any given time, the lanky big man only saw nine minutes of first-half action and never touched the court after halftime. Vanover is clearly a great addition to this team and a unique wrinkle on both sides of the ball, but his presence may be negated by SEC teams too often for him to be super-effective.
Vance Jackson: C+
Jackson might be labeled as the biggest disappointment so far, but don’t write him off just yet. In only 15.8 minutes per game, the grad-transfer is averaging 5.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, and 1.1 APG. These aren’t flashy numbers, but they’re still useful to the team. The 6’9 forward opened the season with a bang, shooting 4/6 from behind the arc in Game 1, tallying 15 points in 15 minutes. However, through his next five games, he shot a total of 16 threes and made only 3 of them (18.8%).
Jackson did, however, continue to contribute in other ways throughout his shooting slump. He grabbed rebounds, threw at least one assist in all but one game, and made his free throws at a high rate when he got to the charity stripe.
In the most recent game against Abilene Christian, Jackson visibly changed on the court. We saw him handling the basketball more, dishing fancy passes to open teammates all over the court, and shooting with confidence. He still only managed to knock down 1/4 3-point attempts, but that level of confidence could easily carry over for a shooter with as much potential as Jackson. I expect an uptick in production and efficiency from the grad-transfer as the Hogs progress through conference play.
Davonte Davis: B+
Only the second of four freshmen on this list, Davonte “Devo” Davis has begun to carve out a role in the regular rotation. After the Razorbacks’ blowout, 80-point victory in Game 1, Davis didn’t find himself on the court again until three games later against Lipscomb, a game the Hogs won by 36 points. In that game, however, Davis put the full versatility of his game on full display. He scored 4 points on 100% shooting, grabbed 3 rebounds, dished out an assist, and recorded a steal in only 15 minutes of action.
Including the Lipscomb game, Davis has seen his average minutes per game creep into the double digits at 10.4 MPG. In this “spot minutes” role, Devo has been tenacious on both sides of the ball. His offensive game still needs a little bit of polishing, but his motor is undeniable. In the Razorbacks’ victory over Southern, Davis tallied 7 rebounds including 3 on the offensive side of the court. He’s shooting an efficient 50% from the field on a low volume of shots, and he has yet to miss a free throw all season.
Davis has the potential to be the Hogs’ best player in the next 2-3 seasons as he continues to develop under coach Musselman. The talent ahead of him right now will likely limit his playing time during SEC play but make no mistake, Davis has capitalized on the minutes available to him thus far.
KK Robinson: B-
Robinson, on the other hand, has found himself pulled out of multiple games with early foul trouble. Personally, I see Robinson as the best true point guard on the roster. Tate is a great facilitator and team player, but at an awkward 6’6 with an unconventional jump shot, he’s not a true playmaker. Robinson has the potential to be one, but to this point, he’s been his own worst enemy with unnecessary fouls early in his playing time.
The 6’0 freshman is averaging over 41% from behind the arc on 1.5 attempts per game, a fantastic number when you consider he’s only playing 10.4 minutes per contest. His career high came in the blowout victory against Mississippi Valley State where he scored 15 points in 18 minutes, including three 3-pointers.
In all honesty, I’m not sure that we’ve seen what KK Robinson can really do yet. He has talented guards playing ahead of him and hasn’t helped his case by committing overly-aggressive fouls, but the young prospect hasn’t gotten many extended opportunities to prove his worth. This isn’t a knock at Robinson, Musselman, or anyone else, just stating that circumstance hasn’t allowed us to witness the full potential this young man possesses. Yet.
Jaylin Williams: B
Last but not least, Jaylin Williams has been a promising addition to the squad thus far. In only 11.5 minutes per game through 6 games played, Williams is averaging 4.2 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, and 37.5% 3PT shooting. The true freshman possesses a highly sought-after skill set with his ability to facilitate from the high post, shoot threes at an above-average rate, and secure rebounds on both ends of the court. He’s also among the team leaders in charges taken, an impressive stat for the freshman.
Unfortunately for him, however, the other big men on the roster have been nearly too good to take off the court. Vanover started the season scorching hot and has still managed to make an impact on nearly every game. Smith is among the top four scorers on the team and 0.1 RPG away from leading the team in rebounds. Williams hasn’t seen the court often not because he’s not good, but because those in front of them have earned the right to stay on the court longer.
Much like Davis, I can see Williams blossoming into a star with the Hogs over the next couple of seasons, potentially even making a name for himself on NBA Draft boards with his unique combination of height, shooting, passing, and all-around basketball IQ.
Main image credit: