It’s almost March and Hog fans aren’t the only ones noticing the Razorbacks’ recent success! At 18-5 (10-4) and riding an 8-game conference winning streak, Head Hog Eric Musselman has the Hogs sitting at 2nd place in the SEC, much higher than most experts picked the Hogs to be sitting at this point in the season. With nearly a full roster turnover last off-season, three freshmen playing significant minutes, and 94% of last season’s scoring no longer on the team, the question all but asks itself; how are the Razorbacks doing it?
When analyzing the Razorbacks’ recent success, it quickly becomes apparent that there is no one definitive answer to that question. The Hogs don’t have one stand-out player carrying them to each win. They’re not exactly leading the nation in any one category allowing them to dominate teams. Instead, the perfect storm of experience, youth, talent, passion, and drive has collected under the leadership of coach Muss, fueling the Hoop Hogs to one of their best seasons in recent memory.
Reasons Behind Razorbacks’ Recent Success
One of the most important parts of most championship-caliber teams is their experience. Despite a near overhaul of the roster, Musselman was able to bring in several transfers with collegiate experience. Graduate transfers Jalen Tate and Justin Smith have been arguably two of the top three most important players for the Hogs this season. In conference play, the two versatile transfers have combined to average 23.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 2.8 SPG, and 1.0 BPG.
The stats tell an impressive story, but the leadership and versatility these two players display cannot be measured. Tate is a level-headed guard that always knows when to attack the defense and finish a mid-range jumper or draw a foul when Arkansas needs it most. Smith, on the other hand, is the ultimate off-ball presence, providing a solid screener, rim roller, and paint finisher in any lineup he’s a part of. Not to mention both players have exceptional length and defensive IQ, making them excellent team defenders in Musselman’s scheme.
Speaking of Musselman’s scheme, the 2nd year head coach seems to have finally settled into his ideal rotation for the remainder of the season. Naturally, most of his lineups are matchup dependent, and sometimes guys don’t see the court at all if he deems them not a good matchup for the opponent, but it’s clear that he has figured out the role he wants each of his players to play moving forward.
Aside from his own team’s minute-count, Musselman has been implementing bold strategies against multiple SEC teams during the Razorbacks’ recent success. In the first win of this stretch against Auburn, he instructed his guards to double team Sharife Cooper as soon as he crossed half-court, forcing someone else on the Tigers’ roster to make plays. This strategy worked to perfection as the Hogs erased a double-digit deficit to win by 75-73.
We’ve seen coach Muss implement a similar strategy against multiple teams with dribble-heavy guards and have decent success against nearly all of them.
Then, against an elite rebounding team like Mississippi State, coach Musselman again got creative with his game plan. This time, instead of a bold on-court move, Musselman took to the streets and hung up over 100 signs reminding his team to rebound the basketball leading up to their game against the Bulldogs. Once again, the unusual tactic proved to be effective as the Hogs out-rebounded the Dogs 45-34 and won the game.
This Razorback team has several players capable of knocking down shots and making big plays, causing them to be a dangerous team when they get rolling. Moses Moody is a premier scorer in the SEC and projected lottery pick in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft. He’s joined in the backcourt by fellow freshman guard, Davonte “Devo” Davis, who has proven to be a true spark plug every time he’s on the court. Devo has provided countless big plays for the Hogs since SEC play began, sparking runs with timely steals or acrobatic fast-break finishes.
Another surprise for Hog fans this season has come in the form of another freshman. Jaylin Williams has shown his high IQ time and time again by drawing momentum-swinging charges and flushing timely putback dunks. Justin Smith has also provided more than one spark this season by utilizing his unearthly athleticism to finish emphatic dunks. Nearly every player on this team is capable of making big, momentum-grabbing plays.
However, it’s not only the Hogs’ ability to mount runs of their own that makes them scary, it’s their ability to weather the opposing team’s runs. Every game is defined by a few runs from each team, and the winner is usually determined by who can keep a level head and continue to fight no matter how much the other team heats up. The Razorbacks’ recent success has seen its fair share of opponents’ runs, but Musselman and company have seemingly been unphased by all of them. Maintaining composure and continuing to execute the game plan through adversity is a grossly undervalued ability amongst athletes.
Closing Out Games
Grad transfers with experience help settle down the team during opponents’ runs. Freshmen provide energy and passion every night. Coaching plays a bigger factor in games than some even realize. All of this is true, but the most important aspect of winning college basketball games is finding a way to win close games down the stretch.
The game plan, team shooting percentages, and first 47 minutes of the game go out the window when teams get down to the last minute of crunch time in a close game. Find a way to win. That’s it. The Hogs have done just that in several games so far this season, which is exactly what makes them a scary Tournament team. Yes, they shoot well; yes, they defend well; yes, they’re well-coached, but finding a way to win in any given scenario will be the scariest aspect of this Razorback team come March.
Guards like Jalen Tate and JD Notae have been able to handle the ball against pressure late in games with minimal turnovers. Moses Moody is knocking down FTs at an 84.5% when teams start fouling to stop the clock. Jaylin Williams is a more than capable FT shooter with an incredibly high basketball IQ, allowing him to make big plays on both ends of the court in late-game situations. All of the pieces are there, and they’re fitting together better than any of us could have imagined.
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