The 2021 Razorback basketball season ended in a way that hadn’t been seen in a generation. Many of us now old enough to watch, and appreciate, the greatness that took to the hardwood wearing the Razorback cardinal and white this season were either too young to remember or not yet even born the last time the Hoop Hogs saw success at this level. However, simply hanging an Elite Eight banner isn’t the only long-lasting impact the 2021 Razorback basketball season will have on the program as a whole. No, what Eric Musselman and company have done during his two short years on the hill have stirred a sleeping giant, waiting to be awoken.
2021 Razorback Basketball Season
For the first time since the 1996 season, the Razorbacks advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament this March. Not only did they achieve what hadn’t been done in 25 seasons, they surpassed it, for in 1996 the Hogs lost in the Sweet Sixteen, where this year’s Hogs went blow-for-blow with the eventual champion Baylor Bears in the Elite Eight. You’d have to go back one more season to where the remnants of the 1994 National Championship team lost their chance at back-to-back titles in the Championship Game of the 1995 tournament.
Musselman Setting Up Recruiting
Coach Musselman didn’t just take the Hogs to heights not seen in 25 years, he did so with only two returning players on his roster from the previous year, neither of which started games down the stretch. A major, if not the biggest, factor in the success of the 2021 Razorback basketball team was the emergence of not one, not two, but three true freshmen.
Moses Moody is soon to be a well-known name for basketball fans if he’s not one already. Many mock drafts project the 6’6 shooting guard to be drafted late in the lottery or in the middle of the first round in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft. Moody was the focal point of the offense through several games this season, and though he struggled to score the ball during the NCAA Tournament, his impact cannot be understated. Moody is adept at drawing charges, grabbing important rebounds, and seeming to always be in the right place at the right time. This is not all due to his athleticism and length, but also because he has one of the highest basketball IQ’s on any court he steps foot in.
Along with the potential lottery pick came two relatively unexpected star freshmen. Devo Davis of Jacksonville, Arkansas lit up the court with energy and hustle every time he got a chance. His smothering defense and awe-inspiring finishes in transition had Razorback fans on the edge of their seat every time he took the court, while fellow freshman teammate, Jaylin Williams, captured the hearts of Hog fans with a few momentum swinging plays of his own. Williams, like Moody, is an excellent charge-taker and all-around defender. He also gave fans something to cheer for with more than one ferocious put-back slam this season.
While the successful 2021 Razorback basketball season wouldn’t have happened without these freshmen, their impact will be felt far beyond this year. They showed other high school recruits that not only could they get a chance to play right away under Coach Musselman, but that they could play in big moments all season, have a chance at the NCAAT, and succeed just as much as if they were to go nearly anywhere else.
In the same breath as it being important to play his freshmen meaningful minutes, Musselman once again showed his knack for pulling talent out of the transfer portal and molding it into success on the basketball court. Without the transfer additions of Jalen Tate, Justin Smith, JD Notae, and Connor Vanover, it’s unlikely the 2021 Razorback basketball season lasts as long as it did.
While star high school players are still the focal point for recruiting, they’re no longer the clear most important group of recruits for coaches to focus on. With the transfer portal shaping up to look more like an NBA offseason without the limit of contracts and cap space moving forward, Coach Musselman has put himself in a fantastic position to continue building Arkansas into the basketball powerhouse it can be. He’s already landed three of the best transfers on the market for the 2022 season and still has a couple of open roster spots to toy with before the season starts.
Musselman’s willingness to play his freshmen and transfers should continue paying dividends down the road as the Hogs look to build on their historic season. We’re already seeing it pay off with the recent commitments of freshmen (Chance Moore, 2021 G; Joseph Pinion, 2022 G/F), JUCO prospects (Akol Mawein, 2021 F), and grad transfers (Chris Lykes, G; Au’Diese Toney, G; Stanley Umude, G/F).
There are few fanbases that can rival the passion shown by Razorback fans, especially on any social media platform when their team is playing well. The fandom hasn’t gone anywhere, despite the struggles of the main sports in recent years, but it’s also struggled to gain new members of the next generation without generating much success. Gaining new fans may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of winning basketball games, but the support shown to any Razorback sport shouldn’t be understated.
With the emergence of Razorback basketball as a potential power house once more (accompanied by the upward trend of the football team), it’s starting to become cool to be a Hog fan again, even for those that were previously undecided or overly-casual about their fandom.
Anyone that knows anything about Razorback basketball can tell you stories of “The Old Days,” days in which Sidney Moncrief and Eddie Sutton put Razorback basketball on the national map. Days in which Todd Day and Lee Mayberry took the floor together and became May-Day, only to rock the roof off of Barnhill Arena. Stories of how Corliss “Big Nasty” Williamson anchored a vicious defensive attack and led the 40 Minutes of Hell, and of how Coach Nolan Richardson built upon Coach Sutton’s success, leading the Hogs to the promise land for the first and only time in program history.
Now it’s time for a new chapter in the long history of Razorback greats. Eric Musselman has taken the team to the Elite Eight in just his second season as the Head Hog. Moses Moody just became the first one-and-done player in Razorback history. Justin Smith made the All-Tournament 2nd team in his lone season as a Razorback. All of this coming just from the 2021 Razorback basketball season. It’s not a hard sell that this program, this fanbase, is awaiting the arrival of more legends.
Remember the 2021 Razorback Basketball Season
For those of us that were around to witness the run of the ’90s, or perhaps even eras before, it’s a welcome feeling to be relevant again. However, for those of us who are tasting national success for the first time in our lives, it’s quickly becoming an addiction. The 2021 Razorback basketball season was only the beginning of what could be to come for this sleeping giant of a program, and we’d all do well to remember it, for it could be the first chapter of many in the next book of a series of Razorback Glory Days.
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