Basketball season is finally here! The NBA has kicked off and college basketball teams everywhere are in their final weeks of offseason preparation, including the Razorback basketball team who held their annual red/white scrimmage this past Sunday, October 17th. The atmosphere created by hosting the game in Barnhill Arena and allowing free entry for fans was nostalgic, to say the least.
The teams started the scrimmage as follows:
White: JD Notae, Jaylin Williams, Chris Lykes, Jaxson Robinson, Kamani Johnson, Lawson Blake, Cade Arbogast
Red: Trey Wade, Au’Diese Toney, Chance Moore, Devo Davis, Connor Vanover, KK Robinson, Stanley Umude
The White team ultimately came away with a 74-63 victory after an entertaining performance from both teams, but it’s the individual takeaways and bigger picture of the rotation possibilities that make this game significant.
Williams finished the game with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 threes, a block, and a steal. His shot mechanics look smooth to go along with his known defensive abilities. His ability to pull down rebounds and initiate fast breaks with his own ball-handling or outlet passes will be an incredibly underrated aspect of his game this season.
Talent has never been a question mark with Williams, only confidence and opportunity, and it looks like he has gained the necessary confidence over the offseason. He was the vocal leader for both squads throughout the scrimmage while still managing to have a contagious smile on his face throughout most of the game. This team might have multiple on-court leaders with so many new faces on the roster, but it’s clear that Williams will be one of them.
Notae looked like an even more confident version of his old self if that’s even possible. The reigning SEC 6th Man of the Year led the team in points (22), assists (6), and steals (4) while contributing to the White team’s victory. He also made four 3-pointers and looked more focused on his defense against opposing guards KK Robinson and Devo Davis.
Much like last season, Notae will shoot the Razorbacks into, and out of, several games this season. He has the ultimate green light as a scorer and rarely hesitates to let it fly from distance. He only made 25% of his 3-point attempts on Sunday, but they were timely makes that sparked big runs for his team. He’s a flamethrower when he’s on, but he looks to still be a net-positive player on both sides of the ball even when his shots aren’t falling.
A real contender to lead this team in scoring this season, Umude put his offensive arsenal on full display. He’s very comfortable in the mid-range/high post area where he took, and made, a few difficult fadeaways and turn-around jumpers. He also showed how deadly he is from distance, knocking down three of his six 3-point attempts on his way to scoring 16 points.
Though he’s known as a deadly scorer, Umude’s versatility and unselfishness may be the most important aspects of his game this season. He finished the scrimmage with five assists and a game-high 11 rebounds. Having a guard-like skill-set at 6-6 will allow coach Musselman to play Umude in virtually any lineup. He can play anywhere from shooting guard to small-ball center for short stretches.
Speaking of versatility, it looks like Musselman has found his new “glue guy” in Au’Diese Toney. He scored 10 points for the Red squad and ripped down five boards in the process. Though he may not have stuffed the stat sheet, Toney’s presence was felt all game long. He played stellar defense, crashed the boards, maintained the flow of the offense, and generally did everything a coach would want out of a forward who’s not generally the first scoring option.
That being said, Toney also hit a couple of mid-range jump shots that surprised even me. He can handle the ball and defend the post, a deadly combination for a team looking to play positionless basketball. Throw in a consistent midrange jumper and the Hogs have found themselves another deadly weapon. Toney’s ability to do the small things well, score when necessary, and fit into any lineup will make it hard to keep him off the court this season.
Davis put his skills on full display in this scrimmage. He scored 16 points to go along with two assists and a rebound in his 32 minutes of action. One thing that stood out was Davis stepping into a smooth-looking 3-pointer early in the game. It turned out to be his only long-range make in four attempts, but his willingness to shoot the long-ball will open up every other aspect of his game, as well as create room for others.
Devo’s athletic ability is second to none. On multiple occasions, he beat his defender and got an easy look at the rim before anyone knew what was happening. With the multitude of shooters that this team looks to possess, a player with Devo’s ability to get in the paint is invaluable. It should also be noted that his vision as a passer is still a deadly weapon in his arsenal.
If his shooting continues to improve, the only thing standing in Davis’s way is himself. He showed a slight tendency to over-penetrate and force up difficult shots in the paint when his team was losing in the second half, though I don’t expect this to be an issue when all of these Hogs are playing on the same team. Staying in control and making the right decisions will be the biggest key to Davis taking the next step we all expect him to take this year.
The long-awaited return of KK Robinson was a joy to witness. The strong point guard showed out on the defensive side of the ball with consistently annoying defensive pressure that won’t necessarily show up on a stat sheet. He also scored six points, grabbed six rebounds, dished out four assists, and came away with two steals throughout his 20 minutes of game time.
Robinson is the truest “point guard” option on this team in the sense that he consistently looks to make plays for others before himself. He showed a willingness and ability to shoot the 3-ball but rarely forced up contested looks. Doing things like taking care of the ball, keeping the offense moving, and wearing down opposing guards will keep Robinson firmly in the rotation this season. KK was also the only player on the Red team to post a positive +/- rating – a metric that shows the score differential during the time a certain player was on the court. In other words, Red outscored White by five points while Robinson was on the court.
The undersized point guard was as-advertised during his time on the court Sunday. As he’s shown in multiple seasons against ACC competition, his size didn’t affect his performance in the slightest. He finished with 14 points, five rebounds, and three assists. Lykes’ ability to break down defenders and get to open spots on the court is near-magical. He elevates so high on his silky-smooth jumper that he’s actually a difficult player to block without fouling despite standing at only 5-7.
He’s also a pesky defender if he can avoid getting caught in a bad switch against a taller player in the post, something that Musselman’s scheme and his own teammates should help with tremendously. The point guard is likely to be the day-one starter for this team thanks to his ability to generate offense for himself and for others out of seemingly nothing.
Johnson’s pursuit of rebounds on both ends of the court is relentless. He finished the scrimmage with only five total rebounds to show for it, but his efforts often allowed his teammates to secure a defensive board or at the very least prevent the opponent from grabbing an offensive rebound, neither of which will show up on stat sheets.
His offensive skill set is somewhat limited, something that will likely be amplified by an apparent injury to his left hand. He wore a type of wrap or brace throughout the scrimmage, though it didn’t seem to affect the normal aspects of his game as he’s not typically a score-first player. Johnson is a tremendous backup big with size and IQ to be able to bring off the bench at either the power forward or center position.
Vanover looks to have added another inch or two to his height over the summer, making Musselman’s job of communicating with the big man that much more difficult. Vanover played fine throughout the scrimmage, grabbing four rebounds and scoring 10 points while also dishing out an assist and blocking a shot.
The most concerning part of Vanover’s performance was his 0-3 shooting from distance. The 7-something big man has shown the ability and willingness to let it fly from deep, but if an opposing big is able to stretch the floor while Vanover’s shots aren’t falling, his minutes will likely fall off to nearly none as they did in a few games down the stretch last season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the confidence with which Jaxson Robinson shot the ball. He started the game for the White team and hit four of his nine 3-point attempts, shooting 44% from distance on the day.
The 6-7 transfer from Texas A&M scored 14 points and added four rebounds for the winning team, all while never turning the ball over and posting the second-highest +/- score of the day. Playing time is not a guarantee for the freshman wing considering the level of talent on the roster in front of him, but if he can continue to knock down open shots and be a net-positive defender, it’ll be hard for Musselman to keep Robinson out of the lineup.
I expect Robinson to be in strong contention for the 9th or 10th man role and serve as the second-string small forward, though he may not get consistent minutes once the rotation starts tightening up closer to March.
Moore is the only true freshman on scholarship this season, but you wouldn’t know it from his performance on Sunday. He logged roughly 12 minutes with each team and combined to score 10 total points on 3-5 shooting while also contributing four assists and two rebounds.
There were times when the offense seemed to slow down or the ball stopped moving as freely when it found Moore’s hands, but this can be seen happening to multiple players throughout the scrimmage. A true understanding of how fast the college game moves and how to seamlessly fit into an offense are both things that will naturally come with time as Moore gains more experience. I don’t expect him to play a significant role for the Hogs on the court this season, however.
Wade did not suit up in the Red/White scrimmage due to injury, but he may have still had the biggest performance of the day when he won the Razorback Idol competition with this performance.
I expect Wade to be another contender for the 9th-10th man role, fighting for minutes with Kamani Johnson and Connor Vanover. The 6-7 big man looked like the strongest guy on the team during Sunday’s scrimmage from a physical standpoint and could be a useful rebounder during SEC play. He can also step outside and knock down the occasional spot-up jumper.
There are a couple of players I’d consider to be locks for the opening night starting five: Devo Davis and Jaylin Williams. After that, Au’Diese Toney and Stanley Umude are near-locks, but it’s not unreasonable to think that Musselman could open with a three-guard lineup and bench one of the two forwards. That leaves the point guard position open between Chris Lykes and KK Robinson, or both if the situation I just mentioned comes true.
Official Starting Five Prediction: Chris Lykes – Devo Davis – Au’Diese Toney – Stanley Umude – Jaylin Williams
Other variations of this lineup include subbing KK Robinson in for Lykes or sliding Robinson in at the 2-guard and bumping everyone else up a position to replace either Toney or Umude, depending on the matchup.
I could also see Musselman giving Vanover the nod to start some games if nothing else than to win the opening tip and give 7-8 minutes of a big presence in the paint. In this case, it would likely be Toney or Umude sliding to a bench role on occasion.
Dangerous Levels of Depth
I do not envy coach Musselman’s looming task of narrowing down the rotation. This team has 11 or 12 players that could succeed right now at some level in the SEC on the roster, but Musselman has been known to cut his rotation down to 8-9 players by tournament time.
Core Pieces: Chris Lykes – KK Robinson – JD Notae – Devo Davis – Au’Diese Toney – Stanley Umude – Jaylin Williams
These seven players are virtual locks to be in the rotation through the end of the season barring any injuries. That leaves at least one if not two more rotation spots available for four potential candidates.
Rotation Candidates: Kamani Johnson – Trey Wade – Connor Vanover – Jaxson Robinson
Any one of these players can come into any game and provide valuable minutes, and most of them likely will early in the season until Muss starts to narrow down the rotation. Situational substitutions are also made very possible and likely with this level of depth waiting for their name to be called.
I don’t think there are many wrong choices to be made for Musselman and staff. This team has shooting, playmaking, defense, rebounding, and versatility up and down the roster, and I for one cannot wait to watch them take the court against real competition.
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