Basketball

What to Watch in Game 1

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The Razorbacks look to follow up an impressive Elite Eight run with a run-it-back season of sorts. After loading up once again on transfer portal talent, coach Musselman and the Hogs will open their season tonight, November 9th, on their home court against Mercer at 7 pm on SECN+.

New Faces

A new season means new names and faces to learn for every team, but that is especially true for transfer portal connoisseur, Eric Musselman. Of the 12 players currently on the roster, only four started their careers at Arkansas, one of them being true freshman Chance Moore. Connor Vanover and JD Notae are set to play their second season for the Hogs, but neither started in Razorback red. We’ll get to them momentarily.

Kamani Johnson, the transfer from UALR, and Trey Wade, a graduate transfer from Wichita State, will likely be fighting for minutes off the bench behind Stanley Umude and Jaylin Williams. They are both long, powerful forwards that excel as rebounders and off-ball offensive assets, neither boasting an impressive shooting percentage but both having a good understanding of where to position themselves on offense.

Jaxson Robinson is not a name I expected to talk much about coming into this season, but he’s already shown his deep-range shooting ability during the Hogs red-white exhibition game and continued to see meaningful minutes in both preseason exhibitions. Where, or if, he slots into the rotation with everyone healthy is something to keep an eye on.

The biggest three names that I’m excited to watch are Chris Lykes, Stanley Umude, and Au’Diese Toney. They will almost definitely be a major part of the rotation at least through the first several non-conference games, but how they perform early could be indicative of their roles later in the season. Can Umude continue his scoring output against increasingly difficult competition?

Will Lykes be the go-to ball handler or more of an instant offense type of player? How many different positions will Muss play Toney in through these early season games? These are just a few questions I’m hoping to get answers to starting with the game against Mercer.

Chance Moore, the team’s only true freshman, should see his fair share of minutes if non-conference goes the way it’s expected to. However, will he be able to overcome the talent and experience ahead of him to crack the rotation similar to what Devo Davis and Jaylin Williams did last season? My prediction is not this year, but I thought something similar about Davis last season.

Returning Core

There’s a lot to like about the five returning players, but perhaps none more than the ever-thrilling Devo Davis. It appears that Davis will be one of the teams’ primary ball-handlers alongside Lykes, Notae, and KK Robinson. Davis’s ability to play in control and orchestrate an offense could prove to be an X-factor later on the season. His big-play ability along with his quickness and high passing IQ make him a dangerous player to contain. If he’s able to handle the role of primary facilitator, this team could become lethal.

Speaking of KK Robinson, his return to action has been much anticipated since a foot injury sidelined him last season. The strong guard is a defensive maestro that also boasts a pure shooting stroke and high basketball IQ. He will likely come off the bench with either Chris Lykes or JD Notae, depending on which direction Muss takes the starting five.

Lykes and Notae are similar players in that they are adept at creating space for their own shot attempts. Both have the green light to shoot the ball from virtually anywhere and display a dynamic scoring arsenal. How they balance each other out, who earns the start, and what the team looks like when they share the court are all things to keep an eye on.

Last, but certainly not least, are the big men in the middle. Vanover is a mismatch for any big man with his unearthly size and ability to shoot the ball. However, his shot has not looked confident in any of the Hogs’ exhibition games so far, and he’s also a mismatch defensively due to his lack of lateral quickness and overall strength. If his shot is falling, it becomes much easier to allow Vanover to patrol the paint on the other end of the court, but he could quickly see his role diminished if he becomes a net-negative on both ends of the court.

Perhaps the most important player on this team, Jaylin Williams looks to take a major step forward in his second season with the Hogs. He has emerged as a leader both as a player and as a vocal leader. He’s taking long-range shots with a level of confidence we didn’t see from him last season and was continuously heard over the other players on the court during the red-white exhibition.

How Musselman utilizes him on both sides of the ball, as well as how he performs under the pressure of being a clear anchor to this team, could drastically affect the Hogs early in the season while all of the transfers continue learning how to play together.

Scheme

Musselman has proven to be among the elite coaches in the country when it comes to adapting his game plan to the players he has on his roster. In-game adjustments, matchup-based substitutions, and handling adversity late in games are all things I’m excited to see more of from coach Musselman.

Last season, he had high-IQ players like Jalen Tate, Moses Moody, and Justin Smith to help balance out any adversity or late-game suspense. Can the guys currently on the roster replicate the success of last year’s team late in games? How does Musselman adapt his approach given the new talent on the roster? Do these transfers mesh as well as last year’s transfers did midseason?

These are only a few of the endless questions I’m excited to have answered by this Razorback basketball team.

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