Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman has already established himself as an elite transfer portal recruiter, taking two teams loaded with grad transfers like Jalen Tate, Justin Smith, Au’Diese Toney, Stanley Umude, and Trey Wade to back to back Elite Eight appearances. This offseason, though he flashed some of his portal ability by adding five established players, Musselman has proven to the world that he can recruit the high school ranks just as well.
Sitting at the number two recruiting class in the nation, the Razorbacks are set to welcome six (!!!) ESPN Top 100 freshmen to campus next season, including three five-star recruits and a combo guard that some sites are labeling the No. 1 player in the entire class in Nick Smith Jr.
Now the question on everyone’s mind: How will Coach Musselman navigate the rotation with this much pure talent on the roster? He seems to have mastered the art of adapting to a new roster given his recent track record of tournament success despite a high roster turnover, so we’re not overly concerned about his ability to do it again. But that shouldn’t stop us from taking a stab at the potential lineups Hog fans might expect to see take the court next season, right?
With the June 1st deadline rapidly approaching and the Hogs still sitting with 13 scholarship players already on the roster, it’s safe to assume that Jaylin Williams’ days in the cardinal and white are more than likely a thing of the past, though no official announcement has been made. For the sake of these predictions, let’s operate under the assumption that the Razorback legend is hearing good things through the NBA Draft process and Musselman’s roster will be set without him.
Overtime Heroics Projected Starters:
Anthony Black – Nick Smith Jr – Jordan Walsh – Makhi Mitchell – Makhel Mitchell
It’s hard to imagine – though not impossible – that coach Musselman would bring three ESPN Top 20 recruits to campus and not start them together from day one. Nick Smith Jr is being heralded as arguably the best player in the 2022 class, so he has almost certainly locked up one of the starting guard spots. The other will likely go to the truest facilitator on the roster, fellow five-star recruit, Anthony Black.
Here’s where things get tricky. Jordan Walsh is likely the starting small forward due to his absurd length and athleticism, but if any of the three freshmen were to come off the bench, it would likely be Walsh behind a more established player like Ricky Council IV. Council is a 6-6 transfer from Wichita St who boasts a career 34% 3-point shooting average including 44% as a freshman. He adds an element of experience, scoring, and athleticism to an already loaded backcourt, whether he makes the starting lineup or not.
For now, we’ll assume that Walsh gets the nod alongside Black and Smith. Then comes the four and five positions on the court, both of which are up in the air with the potential (likely) departure of Jaylin Williams.
The four spot is perhaps the most unpredictable. Three transfers all possess enough talent to earn this spot: Makhi Mitchell, Trevon Brazile, and Jalen Graham. Each player brings a different skill set to the table, but we tend to believe that Musselman will air towards the side of the best defensive presence available, which puts Makhi Mitchell in the spotlight. Last season at Rhode Island, the lengthy wing averaged 1.0 steals and 1.4 blocks per game to go along with nearly 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds. His combination of instincts, athleticism, and length will make him a force to be reckoned with defensively whether he earns the starting nod or not.
Brazile also averaged 1.9 blocks per game last season at Missouri, so he will be in serious contention for this starting spot, but at 6-9 215lbs and a career 33% 3-point mark, it’s not unreasonable to think that the former Mizzou Tiger will play more of a stretch three role offensively, similar to that of Au’Diese Toney’s role last season without the elite perimeter defense. Graham is the most polished offensive big man of the three, displaying an arsenal of moves inside the arc that help him get his shot off in the paint. Though his midrange stroke passes the eye test, he has yet to establish himself as a 3-point threat.
Graham will also be in contention for the starting center position, though he might be a tad undersized to be starting at center in the SEC. His 6-9 220lbs frame is a far cry from the absolute tank that we project to earn the starting nod: Makhel Mitchell. At 6-10 245lbs, Makhel averaged 2.4 blocks per game at Rhode Island last season (1.8 BPG in his collegiate career) to go along with 10.7 PPG and 5.6 RPG. This Mitchell twin could prove to be the best rim protector Arkansas has had since Daniel Gafford who averaged 2.1 BPG during his time with the Hogs.
This leaves us with our projected starting five of Anthony Black, Nick Smith Jr, Jordan Walsh, Makhi Mitchell, and Makhel Mitchell. Of course, this won’t be the starting five for every game and very likely won’t be the usual starting five that coach Musselman settles on down the stretch. Let’s dive into some other possibilities.
Razorbacks Bench Unit
Coach Musselman is known to only play 7-8 players for meaningful minutes during conference and tournament play. This is going to be a tall task to accomplish with a roster that could legitimately go 11-12 players deep with little to no drop-off.
However, the five most likely candidates to see minutes off the bench (given the above starting five) are Derrian Ford, Devo Davis, Ricky Council IV, Trevon Brazile, and Jalen Graham. If Muss were to use a true bench unit, it would look something like this. It’s unlikely, however, that all five starters would ever be off the court at once. The most likely scenario is that Devo Davis and Ricky Council IV would give the two guards and Jordan Walsh rests, while Trevon Brazile and Jalen Graham relieve the big men (if one or both don’t start). This would produce lineups that look something like the following:
Anthony Black – Nick Smith Jr – Devo Davis – Trevon Brazile – Jalen Graham
Nick Smith Jr – Devo Davis – Ricky Council IV – Makhi Mitchell – Jalen Graham
Anthony Black – Nick Smith Jr – Ricky Council IV – Jordan Walsh – Makhi Mitchell
Anthony Black – Ricky Council IV – Trevon Brazile – Makhi Mitchell – Makhel Mitchell
The versatility on this roster provides a near-endless amount of lineup possibilities, but we’d like to draw your attention to the fourth potential lineup in this list. The defensive presence of this oversized lineup holds the potential to surpass the defensive-minded starting five of JD Notae – Au’Diese Toney – Stanley Umude – Trey Wade – Jaylin Williams. A lineup with Black and Council in the backcourt would mean that every player on the court would measure at 6-7, 6-6, 6-9, 6-9, and 6-10 with tremendous length, versatility, and instincts. This essentially creates a defensive nightmare for opposing squads.
And this is likely NOT the only ultra-tall lineup that would produce elite defensive results in Musselman’s arsenal.
Going in the opposite direction, Musselman could opt for a small-ball lineup that holds the potential to outrun and outlast most opposing lineups they’ll face. This could look something like:
Anthony Black – Nick Smith Jr – Devo Davis – Jordan Walsh – Makhi Mitchell/Trevon Brazile.
It’s unlikely that Makhi or Brazile spend a lot of time at center this year with Makhel and Graham on the roster, but this lineup provides a point guard in Black that loves to push the tempo, three wing players that can score from anywhere on the court, and an athletic versatile big that can provide an offensive mismatch for slower opposing big men.
Odd Men Out
In these predictions, four very capable players are almost entirely excluded but still deserve to be mentioned because each could work their way into a rotation spot similar to what Devo Davis did in his freshman season. Three of these players are true freshmen that hold the potential to be stars within the next few seasons: Derrian Ford, Joseph Pinion, and Barry Dunning.
The fourth and final player is one of only two returning players on the current roster: Kamani Johnson. All four players bring a unique skill set to the table and could easily prove to be valuable should they outwork those in front of them or simply serve as backups in case of injury. Having these guys making up the “bottom” of the roster should be an indication of just how scary this team can be.
All things considered, we have no clue which direction Coach Musselman will take this rotation, but this feels like a good place to start. It’s also worth noting: there are no wrong answers with the amount of talent on this loaded roster.
That being said, our prediction for the 8-to-9-man rotation is as follows:
Starters: Anthony Black – Nick Smith Jr – Jordan Walsh – Makhi Mitchell – Makhel Mitchell
Reserves: Devo Davis – Ricky Council IV – Trevon Brazile – Jalen Graham
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