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Razorbacks Lose Leader, What Now?

Isaiah Joe has made his decision… Again. After more thought and consideration, with the events surrounding college athletics and the COVID-19 pandemic, Isaiah Joe has decided to forego the rest of his time with the Razorbacks as well as his collegiate eligibility. He has re-entered his name in the 2020 NBA Draft, via his twitter.

https://twitter.com/Isaiah_joe10/status/1295405831132008448

Joe’s Big Decision

Isaiah Joe was set to be the team’s highest returning scorer and the Razorbacks’ clear offensively leader. He averaged 16.9 ppg last year and seemed poised for a revenge tour this season. He missed 6 games due to injury last year and watched his team just miss NCAA tournament contention (barring a Cinderella SEC tournament run).

Now, Joe has decided not to take the risk of his season being cancelled due to COVID. It’s a decision that makes the most sense for him and his family during this unprecedented time, so regardless of how upsetting it is for hopeful hoop hog fans, it’s hard to blame the guy as he sets his sights on the pros.

However, it does leave one pressing question.

What Now?

Head coach Eric Musselman has done a tremendous job of acquiring talent for the Razorbacks’ 2021 season, with or without Isaiah Joe. The team still possess more depth than they did in their 20-win campaign last season.

However, they are losing their returning leader, likely their leading scorer, and arguably an SEC player of the year candidate.

So what now?

Keep an eye open for Musselman to bring in another sit-one transfer to fill out the last scholarship spot. However, also don’t be surprised if coach Muss decides to play another season with an open roster spot, much like he did last year.

Photo from NWAhomepage.com

Potential Razorbacks Lineups

The starting lineup, and closing lineup for that matter, now have a gap to fill. Joe was arguably the only lock for either lineup heading into the season. Now Musselman will have two returning players in Sills and Henderson along with the 9 transfers and freshmen to work with. He may not have his proven sniper in his bag, but Muss still has weapons to work with.

Projected Razorbacks Starting Lineup

KK Robinson – JD Notae – Moses Moody – Vance Jackson – Justin Smith

Pros

Offense. This lineup consists of several offensive weapons. Positions 1 – 4 are capable of bringing the ball up the court as well as handling the ball against pressure. All four are also more than capable of shooting from distance. This level of spacing and offensive versatility could prove to be deadly against opposing lineups. They also have more than enough size to contend with anyone defensively. Justin Smith would be considered an undersized center, but he’s still an inch taller (and far more athletic) than the Hog’s starting center last season, Adrio Bailey.

The playmaking, shooting, and vision of the four ball handlers combined with Smith’s smooth athleticism makes this a potent Razorbacks lineup. Musselman’s intensity and gameplan will come into play heavily on the defensive end with five guys that are quick and long, but not all known for being lock-down defenders.

Cons

Continuity. If this is the first lineup rolled out on opening night, it will be five brand new faces in Razorback uniforms, including two true freshmen. All three grad transfers are in this lineup, leading us to believe the continuity and chemistry won’t be a major downfall. But it cannot be overlooked as at least a question mark. These are five players that have never shared the court together in anything other than summer practices.

Situational Oversized Starting Five

KK Robinson – Moses Moody – Vance Jackson – Justin Smith – Connor Vanover

Pros

Spacing. Adding Vanover, a 7’3 sharp shooter and the tallest player in Razorback basketball history, to an already potent lineup sounds scary. As it should. This team now consists of players standing at 6’0, 6’6, 6’9, 6’7, and 7’3 respectively. After playing last season with no one list over a generous 6’8, Musselman is likely chomping at the bit to get a lineup of this magnitude on the court. Vanover also adds a deadly pick-and-pop aspect to the offense, as his shot is nearly impossible to block at his size.

Defense. Smith is known for being an excellent defender thanks to his combination of size and athleticism. With Vanover to patrol the paint, Smith will be freed up to guard the other team’s best wing/forward type player. Not to mention Vance Jackson and Moses Moody both possess more than enough size and quickness to be pests in passing lanes.

Cons

Spacing. Yes, spacing. This will be both an advantage and disadvantage for this lineup. Sure, Vanover adds another sharp shooter on the perimeter to allow room for others to operate. But who else is on the court to operate? Robinson, Moody, and Jackson have the guard capabilities to attack the defense, but Smith is less confident in this ability. Combining Vanover and Smith on the offensive side of the ball has the potential to create traffic jams in the paint when they’re both too close to the rim, closing up lanes for the other three players to operate. I don’t foresee this becoming a major issue, but the potential is there and might limit Smith from playing alongside Vanover for more than a few minutes per game.

Razorbacks Closing (Death) Lineup

KK Robinson – Desi Sills/JD Notae – Moses Moody – Vance Jackson – Justin Smith

Let’s start with the two-player shooting guard option in this one. Sills and Notae both bring different skillsets to this crunch time lineup.

Sills is a dog, and his game reflects it. He’s tenacious on the defensive side of the ball, bringing enough aggression and passion to energize the rest of his team. Sills is the type of player that brings just as many intangibles to the court as he does stats. He shot 31% from deep last season in route to a double digit scoring average. There are also reports that Sills basically lived in a gym this summer, leaving us to believe he will do nothing but improve upon his sophomore campaign.

JD Notae was a sit-one transfer last season for the Hogs. He’s poised to make his SEC debut on opening night as he continues to recover from a broken hand. Notae is more of an offensive threat than Sills, providing a reliable and level-headed option for Musselman in crunch time situations. JD averaged 15.5 ppg and 3.4 apg during his sophomore season at Jacksonville in 2018-19. His offense and experience may prove to be the perfect counterpart to Sills’ defense and aggression, depending on situational needs.

Now, back to the lineup.

Pros

Versatility. This lineup is quick, deadly, and versatile. They have elite shooting in the pair of freshmen, Robinson and Moody, as well as a legit point-forward threat and likely the offensive leader of this team in Vance Jackson. He has the potential to be the most used player in Musselman’s rotations next season with the tremendous amount of versatility he possesses. Then you have Justin Smith, a tenacious rebounder and defender to lock down the paint on both sides of the ball. His incredible athleticism will allow him to attack the rim with the best of them, especially when playing in the space created by the other four shooters in this lineup. Finally you have the situational shooting guard. Sills provides the defensive intensity while JD provides a more level head and offensive arsenal. Whichever Muss deems more valuable in the moment will be more than capable of rising to the occasion.

Cons

Size. This team is fast and versatile, but they’re also small. Jackson and Smith stand at 6’9 and 6’7 respectively, both taller than Arkansas’s centers last season, but they’re still smaller than most SEC caliber centers. Smith is an exceptional rebounder, but it will take a team effort to compete on the glass against other SEC teams with this lineup on the court.

Disclaimer

Keep in mind, these are only three potential lineups out of a world of possibilities Musselman has in front of him. Other players may take leaps and bounds in training camp or early in the season. These projections and predictions are based upon what we already know and how the lineup has been put together.

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