With a roster that includes a dozen newcomers, Arkansas coach Eric Musselman isn’t sure what to expect from his Razorbacks in their Wednesday night season opener against Mississippi Valley State in Fayetteville.
“There’s been days where we’ve looked like the basketball version of the Bad News Bears, and there’s been other moments where we’ve looked really, really good, like the ’80 Lakers,” Musselman said when asked for an assessment.
The Razorbacks return only one starter, junior guard Desi Sills, and he came off the bench in the last six games for last season’s 20-12 team, scoring in double figures in five of them.
He likely will be in the starting lineup against the Delta Devils, who lost two of their top three scorers from a team that won only three of 30 outings last season.
With Arkansas having lost Mason Jones (22 points per game), Isaiah Joe (16.9) and Jimmy Whitt (14), Sills is the Hogs’ leading returning scorer with his 10.6 average, though veteran transfers such as guard JD Notae (15.5 ppg for Jacksonville in 2018-19), forward Abayomi Iyiola (10.8 for Stetson in 2018-19), guard Jalen Tate (13.9 at Northern Kentucky in 2019-20), forward Justin Smith (10.4 for Indiana in 2019-20) and forward Vance Jackson Jr. (11.1 for New Mexico in 2019-20) have some scoring potential.
They are five of seven transfers who, along with four scholarship freshmen and a preferred freshman walk-on, make the Hogs one of 10 teams in the country with double-digit newcomers. The media picked Arkansas for sixth in the Southeastern Conference.
“I would say we’re making progress from a scheme standpoint,” Musselman said. “We have everything in. We’ll probably add one more offensive set. All our defensive coverages are in so now, it’s just a matter of fine-tuning.”
Picked to finish ninth in the 10-team Southwestern Athletic Conference, the Delta Devils return guard Michael Green (team-leading 17.6 points per game), guard Quinton Alston (6.9 ppg) and forward Jordan Lyons (5.9 ppg), but the key returnee is Caleb Hunter, the son of Devils coach and two-team NBA champion Lindsey Hunter.
Caleb Hunter was named the SWAC Freshman of the Year after averaging 15.7 points per game in 2019-20. He was named second team on the preseason all-SWAC team heading into the new season.
“I’m as proud as can be of the young man he is becoming,” Lindsey Hunter said of his son. “I’m really proud of the growth and maturity he has shown in such a short time. His future is bright.”
–Field Level Media