11 Things To Watch For This Season
We are just 11 days away from the start of college basketball season. I cannot wait. The Arkansas Razorbacks carry a lot of momentum heading to this campaign after an Elite 8 run last year. The roster has been reloaded, arenas will be full again, and the greatest sport in the history of mankind will played. It just doesn’t get any better.
Since we are 11 days away, here are 11 things to watch for this season from the Razorbacks before they tip-off on opening night against Mercer.
1 - Trusting The Transfers
Eric Musselman brought in a bus full of transfers this year. 4 full-time starters from a year ago and a young player with a lot of potential. Au’Diese Toney from Pitt will bring defense, rebounding, and versatility on offense. Chris Lykes from Miami is glitch when he gets downhill. His speed and quickness makes him nearly impossible to guard. Trey Wade from Wichita State is a lockdown defender and a great athlete. Stanley Umude from South Dakota could lead this team in scoring. He is a 3-level scorer who will be a matchup nightmare for bigs in the SEC. Lastly, Jaxson Robinson from Texas A&M. Robinson was highly recruited by Arknasas for the 2021 class, but he reclassified and went A&M for a year. The 6-7 sophomore can shoot it with the best of them and projects as a really good player in the future. Don’t be shocked if cracks the rotation early!
2 - SEC – Best Conference in America?
SEC Basketball continues its’ rise as the premiere conference in the country. 5 teams this season can make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament with another 3 that should earn berths. Kentucky is elite, Alabama reloaded, Auburn will bounce back, and Tennessee will keep rolling. Arkansas is the same conversation with those teams. LSU, Florida, and Mississippi State will give the best of the best in the SEC very few easy nights. You can make an argument for 5 different teams to win the league. It is going to be madness.
3 - KK Robinson’s Bounce Back From Injury
The 6-0 guard from Bryant is back! He appeared in 11 games last season before having season-ending surgery. Robinson suffered a stress fracture very early in the year, but played through it before it became too much to handle. Robinson was a high 4-Star recruit so Hog fans will finally get to see what he is capable of this season.
4 - Snipers Everywhere
Last year’s Arkansas team was light on consistent shooters. Moses Moody and Jalen Tate were the only bright spots. Connor Vanover, JD Notae, Jaylin Williams, and Desi Sills usually made their 3s in bunches. They weren’t dependable from game to game. Early reports from practice suggest that will be different this year. Chris Lykes shot over 38% each of his last 2 seasons at Miami, Au’Diese Toney is a corner specialist, Stanley Umude can hit from 30 feet, and Jaxson Robinson has as good of form as I have ever seen from a Razorback. Notae is a microwave. You know he will get his. Robinson is also very capable. He showed signs last year before his injury shooting 41.7% from deep. Jaylin Williams has made huge strides in his catch and shoot game.. There will be no shortage of shooting in this edition of the Razorbacks.
5 - Confident Jaylin Williams
Speaking of Jaylin Williams, the sophomore big man from Fort Smith is ready for a leadership role. Last season, he lacked tenacity and confidence when the ball was in his hands. He went hard after every rebound, but played timid outside of that most of the time. That’s changed. The NCAA run and a great offseason has Williams ready for starter minutes and a leadership role. He’s comfortable catching and shooting from 3 now. He is ready for a stellar sophomore season.
6 - Rabid Bud Walton Arena
For the first time since the 2001-02 season, Bud Walton Arena is completely sold out. This isn’t a surprise as the Hogs broke free from the 25 year Sweet 16 drought. Let’s not forgot COVID-19 kept the crowds small last year. Fans are dying to see their teams play in person again. What Eric Musselman has built has Razorbacks fans all aboard the Muss Bus. The Palace will be unbelievable this season. With Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, West Virginia, Mississippi St., and Kentucky all coming to the Hill, we are in for some of the best atmospheres in the 21st century of Arkansas basketball.
7 - Year 2 Devo
Devo Davis had one of the more unique freshman years I ever remember in college basketball. It was said by most, myself included, that he would not contribute much last year. He was believed by most to be a 4-year player. He was rated lower than all the other Arkansas commits in the 2020 class. To start the season, he got garbage time minutes. He played his heart every chance he had, but was often out of control on the offensive side of the ball. Understandably, Musselman’s leash for Devo was short early on, but when SEC play began Davis flipped a switch. He was much more controlled on offense and became a lock down defender. He was a ball of energy that would often spark a needed run. Then who could forget his play in the NCAA Tournament. He was a star. From garbage minutes to a star on the biggest stage. What a year. Now this is his team. I suspect that he will be the primary Point Guard this season. Hopefully, we see that he now has the ability to hit the occasional 3-pointer. Arkansas doesn’t need Devo to shoot 37% from 3, but what if he could shoot 30%? It would really keep the defense honest and open up a lot of things on offense. That is probably asking too much from someone who attempted just 13 threes all of last year, but we can dream a little, can’t we?
8 - Dealings With High Expectations
In year 1 of the Eric Musselman era, the hope was that the team would make the NCAA Tournament. COVID-19 ruined their opportunity. Last season, we hoped for a Sweet 16 run, but spent most of the season outside the Top 25. This year is different. The Hogs begin the season ranked #16 in AP poll and #15 in coaches poll. Some have even said Arkansas is a sleeper to make the Final 4. Returning talented experience and bringing in talented transfers is worthy of such praise, but how will the team and staff respond to the expectations? Fans expect it, experts predict it, but what will happen?
9 - Weight Room
One of the unique aspects of this offseason was the work done in the weight room by the Arkansas players. The most notable changes are to J.D. Notae and K.K. Robinson. Both guys went to work! K.K.’s journey began during his rehab after surgery. The team’s strength coach, Dave Richardson, tweeted several pictures during last season of Robinson working out with the caption “#Project190.” Robinson and Notae both have added a lot of muscle. The added muscle will be very beneficial for Notae because he lives getting by opponents and to the basket. Look to see if he finishes through contact better this season.
10 - Point Guard Play
Arkansas has 4 legitimate options at PG this year. K.K. Robinson is a natural point guard. Chris Lykes played it at Miami, but is a scorer first. J.D. Notae just loves to have the ball in his hand. His ability to get to the basket makes it easier to facilitate for others. Devo Davis isn’t your proto-typical PG, but we have seen him run it in 2 preseason exhibitions. Roster versatility is good. You want to have options, but Musselman has not been satisfied with how any of the potential PGs have done. He expressed his frustrations to the media after Arkansas barely escaped with a win over Division II East Central University. From an Xs and Os standpoint, this may be the most interesting puzzle this season.
11 - Injury Bug
The Hogs have dealt with the injury bug at the end of summer and into fall camp. Trey Wade, Kamani Johnson, Jaylin Williams, and K.K. Robinson have all dealt injuries in some capacity. They have all missed vital time. Staying healthy will be key to any aspirations this team has.
As always, thank you for reading! For all things Arkansas Basketball, follow me on Twitter @BenBrandonHoops