An Arkansas Basketball Preview
The dawn of a new era in Arkansas basketball is just a few weeks away as Eric Musselman takes over as Head Coach of the Razorbacks. Since Musselman’s hiring in April, fans have been buzzing over Musselman’s recruiting tactics, NBA experience, and openness to have fun on social media. He takes over for Mike Anderson who had a disappointing 8 seasons at Arkansas. Anderson was unable to take the Hogs to the next level as many assumed he would do. With that said, he did leave the program in much better shape than he found it. Musselman wants to build on that foundation. After taking over a Nevada team coming off a 9-win season, Musselman had a stellar 4 year run with the Wolf Pack. 110 wins, 3 NCAA tournament berths, a Sweet 16 appearance, and 3 Mountain West Conference titles.
He used transfers from all over the country year after year to address the needs of the roster. While only being in Fayetteville for 6 months, Musselman has already practiced those same habits. Five different transfers committed to Arkansas over the summer.
Roster turnover is going to happen with a coaching change. There is almost no way to avoid it. It is just a part of college basketball. With the losses of Daniel Gafford, Ibby Ali, Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, Gabe Osabuohien, and Justice Hill, Musselman had plenty of holes to fill. Starting the recruiting process at a new school in April is challenging. Most of the top high school players are already signed to their prospective schools. That gave Musselman no choice. The transfer market was his only option.
What remains to be seen is can Musselman make this team of transfers and players from a previous coach gel together? New system, new terminology, new staff, new everything.
Can he lead the Razorbacks to 20+ win season in year 1 like he did at Nevada? Or will this team struggle to gel with a new coach and system?
Let’s dive into the roster, schedule, and my predictions for the season!
All roster photos from ArkansasRazorbacks.com
#0 Jeantal Cylla – Sr., 6’7”, 215, Lake Worth, FL
Graduate transfer from UNC-Wilmington. Cylla will play a vital role for the Hogs this year. He averaged 13.7 PPG last season for UNCW. He can score from all the levels, but will be asked to rebound at a higher rate than he has at his previous stops.
#2 Adrio Bailey – Sr., 6’6”, 217, Clarence, LA
The lone senior who has spent his entire career on the Hill. The Hogs will rely on Bailey to rim run, rebound, and defend opponent’s frontcourt players. Staying out of foul trouble will be key this season more than ever.
#13 Emeka Obukwelu – Jr., 6’8”, 222, Plano, TX
Obukwelu sat out last year as a transfer from Division 3 UT-Tyler. He is a walk-on.
#22 Abayomi Iyiola* – Jr., 6’9”, 210, Atlanta, GA
“Baybe” will sit out in 2019-2020 after transferring from Stetson where he averaged 10.4 PPG and 6.9 RPG in 2 seasons.
#23 Conner Vanover% – So., 7’3”, 230, Little Rock, AR
In the Red/White game, fans saw the versatility that he brings to the court. Vanover alters shots and can shoot the 3 as good as anyone. Given the lack of size down low, Vanover receiving a waiver from the NCAA would be a huge help to this team.
#24 Ethan Henderson – So., 6’8”, 210, Little Rock, AR
Henderson is the wild card of this team. He saw very limited minutes last year until the NIT where he logged 18 minutes, 6 points, and 5 rebounds off the bench in a win over Providence. If Henderson takes a step up, the ceiling of this team takes a step with him.
#35 Reggie Chaney – So., 6’8”, 222, Tulsa, OK
Chaney spent last year playing meaningful minutes under the shadow of Daniel Gafford. Arkansas will need him to grow up quickly. Chaney will be Arkansas’ best option in the paint. He is already a plus shot-blocker, but needs polishing in his offensive game.
#1 Isaiah Joe – So., 6’5”, 167, Fort Smith, AR
One of the best 3-point shooters in the country. Joe logged a ton of minutes last year. He has a year of experience and now the team is on his shoulders. We will see if he can diversify to be more than a shooter. Where he goes, Arkansas will go.
#3 Desi Sills – So., 6’1”, 196, Jonesboro, AR
Sills was voted by his teammates as the hardest working player this offseason. Fans should be excited to see how it translates to the court this year. Sills started the final 8 games last season and thrived. We will see how he can build on that momentum.
#5 Jalen Harris – Jr., 6’2”, 196, Wilson, NC
One of the top assists man in the SEC last year. With Jimmy Whitt now on the Hill, it will be interesting to see how Musselman uses these two experienced PGs. If Harris can improve his range then he could be the breakout player of the year for this team.
#11 JD Notae* – Jr., 6’2”, 195, Covington, GA
Notae is a gifted scorer who will sit out this year after transferring from Jacksonville. He averaged 15.4 PPG and 5.5 RPG in 2 seasons.
#12 Ty Stevens – Jr., 6’2”, 180, Republic, MO
Stevens is back for year 2 as a walk-on for the Hogs. Fans may remember his “hoop and the harm” at Vanderbilt last season. I do not think I have seen a bench full of teammates so happy!
#15 Mason Jones – Jr., 6’5”, 200, DeSoto, TX
Jones may be the most forgotten player on this team. He flat out carried this team in a few games last year. Especially in the home loss to Florida where he scored 30 of Arkansas’ 51 points. Jones has dropped some weight in order to be quicker to the basket and defending the ball. Do not sleep on Mason Jones!
#33 Jimmy Whitt Jr. – Sr., 6’3”, 175, Columbia, MO
One of the feel good stories in college basketball this season. Whitt spent his freshman season on this Hill. Honestly, it was underwhelming. Whitt struggled to score and the Hogs lost a lot of games. As a result, Whitt transferred to SMU. Now as a graduate transfer, he comes back to Fayetteville. Jimmy Whitt will be a huge part of this team’s success.
* = Ineligible to play due to NCAA Transfer rules.
% = Ineligible unless NCAA grants waiver.
November 05 – Rice
November 12 – North Texas
November 16 – Montana
November 19 – Texas Southern
November 22 – South Dakota
November 25 – @ Georgia Tech
November 30 – Northern Kentucky
December 03 – Austin Peay
December 07 – @ Western Kentucky
December 14 – Tulsa
December 21 – Valparaiso
December 29 – @ Indiana
January 25 – TCU (SEC-Big XII Challenge)
January 04 – Texas A&M
January 08 – @ LSU
January 11 – @ Ole Miss
January 15 – Vanderbilt
January 18 – Kentucky
January 22 – @ Mississippi State
January 29 – South Carolina
February 1 – @ Alabama
February 04 – Auburn
February 08 – @ Missouri
February 11 – @ Tennessee
February 15 – Mississippi State
February 18 – @ Florida
February 22 – Missouri
February 26 – Tennessee
February 29 – @ Georgia
March 04 – LSU
March 07 – @ Texas A&M
This year the SEC is incredibly hard to predict. I see the conference split into 3 tiers:
Tier 2 is agonizing to try to predict. Each of those teams are evenly matched. I went game-by-game with Arkansas’ schedule and I predict Arkansas to finish 10th in the SEC with a record of 19-12 (8-10). The frontcourt is just too thin for me to see this team doing much better. Musselman has experience playing small ball with undersized teams, but that was in the Mountain West. This is the SEC. If Conner Vanover receives a waiver from the NCAA then this team could take a step up.
Musselman has coached in just about every league that has ever existed. I do not question Musselman or his experience, but there are too many questions on this roster to predict it doing much better. Will Reggie Chaney and Ethan Henderson make big leaps as sophomores to fill the shoes of Daniel Gafford? Will Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones become scorers at all 3 levels? Can the team rebound well enough to the rebounding margins close? These things are how this team moves forward. That is asking a lot with this roster.
With that record, the Hogs would be in contention for another NIT bid. For a first year coach in a complex system, Hog fans should be happy with that. Musselman and his staff will continue to scour the Transfer Market and will recruit the state well. If he can land the in-state players, then the Muss Bus will be rollin’ in no time!
Like many in our state, I didn’t have a choice in who my favorite team would be growing up. I was raised on Razorback. I remember watching the early season games on ARSN or conference games on JP Sports. My first favorite players were Brandon Dean and Joe Johnson. Great memories. I never thought years ago I would be writing about Arkansas Basketball. I don’t have a journalism background or anything like that. When given the opportunity, I wanted to challenge myself with something new and it has been a blast!