Photo Credit: Razorback Athletics
The Razorbacks were in position to make the NCAA Tournament in year one of the Eric Musselman era. Before the season was cut short, they had a 20-12 record and won a game in the SEC Tournament. Year two brings heightened expectations, and a great deal more talent. In keeping up with the optimism the fanbase is feeling right now after the Justin Smith commitment, here are five bold predictions for the upcoming Razorback basketball season.
1. All Four Freshman Will Record Starts
Coach Musselman landed the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the country in his first year in Fayetteville. This was on the backs of a talented in-state talent pool. All four prospects were ranked in the top-100 of at least one of the major recruiting services. Three were unanimously top-100 recruits. Musselman received some light criticism for landing five-star Jordan Brown at Nevada and then not playing him much.
Landing such a coveted high school prospect hushed critics who asserted that Musselman couldn’t recruit outside of the transfer portal, but brought rise to new critics. Brown played in 33 games, starting one, and averaged three points and two rebounds in ten minutes of playing time per game.
What isn’t mentioned, though, is that Musselman’s Nevada squad that year had five senior forwards ranging from 6-7 to 6-11 playing ahead of Brown. Three of those five averaged 19, 17, and 12 points per game.
Because of the Hogs’ new-look roster, everyone will have the opportunity to compete for playing time. Outside of the three graduate transfers, there are no seniors on roster. The most experienced Razorbacks are junior guards Isaiah Joe and Desi Sills.
It is likely that freshman Moses Moody is a day-one starter, and fans should not be surprised to see the other freshmen get the opportunity to start given their skillsets and the fact that the roster is collectively new with no established rotation.
2. No One Will Average More than 14 Points Per Game
Three Razorbacks averaged 14 points a game or more last season. Jimmy Whitt averaged 14 points, Isaiah Joe averaged 16.9, and Mason Jones averaged 22 points per game. The team needed those three to score in droves last season, with four of the other six eligible players scoring four or fewer points per game.
There will be enough scoring options on the team next year that no one will be forced to carry the scoring load. Plenty of players have the ability to score a bunch if need be, but it will not be required. Between the sheer number of scorers and outside shooting threats, I’m willing to bet six Razorbacks average between 8 and 13 points per game next season.
3. The Rotation Will Be Ten or Eleven Deep
This would be new for Coach Musselman, who only played a main rotation of seven players during his Sweet Sixteen run with Nevada in 2018. His first seven played 20+ minutes per game, and the next three averaged six, six, and two minutes per game.
The trend has held steady with some variation. Musselman played eight players a minimum of 15 minutes in his first year at Nevada, eight players a minimum of 10 minutes his second year, and again eight at a minimum of 10 minutes in his final season at Nevada.
His first season at Arkansas, Musselman only had nine eligible players, playing seven of them 15+ minutes. With the focus on defense and size to fill out this roster, along with more talent and depth, there will be more minutes to spread around. This is not to say that ten players will play 10+ minutes, but the Hogs won’t rely on players to play 35+ minutes and entire games like last year. In fact, they could play ten or eleven players at least eight minutes a game.
4. Record Road Wins
The Razorbacks won four true road games last season. It was one fewer than Mike Anderson’s last squad the year prior, but the most ever by a coach in his first year with the Hogs. Mike Anderson’s tenure started with an abysmal road record his first few seasons, a continuation from previous head coaches Stan Heath and John Pelphrey.
In 2015 and 2017, Anderson tied the 1994 National Championship team with six SEC road victories. The 1994 team won a total of seven road games that year. With the expansion of schedules and conference games, there are more opportunities to play games on the road. Musselman coached twelve true road games in his first season, going 4-8. In year two, Eric Musselman will win seven or more road games, tying Richardson’s record or breaking it.
5. Sweet Sixteen Bound
The expectations are at a boiling point with this program. The talent is on the roster. The coach and staff have been there before. The Arkansas Razorbacks will make it to the Sweet Sixteen, or farther.