Photo credit: Razorback Athletics
First-year head coach Eric Musselman won twenty games in his debut season while only playing a main rotation of seven players.
Most fans accepted this as part of a necessary rebuilding process after players recruited by the former staff transferred. Some fans, however, viewed the small rotation as a sign of what to expect every year and a potential lack of allowing some players game experience. Regardless of which side of the fence fans sit on the rotation argument, Musselman’s rotation will be much different in his second year.
In his first year as head coach, Musselman only had nine eligible scholarship players on roster. This was due to Gabe Osabuohien’s last-minute removal from the team, as well as Musselman signing three transfers who had to sit out a year (Connor Vanover, J.D. Notae, Abayomi Iyiola).
Coach Musselman nearly completed a full roster overhaul, signing two graduate transfers to total five new players compared to five departures. Graduate senior Jimmy Whitt was the only new addition to make an impact on the court in Musselman’s first year, though. The jump to a high-major conference seemed more difficult for Jeantal Cylla, who never looked or played like himself at Arkansas.
Entering his second season, Musselman signed the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the country, according to ESPN, and brought in two more immediately eligible graduate transfers. On top of those six new players, the three transfers who sat out last year will be eligible this upcoming season to make up a revamped roster with few players who have suited up for the Razorbacks before.
Leading scorer and Co-SEC Player of the Year Mason Jones signed with an agent and will not return to finish his college eligibility and Jalen Harris transferred to Georgetown for his final year of college basketball. Isaiah Joe is still testing the draft waters, but is anticipated to return to Arkansas for his junior year.
All of that is to say that the seven-man rotation the Razorbacks relied on last year only has three remaining pieces if Joe comes back: Isaiah Joe, Desi Sills, and Reggie Chaney. Ethan Henderson is still on roster but only made his way into the rotation at the end of last season.
|Year||# Scholarship Players|
These numbers have the potential to change with Musselman still being active in the transfer portal, but as it stands there are thirteen scholarship players on-roster, each eligible to play in the upcoming season. Not only does that give Musselman four more players to play in the rotation, but there is much more talent on this roster compared to last year, or on any team Musselman has coached at the collegiate level.
Because of the number of eligible players and the variety of skillsets, Musselman can implement any number of different lineups to expose mismatches or utilize certain game scenarios. There are effective small-ball lineups, defensive lineups, shooting lineups, scoring lineups, and more all outside of the “standard” or base starting lineup.
Coach Musselman has gone on record saying that coaches adjust to the teams they have, and Razorback fans will see an example of that in the upcoming season.
There is simply too much talent to only play eight players. Eight or nine might be the number that fill the main rotation, but ten-to-eleven players will see the floor every game. Here is an example of a possible base rotation (obviously subject to change):
C- Connor Vanover
PF- Vance Jackson
SF- Moses Moody
SG- Isaiah Joe
PG- J.D. Notae
That lineup is how I anticipate the season to start. I do hold the belief that by the time conference play starts, the Razorbacks likely may start three freshmen. Which combination of freshmen depends on the opponent and the matchup since each player brings a unique skillset. One of the more intriguing questions about next year’s rotation: how often will the Hogs play small ball?
It was done out of necessity last season, but exploited some mismatches with speed and scoring. The small ball lineup this upcoming season would have more size and more scoring threats.
Small Ball Lineup:
C- Jaylin Williams/Vance Jackson
PF (dunk spot) – Jalen Tate
SF – Moses Moody
SG – Isaiah Joe/KK
PG – Devo/Desi/Notae
This small ball lineup would have any combination of the most talented players on the floor at one time, but is not nearly as hurt by size mismatches as last year’s team. In certain lineups, the shortest player could be 6-4 or 6-5 if Tate moved to the point and Jackson to the four. Every single one of these players has the ability to score at all three levels, as well. This is not to say this will be the only lineup Coach Musselman will use next year, but it is an intriguing one to say the least. If the Razorbacks can play a dangerous small lineup, could they also play a dangerous “size” lineup?
C – Vanover/Williams
PF – Jackson/Williams
SF – Moody
PG – Devo/Tate
Not much different than a couple of the potential small ball lineups, but there is potential for having a 7-3 and 6-10 center and power forward combo and three wings at 6-5 and 6-6. Every player is an outside scoring threat, again, too.
What Does it Mean?
This article began as an attempt to squash any uneasiness that fans had of a minimal rotation with this amount of talent. It turned into hypothetical lineups (which I enjoy making), but my point stands through those lineups. In the two niche lineups I mentioned, the number of rotational players is matched from last year’s team. The standard base lineup has much more fluidity. Also, as fans saw last year, some players have stretches where they struggle. The bottom three likely will have to fill in at times, especially early in helping Williams adjust to the college game and Jackson adjust to high major basketball again.
Fans worrying about having too much talent to play all of it is a good problem to have, but one fans shouldn’t worry about.