Hoops notebook: Move-in day for ’21-22 Hogs, small ball roster, Moody & Muss stuff

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INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 27: Head coach Eric Musselman of the Arkansas Razorbacks reacts against the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles during the second half in the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 27, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

LITTLE ROCK — Less than two months after capping off a 2020-21 season that proved to be one of the best in the storied history of Arkansas men’s basketball, the ’21-22 version of the Razorbacks will converge on Fayetteville beginning Saturday as they begin year three of the Eric Musselman era as Head Hog.

Riding the momentum of an NCAA tournament Elite Eight and a final national Top 10 ranking — a couple of program firsts in the last 26 years — six Hog returnees will welcome in at least five scholarship newcomers and a first-year walk-on who are on the way to form a team that some way-too-early projections view as a preseason national Top 10-15 squad.

According to a source, freshman Khalen “KK” Robinson (6-0 guard, Bryant) and redshirt junior-transfer Kamani Johnson (6-7 forward) are already on campus with freshmen Davonte “Devo” Davis (6-3 guard, Jacksonville) and Jaylin Williams (6-10 forward / center, Fort Smith), sophomore Connor Vanover (7-3 stretch-5, Little Rock), and junior JD Notae (6-1 guard) planning to return over the next few days.

Newcomers expected to arrive on Saturday are Pitt junior-transfer Au’Diese Toney (6-6 wing), South Dakota senior-transfer Stanley Umude (6-6 combo forward), and Texas A&M freshmen-transfer Jaxson Robinson (6-7 wing), while Miami senior-transfer Chris Lykes (5-7 guard) is due in on Sunday. 

The source said freshman Chance Moore (6-5 wing) will be “a week or so behind” the others in terms of when he’ll make it to campus. Freshman walk-on Lawson Blake (6-10 center, Fayetteville) is also expected to report this weekend.

During a typical academic calendar, the Arkansas’ men’s basketball team arrives on campus in late May to move in and begin summer schools classes (most if not all will attend both sessions 1 and 2). Soon after settling in, the players will undergo physical examinations followed by beginning strength-and-conditioning work as well as basketball-related activities in the performance center. As early as the completion of all required physicals, Arkansas’ coaching staff can begin its 8 weeks of initial on-court interaction and instruction with the team on a limited basis (last season, that meant 4 hours per week on the court preceding an expanded “training camp” that began in July).

For more information on the Hogs’ newcomers, click the link …https://forums.hogville.net/index.php?topic=728650.0

Small ball, anyone? Forced to play smaller lineups in ’19-20 followed by choosing to do so periodically in ’20-21, Musselman focused his 2021 recruiting class mostly on adding wing/small forward types. It’s an obvious move toward putting an emphasis on quickness, improved collective lateral movement, burst, and versatile backcourt playmaking while still having just enough pieces in place to put size on the floor when needed. Only two scholarship players stand taller than 6-7 — the 6-10 Williams and 7-3 Vanover — while the other nine go 5-7 (Lykes), 6-0 (KK Robinson), 6-1 (Notae), 6-3 (Davis), 6-5 (Moore), 6-6 (Toney), 6-6 (Umude), 6-7 (Jaxson Robinson), and 6-7 (Johnson).

Notae, Davis, and KK Robinson were the only three players who consistently brought an extra gear to the court as slashers last season, and expect Lykes, Toney, and even Umude to inject more dribble-drive pop into the lineup. Lykes’ stop-and-go set-up game off the bounce is elite, while Toney is quick, explosive, and bouncy. Umude will play a 3/4-combo role, so he’ll be quicker and more agile than many of the forwards he’ll match up against. Moore and Jaxson Robinson bring size to the wings, which makes the personnel combinations Musselman has at his disposal even more intriguing. Musselman will be able to employ small ball, extra-small ball, and traditional personnel packages.

Of course, Arkansas has two available scholarships for the upcoming season, so more size (whether on the wing or frontcourt) could be added in the coming weeks or months leading up to the start of the ’21-22 season.

Prince of the transfer portal and master of roster turnover: Most teams returning only one player with significant playing experience in their program don’t accomplish what Arkansas did a season ago, but Musselman is ahead of the curve when it comes to re-constructing a roster year-to-year. He did it for most of his career coaching on various professional basketball levels, and now he’s doing it on the Division 1 collegiate level by expertly blending veteran newcomers carefully plucked from the transfer portal with select returnees and a few national top 100-ranked high school prizes.

Musselman is tasked with replacing 60% of last season’s starting lineup as well as a heavy amount of lost production and impact with the departures of Moses Moody, Justin Smith, and Jalen Tate. But in actuality it’s not as much to replace as a season ago when regular starters Mason Jones, Isaiah Joe, Jimmy Whitt, and Adrio Bailey had moved on after ’19-20. And unlike last season when junior guard Desi Sills was the only returnee with significant experience as a Hog, this time around the quartet of Notae, Davis, Williams, and Vanover bring with them a combined 50 starts as Hogs. Collectively, they averaged 31.3 points, 16.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 3.6 steals, and 3.0 blocks per game. KK Robinson missed the final two-thirds of the season with a foot injury, but with a year in Musselman’s system and added bulk/strength his role will increase significantly as should his production.

Veteran newcomers Lykes, Toney, and Umude each averaged more than 14 points per game last season at the D1 level, Johnson is roughly a year removed from earning all-league recognition before transferring from Little Rock to Arkansas, and Moore and Jaxson Robinson are the latest freshmen in the program who bring class of 2021 high school top 100 credentials with them, although the latter reclassified to 2020 and played sparingly in 14 games at Texas A&M last season before transferring to Arkansas earlier this month.

A few of the obvious unknowns are exactly how Musselman will blend all the pieces together, on-court and off-court team chemistry, as well as how new bench assistant coaches Gus Argenal and Keith Smart will fit in. The constant is Musselman, and his track record managing many moving parts is why numerous way-too-early Top 25 polls have Arkansas  ranked in the national top 10-15 range. The latest — CBS Sports’ Top 25-&-1 that was updated mid-week — has Arkansas ranked No. 10.

MoPro doin’ work to get ready for the next level: Former Arkansas star Moses Moody — coming off arguably the greatest freshman season in Razorbacks history — is currently in Southern California training six days a week as he prepares for the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft scheduled for July 29 at the Barclays Center in New York. The ’20-21 consensus All SEC first-team selection, SEC Freshman of the Year, SEC Newcomer of the Year, and Associated Press honorable mention All American is the first one-and-done player in Razorbacks history. 

Most NBA mock drafts project Moody (6-6 guard, Little Rock) to be selected among the lottery picks (first 14 selections): No. 6 to Golden State (CBS Sports & DraftSite.com); No. 7 to Toronto (NBADraft.net); No. 9 to Sacramento (NBC Sports); No. 11 to Charlotte (Sports Illustrated); and No. 12 to San Antonio (Tankathon).

Moody recently hired Klutch Sports agency to represent him. He averaged a team-leading 16.8 points (ranking 3rd in the SEC) to go with 5.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.0 steal in 33.8 minutes per game while shooting 42.7% from the field, including 35.8% from 3, and 81.2% from the free throw line. Moody was one of only three freshman in Division 1 to average 15-plus points and 5-plus rebounds per game. His 539 points on the season fell one point shy of tying the school’s scoring mark for a freshman, held by Scotty Thurman (540 points scored in ’92-93).

Muss looking to make more history at Arkansas: If his third season at Arkansas results in at least 20 wins, Eric Musselman will be the first Head Hog to achieve three consecutive 20-win seasons since Naismith Hall of Fame coach Nolan Richardson did the same in the three-year span of ’93-94, ’94-95, and ’95-96. In addition to guiding Arkansas to its first Elite Eight appearance and first end-of-season national top 10 ranking since ’94-95, Musselman helped the Hogs to a 12-game SEC winning streak, accomplished only once before in program history by Richardson’s ’93-94 eventual national championship team. 

Musselman is 45-19 overall at Arkansas, including 22-16 against SEC teams. He’s 3-1 coaching in NCAAT games at Arkansas, and he’s 9-2 coaching a ranked Arkansas team. Entering his seventh season as a D1 college head coach, Musselman has reached the Sweet 16 (at Nevada in ’17-18) and the Elite Eight (at Arkansas in ’20-21). His overall record in the NCAAT is 5-4.

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