UA training camp notebook: Hoop Hog coaches continue roster evaluation in week 7

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Photo Courtesy: Arkansas Men’s Basketball

LITTLE ROCK — As week 7 of Arkansas Razorbacks training camp was wrapping up, the Head Hog ankowledged he and his coaching staff remain in experimental mode when it comes to evaluating the roster.

“We’re trying different combinations,” second-year head coach Eric Musselman said. “Changing lineups to see what fits and meshes well together.”

It’s a work in progress considering Arkansas will be putting 10 players — out of the 12 on scholarship — on the court for the first time as Razorbacks in the upcoming 2020-21 season. Including two new walk-ons, the Hogs will have 12 total newcomers out of the 15 players that make up the entirety of the roster, a fact that the program hailed on Wednesday as being the most newcomers in all of D1 college basketball in ’20-21.

Replacing a combined 52.9 points per game from the departed guard trio of Mason Jones, Isaiah Joe, and Jimmy Whitt, Jr., on its face will pose challenges, but it’s the uncertainty of who steps up as go-to players, especially late in tight games, that gives brake-pumping pause on expectations even though the program has welcomed in a top 5 national high school recruiting class and a top 10 national college-transfer class.

Experience fuels so many nuances — timing, spacing, situational understanding, poise, and leadership to name a few — that lead to winning. Piecing together this new Hoop Hogs puzzle is what training camp has been all about, and here’s a look at the latest from week 7 (linked here is a mashup reel of Hog “hustle” highlights during the week… 

Graphic courtesy of Razorbacks men’s basketball

* Arkansas coaches installed three pick-and-roll defensive coverages: 1) hand show, slash, trap; 2) track; and 3) switch. The Razorbacks in ’19-20 were an exceptional perimeter defensive team, leading the nation in three-point field goal defense as well as finishing in the top 10 in turnover margin. Much of that success was executing defensively against pick-and-roll offense, which looks to create mismatches and stress a defense that is trying to maintain or regain position, rotate to help, and recover. Individuals learning and executing is only part of the process as Musselman and his staff consider which player groupings work best together.

* Junior 6-1 guard Desi Sills was seen authoring another wing-to-bucket Euro-step drive through contact, the kind of play that has been his trademark since he arrived in Fayetteville just over two years ago. Sills ended each of his first two seasons much better than he began them in terms of three-point shooting, but as a sophomore in ’19-20 he was mostly strong from start to finish in two-point shooting (70-of-132 from inside the arc for 53.0%). Sills has proven most effective as an off-ball, spot-up-three point shooter and a slasher using a combination of ball fakes, change of direction, and straight-line drives to the cup. Developing a mid-range game (i.e. pull-up jumpers and runners and floaters in the mid-paint) could add another dimension to Sills’ offensive arsenal (linked here is a Sills highlight reel from practice… 

* College basketball analyst Jeff Goodman on Wednesday released his ’20-21 preseason national Top 50 poll and ranked Arkansas at No. 31, a spot that if mirrored by the Hogs’ NCAA NET rating at the end of the season would mean Arkansas would likely be no worse than sitting on the bubble for an NCAA tournament at-large bid, assuming that a 68-team NCAAT field is once again in play. Goodman apparently does not think much of the strength of the SEC at the top, clustering the top 6 teams from the league between Nos. 18 and 31 (Alabama at No. 18, Tennessee at No. 20, Florida at No. 21, Kentucky at No. 24, LSU at No. 30, and Arkansas at No. 31).

* Fox College Hoops’ twitter account on Thursday released a graphic showing the only 10 schools in the history of NCAA Division 1 sports to win national titles in both football and basketball: Arkansas, UCLA, Syracuse, Ohio State, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland, Stanford, and Cal. As Arkansas continues to strive to regain national relevance in both sports, it’s noteworthy that the program has proven in the past that it can sustain excellence on the national stage in both sports. Two national titles were not outliers, they came in the middle of dominant decades (1960s in football and 1990s in basketball) when the Hogs were consistently among the top 5-10 programs in the country. The program has enjoyed sustained success in other decades as well, but in the 20 years since the turn of the century both have been mostly middle-tier in the SEC, and sometimes worse. Basketball has finished ranked just once (’14-15) and football has really shined only twice (’10 and ’11) in that 20-year span.

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For my previous Arkansas Razorbacks training camp notebook reports — Weeks 4, 5, and 6 — click the link …

For my previous Arkansas Razorbacks training camp notebook reports — Weeks 1, 2, and 3 — click the link …

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