We’d like to welcome those of you who are joining us from the Razorback football season and the deer stand to our coverage of Arkansas men's basketball.
We join this season in progress, where the Hogs have a sometimes shakey 7-0 record and Top 10 ranking. Let’s take a moment to catch you up on what you’ve missed.
YOU'RE GOING TO NEED A PROGRAM
Only six players from last year’s 15-man roster returns from last year, including only two of the starters from last year’s Elite 8 game against Baylor. So here’s a primer on who you need to know.
5 Au’Diese Toney: A 6-6 senior guard transfer from Pittsburgh who brings a level of mental toughness and energy to the team. It’s an approach that landed him the Hall of Fame Classic MVP. He’s the only non-returner Musselman trusts to start in his latest rotation. Toney averages 13 points and nearly 7 rebounds per game. Even though he’s a guard, his style of play is closer to Justin Smith than Jalen Tate. The freedom to create in Musselman’s system was an adjustment at first, but has settled in as of late. He’s No. 3 in the conference in shooting percentage, No. 16 in total points, and No. 15 in total rebounds.
0 Stanley Umude: Another 6-6 senior guard transfer, this time from South Dakota, where he lit up opponents for 22 points per game. Umude is more of an all-around guard who can do a little bit of everything with a smoothness that Arkansas will need when it hits conference play. He seems to have found a comfort zone the last two games with 19 points against Penn and 17 against Arkansas. He’s currently shooting 51% from the field.
11 Chris Lykes: A 5-7 guard who stands out on the floor and not necessarily because of his size. Lykes transferred from Miami where he reportedly took 29% of his team’s shots. That habit hasn’t been broken. If the ball gets in his hands, it probably isn’t leaving until it clanks off the rim. While Lykes is who you want on the free throw line late in the game, he hasn’t missed a shot he isn’t willing to miss from the field. Despite this, he is a crowd favorite because when he does make a play, it’s going to make the highlight reel. His ability to roll a defender’s ankle while contorting himself through heavy traffic is eye-popping and his no-look pass to Devo Davis coming the opposite direction for a reverse lay-up shows his potential if he can be developed into more of a team player.
PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Texas A&M sophomore guard transfer Jaxon Robinson and Wichita State senior forward transfer Trey Wade warrant special attention. Robinson came in off the bench against UCA and immediately provided a spark with a 3-pointer. He didn’t get to play much at A&M because the team spent most of the year in COVID protocol, but the talk from his teammates indicate he has come in and earned their respect.
When Wade hits the floor, he immediately jumps off the screen. There’s a physical presence about him as he muscles players around. Wade’s minutes are limited to about 8 minutes per game right now, but when he gets in, his presence is felt. As Arkansas comes across bigger teams in conference play, Wade is going to become more valuable.
WHAT'S DIFFERENT WITH RETURNING PLAYERS?
J.D. Notae - Close to nothing. He’s still a streaky shooter who can bury a team almost by himself when he’s hot. Notae averages roughly the same points per minute that he did last year in the 6th man role. The additional minutes as a starter have brought his points per game up to 18. The only difference isn’t necessarily in his game. His growth is in intangibles. Notae has become more of a leader on the floor.
Devo Davis - This isn’t your 2020 spark plug who entered the game like a shot of espresso to your system. Something was visibly wrong as he more or less wandered through the first several games. At one point he went home where his mother and grandmother had picked up on the change in his demeanor in games and offered advice. They encouraged him to smile more and focus on having fun again while on the court. Davis responded against UCA with a performance that had the energy and wow-factor fans were accustomed to from the previous year.
Jaylin Williams - Williams isn’t going to fill up the stat sheet. Many of the things he does on the court, the true dirty work of the game, doesn’t correlate to his box score. However, Williams is going to win Arkansas a few games down the stretch with a couple of tough blockouts, diving for loose balls, and setting quality screens. His points come by denying opportunities for opponents and creating them for Arkansas. Fans may recall how things went when Justin Smith missed a few games last year. He was the heart of the team and there was no way to replace him. Williams seems poised to fill that same role. It could be devastating if he gets injured.
Connor Vanover - There is a noticeable difference in Vanover’s game this year. He seems more comfortable with his back to the basket and isn’t getting pushed around as much on defense. He also seems to be moving a little quicker. If he continues to improve throughout the year, he could be a difference maker down the stretch, especially if he can bang with the big guys and draw fouls as he is 90% at the line as a Razorback.
K.K. Robinson - He’s on the floor. That’s about all you need to know after missing last season with a foot injury that required surgery. He still wasn’t 100% as the season began, so the only way is up for the highly touted sophomore guard.
HOW ARE THEY AS A TEAM?
Until this past week, they weren’t a team. Players were selfish. Defense was an afterthought. Teams came to Bud Walton struggling and shot the lights out. Time after time, teams that should have easily been put away hung around until the final two minutes when Arkansas would magically pull away. It drove Mussellman so nuts he wanted to have practices immediately after games and came home so frustrated after wins that his wife, Danyelle, had to tell him to chill out.
She even went as far as to give him an Oscar the Grouch shirt to wear to his press conference after the game. The writing on it said “No garbage attitude after a win.”
WHAT ABOUT OTHER TEAMS IN THE SEC?
I would advise not watching them right now. Arkansas is still a work in progress and the SEC has become a basketball power league on the court and in recruiting. The anxiety you would get by checking in on the other teams would not be good for your health. Wait until Musselman has had more time to develop this group into a team, then you can open your eyes sometime after Christmas.
WANT TO RECAP EACH GAME?
Nov. 9 Mercer
Nov. 13 Gardner-Webb
Nov. 17 Northern Iowa
Nov. 22 Kansas State
Nov. 23 Cincinatti
Nov. 28 Penn
Dec. 1 Central Arkansas