Musselman: Hogs now more diverse
FAYETTEVILLE — Eric Musselman led the University of Arkansas basketball team to a 20-12 record in his first season as coach despite lacking depth and height.
The Razorbacks started four guards in most games with 6-6 senior Adrio Bailey being their big man, and 6-8 sophomores Reggie Chaney and Ethan Henderson also available.
Four players averaged more than 31 minutes per game on a roster that had nine eligible scholarship players with three transfers redshirting.
The Razorbacks’ 2020-21 roster will be much deeper and taller.
Arkansas will have four newcomers 6-9 or taller — led by 7-3 sophomore transfer Connor Vanover — and for now at least has the NCAA maximum for scholarship players.
Including Isaiah Joe, who has entered the NBA Draft but not signed with an agent to retain his eligibility, the Razorbacks have 13 scholarship players eligible to play.
Along with Vanover, other newcomers giving Arkansas a boost in size are 6-9 senior graduate transfer Vance Jackson from New Mexico; 6-9 junior Abayomi Iyiola, who redshirted after transferring from Stetson; and
6-9 freshman Jaylin Williams from Fort Smith Northside.
Musselman said he and his staff have had lengthy discussions about how best to utilize a more diverse roster.
“One of the meetings lasted about three hours just about style of play,” Musselman said. “The format of practice is going to be different. There’s going to be a lot more competitive things when we get back together. There will be a lot more 5-on-5 than what we did last year.”
Musselman couldn’t afford to wear out his team in practice or risk injuries because players were playing so many minutes in games.
Last season’s practices featured lots of work on drills and techniques.
“Now we’re going to be able to teach more,” Musselman said. “Instead of teaching parts of an offense or parts of a defensive scheme, now we’re going to be able to do more whole.
“It’ll be important as a coach when there is stoppage in a practice to be able to coach all 10 players off one stoppage, rather than just teaching two or three guys at a station break.
“I’ll be much more involved in practice than maybe even what I was this past year.”
While Arkansas will be bigger, Musselman said shooting three-pointers will continue to be a significant part of the offense after the Razorbacks hit 243 of 728 attempts beyond the arc — led by Joe’s 94 of 276 — to rank fifth in the SEC in both categories.
Mason Jones, who signed with an agent and is staying in the NBA Draft, hit 68 of 194 three-pointers last season and Bailey was 15 of 39 for a team-leading 38.5%.
But the Razorbacks’ new guards — notably freshman Moses Moody and junior transfer JD Notae from Jacksonville (Fla.) University — are good three-point shooters, and Jackson and Vanover are comfortable on the perimeter for big men.
Jackson hit 50 of 146 three-pointers last season. Vanover hit 27 of 76 three-pointers as a freshman at California.
Also back for Arkansas will be guard Desi Sills, who hit 47 of 143 three-pointers last season.
“We do have more size, but Connor Vanover’s strength is shooting the three,” Musselman said. “Vance Jackson’s strength is shooting the three. Jaylin Williams can make a three.
“Moses Moody is a very good three-point shooter. JD Notae’s a really good threepoint shooter. So I don’t necessarily think that we’re going to change who we are, but you also want to go to your roster’s strengths.”
If Joe decides to return to Arkansas for his junior season,
he’ll be part of a group of guards that includes Sills; Notae; Moody; senior graduate transfer Jalen Tate from Northern Kentucky; and freshmen Davonte Davis and Khalen “KK” Robinson.
“Right now, I think we have good chemistry,” Musselman said. “I think our guys are about the right thing.
“Obviously, we’re not going to truly develop court chemistry until we get together. But we’ve been methodical on the pieces that we’ve added and tried to keep versatility. Trying to keep somewhat position-less basketball.
“We wanted to add more depth and we wanted to have more size, but still keep flexibility in trying to create mismatches on both ends of the floor. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that.”
Musselman will have more options to make substitutions than he did last season, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have a quick hook.
“The one thing I’ve learned through experience is you’ve got to let players play through their mistakes,” he said. “But I certainly think there were times last year where a guy could have used a quick blow to catch his breath and come back in. So I think that’ll change a little bit now.
“I thought we played really hard on all possessions, but now that maximum effort is really going to have to be demanded on every single possession.”
The coronavirus has kept the Razorbacks — and other teams — from being together for offseason workouts. Players are forced to work out on their own.
“Until we’re together, I’m not going to determine rotations,” Musselman said. “The players are.
“That’s why this time is important to them, too. Who’s working on their ball-handling? Who’s running on their own? Who’s going to come in in the best condition? Who’s getting shots up in their driveway? All those things become important.”