Op­pos­ing coaches im­pressed by Hogs’ hot start

The Saline Courier - - SPORTS - By Nate Allen Ra­zor­backs Re­port

FAYETTEVIL­LE Punc­tu­at­ing an 11-1 non­con­fer­ence start with Sun­day’s 71-64 come­back vic­tory over the In­di­ana Hoosiers at their fa­bled As­sem­bly Hall has earned Arkansas in­stant re­spect start­ing the SEC sea­son.

All 14 SEC teams be­gin league play Satur­day with Arkansas host­ing the 6-5 Texas A&M Ag­gies at an al­ready sold out Wal­ton Arena for a 6 p.m. SEC Net­work tele­vised tipoff.

LSU coach Will Wade and Ken­tucky coach John Cali­pari, their Tigers,

8-4, and Wild­cats, 9-3 were both picked way above first-year Coach Eric Mus­sel­man’s Ra­zor­backs by pre­sea­son prog­nos­ti­ca­tors and at SEC Pre­sea­son Me­dia Days.

“I think Arkansas has as good a shot as any­body,” Wade said on Thurs­day morn­ing’s SEC tele­con­fer­ence of win­ning the SEC. “They’ve got some fan­tas­tic guards shoot­ing a lot of threes.”

Cali­pari was es­pe­cially im­pressed with the Ra­zor­backs ral­ly­ing from a sec­ond half down 11 to win by seven at As­sem­bly Hall.

“To go to In­di­ana, who is 11-1 and be down in As­sem­bly Hall, and come back and win … I want to know how many teams have done that in the last 10 years,” Cali­pari said.

“My guess is they (vic­tors at As­sem­bly Hall over the Hoosiers) were never down 10, 11, 12 with eight, nine min­utes and then come back and won. I can’t ever re­mem­ber one. That’s about coach­ing. That’s about ex­e­cu­tion at the end of games. All that kind of stuff that mat­ters.”

For­mer NBA coach and for­mer Fed­er­a­tion of In­ter­na­tional Bas­ket­ball coach Cali­pari noted Mus­sel­man’s ex­pe­ri­ence at both.

“This guy is as good it gets,” Cali­pari said. “I’ve coached against him in FIBA. I’ve watched him in the NBA. They (Arkansas) come out of the gate and they are not afraid of any­body.”

A&M coach Buzz Williams, first year pi­lot­ing the Ag­gies but a vet­eran coach since 2006-2007 first at New Or­leans and since 2007-2008 at Mar­quette and then Vir­ginia Tech, also is “re­ally im­pressed” upon specif­i­cally pre­par­ing for the Hogs.

“I think Coach has done an in­cred­i­ble job,” Williams said. “I’ve re­ally en­joyed study­ing them the last few days.”

Seems ev­ery­one dis­cussing Arkansas riv­ets on ex­plo­sive shoot­ing guards play­ing for­wards Isa­iah Joe, the sopho­more via Fort Smith North­side, and ju­nior Ma­son Jones.

Mus­sel­man cer­tainly does, too, but he also cites his small Hogs un­der­rated re­bound­ing on the de­fen­sive boards and the un­sung con­tri­bu­tions of point guard Jimmy Whitt and es­pe­cially se­nior Adrio Bai­ley, at 6-6 the lit­tle big man as Arkansas’ tallest starter.

“Of­fen­sively, Ma­son Jones and Isa­iah Joe have done an in­cred­i­ble job of mak­ing big shots for us in crunch mo­ments,” Mus­sel­man said. “And then we’ve had two guys who have done a great job for us de­fen­sively and re­bound­ing and all the in­tan­gi­bles: Adrio Bai­ley and Jimmy Whitt.”

All, plus fear­less 6-1 start­ing sopho­more guard Desi Sills and prin­ci­pal re­serves, Jaylen Har­ris, the guard, and Reg­gie Chaney, the cen­ter, have chipped in to chip away at their taller op­po­nents’ re­bound­ing ad­van­tage, es­pe­cially on the de­fen­sive boards.

“Our de­fen­sive re­bound­ing rate is much bet­ter than peo­ple per­ceive just based on av­er­age re­bound­ing num­bers,” Mus­sel­man said. “What we have found is some teams have re­ally tried to go to the of­fen­sive glass, and that’s al­lowed us to get out and run on makes and misses. And it’s opened up a lot of tran­si­tion scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. So at times we wel­come peo­ple crash­ing the of­fen­sive glass.”

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