Opposing coaches impressed by Hogs’ hot start
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.”