Arkansas basketball fans got a taste of what’s to come from their Razorbacks this season when the Reds blew out the Whites, 103-67, in the Hogs’ lone basketball exhibition before the season is scheduled to start for real Nov. 25 against Mississippi Valley State.
Everyone needed a scorecard for this one except for head coach Eric Musselman and his staff with only two returning contributors from last year’s team — Desi Sills and Ethan Henderson — playing on this year’s squad.
The new-look Hogs are long, tall, and athletic but are also still inexperienced playing with each other, which showed up at times, particularly with the White squad that suffered 19 turnovers which helped lead to the Red blowout.
The first half was a straight-up matchup between the Reds and Whites with the Reds leading 41-31 at intermission. The second half saw the Razorback coaching staff mixing and matching players from one team to the next to get a look at different combinations of players.
For instance, the game’s leading scorer J.D. Notae, a junior transfer from Jacksonville University, scored just 6 for the Whites as a starter in the first half, but exploded for 24 when he switched to the Red squad, nailing four consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of the 36-minute game. Along with Notae, Sills, Vance Jackson, and Jaylin Williams spent time playing for both teams.
Musselman did not like how the White squad rolled over against the Reds.
“Really disappointed with White’s defense,” Musselman said. “I don’t know if I’ve been a part of an intrasquad scrimmage where a team gives us a 103 points in a 36-minute game, 67 to 103. I mean the numbers on White are pretty much meaningless if you lose the game by that much.
“Obviously, we made the switch with JD. I wanted him to play with the Red group, as well as Vance. The good thing is there’s a lot of things that we needed to clean up. I was really impressed with Red. Only six turnovers. They scored 103 points, and they only had six turnovers.”
Indiana transfer Justin Smith tallied 22 points and heralded Razorback freshman Moses Moody added 21 while playing for the Reds. Freshman Khalen Robinson led the White squad with 18 points, nailing 8 of 11 of his shots.
It’s hard to get a feel for a team from a mixed-and-matched intrasquad game, but Musselman does have a long, lean, and athletic group of players to call upon with varied sets of skills.
It will be interesting to see how he and his staff pull this squad together. Last season Musselman counted on about eight players for the bulk of the playing time. It will be interesting to see if he plays more players this year or settles in on a core of eight like last year.
Notae showed off explosive scoring ability that no doubt will be useful, but will he be a starter or instant offense off the bench?
Smith is no doubt a player to watch with his experience from playing at Indiana. His 22 points were quiet. He got them within the flow of the game, which was impressive.
Moody, the Hogs’ top recruit from last season’s signing class, was as advertised. He’s very skilled offensively and doesn’t mind getting dirty on defense. Likewise Robinson looks smooth.
The scrimmage didn’t really show how the squad will mesh defensively, but you know that is a priority for Musselman.
Perhaps the biggest question mark coming out of the exhibition is how will 7-foot-3 sophomore transfer Connor Vanover mesh with his teammates?
Vanover has missed practice time recently due to the virus and no doubt that affected his play as he is working himself back into shape. He scored 7 points and grabbed a couple of rebounds in just under 17 minutes on the floor.
It will be interesting to see if he works himself into being a starter or if he will play off the bench. The team is long without him, but he presents opponents with a challenge that is almost unique.
The question is how will he mix with his teammates, and does his size require Musselman’s to make adjustments in his style of play specifically for Vanover’s size or is Vanover skilled enough to just meld in with the rest of the Hogs? One exhibition game is hardly enough of a sampling to tell one way or the other.
This is a very different roster from last season, which was limited by its lack of height, but made up for it with three very uniquely skilled guards in Mason Jones, Isaiah Joe, and Jimmy Whitt. It’s going to be interesting to see how Musselman fashions this team that has more size, talent, and depth.
The Razorbacks have eight nonconference games to figure out their intriguing puzzle before getting down to the business of SEC play with their league opener on Dec. 29 at Auburn.
One only hopes Covid-19 doesn’t throw a monkey wrench into the upcoming season that can’t be overcome.
Arkansas 2020-21 Basketball Schedule
Nov. 25 (Wed.) – Mississippi Valley State
Nov. 28 (Sat.) – North Texas
Dec. 2 (Wed.) – UT Arlington
Dec. 5 (Sat.) – Lipscomb
Dec. 8 (Tues.) – at Tulsa
Dec. 12 (Sat.) – Central Arkansas
Dec. 20 (Sun.) – Oral Roberts
Dec. 22 (Tues.) – Abilene Christian
Dec. 30 (Wed.) – at Auburn
Jan 2. (Sat.) – Missouri
Jan 6. (Wed.) – at Tennessee
Jan. 9 (Sat.) – Georgia
Jan. 13 (Wed.) – at LSU
Jan. 16 (Sat.) – at Alabama
Jan 20 (Wed.) – Auburn
Jan. 23 (Sat.) – at Vanderbilt
Jan. 27 (Wed.) – Ole Miss
Jan. 30 (Sat.) – at Oklahoma State (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
Feb. 2 (Tue.) – Mississippi State
Feb. 6 (Sat.) – Texas A&M
Feb. 9 (Tue.) – at Kentucky
Feb. 13 (Sat) – at Missouri
Feb. 16 (Tue.) – Florida
Feb. 20 (Sat.) – at Texas A&M
Feb 24 (Wed.) – Alabama
Feb. 27 (Sat.) – LSU
March 2 (Tue.) – at South Carolina
March 10-14 – SEC Tournament at Nashville, Tenn.
Times to Be Announced – Dates and opponents subject to change.