Video still: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
As queasy a feeling as it may be, it is only good news for Arkansas Razorback fans when Eric Musselman’s name is linked to other head coaching jobs that are open.
It’s a sign of the success he is having at the University of Arkansas that his name has been mentioned in connection for just about every job that has popped open over the last month.
Musselman, however, seems pretty settled here in Fayetteville after two successful seasons as the head Hog. He said as much Thursday when taking questions from the media on a Zoom interview that put the wraps on the best Razorback basketball season in 25 years.
Musselman said he, his staff, and players have built some brand recognition for the Razorbacks over the last 24 months that is really beginning to payoff for the program.
Case in point, Musselman took advantage of the media opportunity to announce his latest recruit to sign with the program in Au’Diese Toney, a 6-6, 220-pound graduate-transfer from Pittsburgh, who fits the mold of a positionless player, much like Justin Smith this season or Jimmy Whitt from 2019-2020. He averaged 14.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists as a do-it-all small forward for the Panthers.
Along with his offensive prowess, Toney is the type of player Musselman believes can be a defensive stopper for the Hogs like Whitt last year and Smith this season. His quickness would give him an advantage over a big, while his size and length should allow him to swallow up most guards.
Musselman and his staff worked on recruiting Toney last week while in the NCAA Tournament bubble, and no doubt the success and impact that grad-transfers Smith and Jalen Tate had on the Hogs made an impact on Toney’s decision to be a Razorback.
Don’t be surprised if the Razorbacks add another player or two from the transfer portal, which Musselman estimated would have upwards of 1,400 players looking to improve their situation in the near future. Musselman said it takes a lot of work and research to find the right fit for his program, but the success of players like Whitt, Smith, and Tate over the last two seasons should give the Razorbacks plenty of options.
Musselman confirmed that Smith, Tate and Vance Jackson would be moving on from the University of Arkansas despite the fact that they could return under NCAA regulations put in place for the Covid-19 pandemic. He explained they are all on a ticking clock for professional basketball opportunities whether it’s in the NBA, D League, or overseas, and it’s best for them to begin pursuing their options.
Of course, the Hogs will also be seeking to fill the vacated roster spot of junior Desi Sills, who announced Wednesday he would be transferring out of Arkansas’ program. Sills had his moments this season, particularly early, but after a shoulder injury suffered against LSU on Jan. 13, he saw his minutes diminish.
To his credit, Sills busted his tail for the Hogs to the very end. Sills’ diving on the hardwood for a loose ball against Baylor was an indelible moment for the Hogs in their 81-72 loss to the Bears. Sills is a player I’ll miss watching, but with the emergence of Devante “Devo” Davis as a star for the Hogs over the last quarter of the season, and J.D. Noatae’s improved play within Musselman’s system, one can understand how the guard spot might look crowded to Sills.
Moody, one of the more highly regarded freshmen in the nation, has yet to announce what his plans are for next season, but since he committed to the Razorbacks, everyone has understood that he could very well be a one-and-done player.
No doubt, Moody could improve with another year in the Razorback program, but if an NBA team is willing to pay him top-15 money while he is improving next year, that just moves him that much closer to a second, even-more lucrative NBA contract.
While it would be fun for Hog fans if Moody did return, him being drafted after a single season at Arkansas would be excellent publicity for the Razorbacks. It would show future recruits that if they perform well enough at Arkansas, the opportunity for them to be a one-and-done as a Razorback would be there for them, too. It would be proof positive that Kentucky is not the only launching-pad program in the SEC.
So, chasing another job doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Musselman. His athletic director Hunter Yurachek has already said a new deal for him is in the works that will no doubt make him the highest-paid basketball coach the UA has ever had. It will likely make him the highest-paid state employee. That’s what big-time success earns a coach in the SEC.
The retirement announcement of North Carolina coach Roy Williams Thursday does leave a vacuum, but the Tar Heels have ritually hired among their own in our lifetimes and are expected to do so again. When North Carolina does make its hire, dominoes will begin to fall, but Musselman seemed very happy Thursday with his situation on that Zoom call.
Continuing to build on the success he’s already achieved at Arkansas with their Elite Eight appearance this season seems to be foremost on Musselman’s mind.
Auburn nips Diamond Hogs 2-1 in series opener
Patrick Wicklander and Kevin Kopps combined to pitch a nearly masterful game for the No. 1 Arkansas Razorbacks Thursday, but an even better pitching performance by the Auburn Tigers and three big errors did in the Hogs for a taunt 2-1 loss.
While the Razorbacks swept Mississippi State on the road last weekend, Thursday’s contest was the second first-game loss in a series the Hogs have suffered in SEC play this season at home. Two weeks ago, Alabama crushed the Razorbacks’ 16-1 in their SEC opener at Baum-Walker Stadium.
That’s a habit Arkansas can ill afford if they hope to stay near the top of the SEC standings going forward.
The loss halted an eight-game winning streak for the Razorbacks, dropping them to 20-4 on the season and to 5-2 in SEC play.
The Razorbacks seemingly broke out of a bit of a slump, pounding Central Arkansas, 21-8, on Tuesday, but Auburn’s pitching kept the Hogs tied up all night, holding the Hogs to just 4 hits.
Wicklander gave up a home run to Brody Moore in the third, and Auburn took a 2-0 lead in the fourth with an unearned run. Razorback Braydon Webb belted a solo home run — Arkansas’ nation-leading 46th of the year — in the fourth to pull the Hogs within 1, but Auburn starter Cody Greenhill and the Tiger bullpen kept the Hogs frustrated.
Cayden Wallace had two hits for the Hogs, extending his hitting streak to eight games, and pinch hitter Charlie Welch also reached base, but otherwise the Hogs’ offensive well was dry.
First pitch for Friday’s game is at 6:30 p.m. at Baum-Walker Stadium. Arkansas righty Zebulon Vermillion (2-0, 3.14 ERA in 28 2/3 innings) will be on the mound for the Razorbacks, while. Auburn is expected to go with lefty Jack Owen (0-1, 23.14 ERA in 2 1/3 innings). The game can be streamed on SEC Network Plus.
Saturday scrimmage open to public
The Arkansas Razorbacks’ football scrimmage at 11 a.m. Saturday in Razorback Stadium will be open to the public.
Fans attending the scrimmage should park in Lots 72, 73, 73A and 74 located west of the stadium or Lot 44 on the north side of the stadium. Gate 1 in the southwest corner of the stadium will be the only gate fans can enter. It opens at 10:30 a.m.
Only the west side of the stadium will be available for seating. All fans entering the stadium must wear a face covering and practice social distancing while inside the stadium. Concession stands on the west concourse will be open, but no outside food or drinks will be allowed.