Stanley Umude / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
The Arkansas Razorbacks (6-0) leaped into the Associated Press Top 10 this week, but Coach Eric Musselman said roles are still being defined on his team that contains seven new players.
Musselman said Monday that there are threes phases new players all go through with a team — role definition, role acceptance, and then thriving in their role. Arkansas’ newcomers aren’t all there yet.
In fact, even some of the returning Hogs like JD Notae and Devo Davis are adjusting to playing more point guard this season rather than solely returning to their shooting guard and wing spots they filled last year.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: Central Arkansas
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
Next 5 games
Dec. 4 – UALR, 3 p.m. (SEC Network)
Dec. 7 – Charlotte, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Dec. 11 – Oklahoma (in Tulsa), 12:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Dec. 18 – Hofstra (in Little Rock), 7 p.m. (No TV)
Dec. 21 – Elon, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)
Chris Lykes, a guard who transferred in from Miami, also is a combo guard with an entirely different style of play than the other two.
“The players are the ones who make the Xs and the Os come to life,” Musselman said.
Notae is leading the Hogs in minutes played at 36.2 and the SEC in scoring with a 19.5 ppg. average, but he’s shooting just 27.5 percent from the 3-point line and 41.2 percent from the field. Notae was a streaky shooter last year, but more consistent than he has been through six games this season. Notae is also averaging 4.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game to make him one of the most well-rounded players in the SEC.
Musselman has a squad that boasts several strong personalities, and the team the Hogs are going to be is still evolving as the players get to know each other better.
The Razorbacks took their first road trip last week to Kansas City to play in the Hall of Fame Classic, and despite not shooting particularly well, Arkansas defeated two solid squads in Kansas State (72-64) and Cincinnati (73-67). The Razorbacks returned home and defeated an injury-depleted but determined Penn squad, 76-60, Sunday.
A 16-point win sounds solid on the surface, but the Hogs suffered too many unforced turnovers (15) for such a moderately paced game to please Musselman. Arkansas is averaging 11.16 turnovers a game. Even as an up-tempo team, he’d like that number below 10.
Musselman said the Hogs are still figuring out their identity offensively and defensively. He liked that way the squad cracked down on eliminating 3-point attempts over the last week, which was an emphasis.
Now, cutting back on the turnovers becomes the focus as the Razorbacks host two in-state opponents this week. Central Arkansas visits Walton Arena at 7 p.m. tonight, and UALR, coached by former Razorback All-American Darrell Walker, faces the Hogs at 3 p.m. Saturday.
“We continue to talk about getting a shot on goal each possession,” Musselman said. “This year has been way more up and down with turnover issues. Some games we’ve done a really good job. Against Penn, the turnovers were all self-inflicted. Those were all on us. Trying to thread the needle, trying to make home-run plays, not hitting singles, but trying for inside-the-park home runs. We don’t need that. We need simple, easy passes to make the offense flow.
Davonte “Devo” Davis / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
“A lot of it starts with the point guard play, but as I mentioned [Sunday] night, if we are going to put the ball in Jaylin’s [Williams] hands a lot as a point forward, we can ill afford him to have four turnovers [from him] as well.
“Whether it’s a long outlet pass that gets stolen, or it’s a lob that we throw that’s 25 feet over the hands. We don’t want people in the first, second and third row to have to wear a helmet because of our wild passes. We’ve got to take care of the basketball to the best of our ability.”
Musselman said the Razorbacks’ top-10 ranking should be motivation for the Razorbacks to play even better basketball.
“One of the phrases I’ve talked about with the team is backing up optimism with actual performance. We’ve had optimism since the offseason,” Musselman said of the Hogs’ preseason and current ranking.
“How are we going to back that up? Anytime you’re ranked there is always responsibility,” Musselman added. “There’s a target, and you have to understand that. When you are a top-10 team, somebody beats [you] there is celebration.”
Musselman said the ranking adds pressure. He knows this from being ranked for a 17-week stretch while coaching Nevada.
“There is an added pressure that you play with,” Musselman said. “I can’t really describe it. We want to eliminate as much pressure as we can. We still want to be able to celebrate victories, but you know, when you’re top 10, top 15, sometimes when you win a game, you are not celebrating.”
After going home in a crabby mood Sunday night following a less than stellar performance by the Razorbacks against Penn, Musselman said his wife Danyelle turned counselor on him.
“My wife, Danyelle, quickly reminded me that we won,” Musselman said. “She told me to stop talking about the turnovers, and sloppy play. Stop talking about the missed 3s, and remember there are two columns: a win and a loss. She basically told me I could only bring that ‘garbage attitude’ home after a loss.
“We do have areas we need to get better at, but to be ranked in the Top 10 is a nice added incentive to get people to come to Bud Walton. Come early and get rowdy. Get there early. Be there for our warmup. It’s unique; it’s different. Our players have spent a lot of time on the warmup, and quite frankly, it might be the last time we do it.”
When asked about his top seven players getting a bulk of the minutes, Musselman explained that playing time comes with a responsibility.
“When we took Connor [Vanover] and J-Will out, the lead evaporated,” Musselman said. “We were up by 22, and it got to 13 before I could take another sip of Diet Pepsi.
“When we sub, we’ve got to at least maintain the lead. The lead can’t all of a sudden drop. And so that’s one of the areas we have to get better at because it happened in the prior home game [against Northern Iowa] as well.
“We were up 31, and it went to 18 to 14 very, very quickly. So when we do go to the bench and try to expand the rotation, there’s got to be consistency in play.”
Musselman said that Lykes and Stanley Umude are clearly the top two off the bench, but he added that he might go in a different direction tonight when he looks to his third substitute.