As hard as it is to believe, college basketball tips off TOMORROW, with the "Champions Classic" getting things rolling at Madison Square Garden.
And to get you ready for the season, Aaron Torres Online will be giving you 30 previews in the coming 30 days to get you ready for the start of the year, all written by college basketball nut and recruiting guru Jacob Polacheck.
We are smack dab in the midst of these previews, with thoughts on defending champ Baylor, Indiana, USC, LSU, Maryland Saint Bonaventure, Colorado State, Florida State, Virginia Alabama, Michigan and UConn. Plus, last week, we got an exclusive sit down with Bruce Pearl to preview the Auburn Tigers as well as the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Today, it's time to look at the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Hogs had a historic season under Eric Musselman, making the school's first Elite Eight since 1995 - and with a mix of veterans and returnees, could be even better in 2021-2022.
Also to read Aaron's preseason Top 25 - click here
How it went down in 2020-21:
In just Eric Musselman’s second year at the helm of Arkansas, the Razorbacks were among college basketball’s top programs last season, finishing 25-7 with a 13-4 SEC record en route to its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1996 and first Elite Eight appearance since 1995. In the process, they also had a staggering streak in SEC play, that included 11 straight SEC wins to conclude the regular season, and 12 in a row when the SEC Tournament was factored in.
Guard Moses Moody emerged as one of the top freshmen in the nation after averaging a team-high 16.8 points on 47.8 percent shooting and also posting 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. As usual, Musselman’s squad was heavily reliant on players from the transfer portal with Justin Smith, JD Notae and Jalen Tate each averaging double-figure points.
In postseason play, the Hogs played some of their best basketball, earning a No. 3 seed in the Big Dance, before ripping through Colgate and Texas Tech to make the Sweet Sixteen. Arkansas faced a familiar opponent in Oral Roberts in the Sweet Sixteen, coming away with a dramatic 72-70 victory on an iconic Devo Davis show. The Razorbacks’ impressive run came to an end at the hands of the eventual NCAA Champion Baylor Bears in the Elite Eight with a 72-81 loss.
Despite coming up just short of a Final Four run, Arkansas fans had a lot to be happy about in 2020-21.
What You Need to Know About 2021-2022:
Key Returnees: Davonte Davis, Jaylin Williams, KK Robinson, Connor Vanover
Key Losses: Moses Moody, Jalen Tate, Justin Smith, Desi Sills
Key Transfers: Chris Lykes, Au’Diese Toney, Stanley Umude, Trey Wade, Kamani Johnson, Jaxson Robinson
Key Recruits: Chance Moore
When it comes to the transfer portal, there’s perhaps no one better in college basketball than Eric Musselman and this year is no different.
Starting with the departures, Arkansas loses a total of seven players from a season ago. With the graduations of Justin Smith and Jalen Tate, the transfers of Abayomi Iyiola, Vance Jackson, Desi Sills and Ethan Henderson and then Moses Moody being drafted No. 14 overall in the 2021 NBA Draft, there’s going to be plenty of overhaul in Fayetteville.
Three transfers should see major minutes from the jump, starting with Miami’s Chris Lykes, Pitt’s Au’Diese Toney and South Dakota’s Stanley Umude - all of whom averaged at least 14 points per game last year at other schools. Trey Wade (Wichita State) , Jaxson Robinson (Texas A&M) and Kamani Johnson (Little Rock) will all play key roles coming off the bench.
Still, what makes this Arkansas team so unique, is that this Musselman squad actually returns several key pieces. Tourney hero Devo Davis is back, and while his numbers don't blow you off the page (8.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg) he was one of the Hogs most consistent players by the end of the year. He scored double figures in all four NCAA Tournament games, including 16 in a Sweet 16 win over Oral Roberts. JD Notae provided instant offense off the bench last year and may be this team's best pure scorer after averaging 13 points per game. And KK Robinson is a former four-star recruit who should provide scoring pop as well. Those guys are all in addition to the transfers above.
Finally in the frontcourt, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Jaylin Williams, another freshman last year, whose stats don't tell the story of just how important he was.
The 7'3 Connor Vanover is back to provide size down low.
The SEC is going to be another brutal slate with teams like Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and LSU all expected to be Top-30 teams, yet the Razorbacks have the players to keep up - and beat - all of them.
Arkansas has three winnable games to open the season (Mercer, Gardner-Webb and a tough Northern Iowa team) before heading to the Hall of Fame Classic during Thanksgiving week. The first game is against a rebuilding Kansas State squad, but the second game could be a doozy. There, the Hogs would potentially face Kofi Cockburn (who will be back from suspension) and the Illinois Fighting Illini. Illinois faces Cincinnati the previous night.
From there it's back to Arkansas with several more buy games, before a much-anticipated border battle with Oklahoma in Tulsa on December 11th. The Oklahoma, Kansas State and Illinois/Cincinnati games will be key, for the Hogs to build an impressive out of conference resume. There is also a game against West Virginia in the Big 12-SEC Challenge as well.
For Arkansas the SEC slate opens December 29th with a tough Mississippi State game, but really, the Hogs have about as manageable of a start in SEC play as possible. From the Mississippi State game until February 2nd, Arkansas plays seven games against teams projected to finish in the bottom half of the league, with only a game at LSU on January 15th as a seemingly tough battle. There are no easy games in conference play, but again, the schedule is about as manageable as you can get by SEC standards early.
Of course as soft as it is early, man oh man does it get tough late. There are three straight games with potential NCAA Tournament teams in Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama in a one-week stretch from February 5th through 12th and then a gauntlet to close the season playing Tennessee twice, Florida, Kentucky and LSU for a second time between February 19th and March 5th.
It will definitely be a tale of two seasons in SEC play (the easy early part, and brutal late stretch) but considering the Hogs play just one game each against Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky and Florida, things could be a lot worse.
What to Expect in 2021-2022
Expect Arkansas to be firmly in the Top-25 all season with the chance to be a Top-10 squad. Muss brings in big guards perfect for his system and while they should be a deadly offensive team, perimeter defense will be an X-Factor this season.
This team is filled with depth, which should help, since injuries are inevitable through the course of a college basketball season. Between a great group of returnees and some very intriguing transfers, this team, if anything, is going to be fun to watch. However, if Devo Davis can fill that leadership role and the transfers can do their part, Arkansas can be a true threat to win the SEC regular season and tournament titles.
It’s no secret that the SEC should be a very good conference, but don’t overlook the Razorbacks to be right up there in contention for a conference title and another deep NCAA Tournament run.
Follow Jacob on Twitter @JacobPolacheck
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