Key Departures: Moses Moody (NBA); Justin Smith (Grad); Jalen Tate (Grad); Desi Sills (–>Arkansas St)
New In Town: Chris Lykes (<–Miami); Au’Diese Toney (<–Pitt); Trey Wade (<–Wichita St); Jaxson Robinson (<–Texas A&M); Stanley Umude (<–S. Dakota); Chance Moore (#95)
State of the Program:
All aboard the Muss Buss as this Arkansas program has returned to its 90’s form, reaching the Elite 8 last year in year 2 under Eric Musselman. I am a big Muss Buss guy, and despite his odd tactics of virtually ignoring recruiting and opting for mostly transfers, all he’s done in his brief time as a HC is win. He had 3 dominate runs with Nevada using transfers and just turned in another great year with the Razorbacks, and that is the beauty of College Basketball, there’s no 1 exact science in building a competitive team. The biggest pitfall in the transfer game is the constant roster turnover, and Musselman will once again have some major holes to plug, including 3 of the 4 leading scorers from a year ago. He does get back G’s JD Notae (SR) and Davonte Davis (SO), along with big men Connor Vanover (JR) and Jaylin Williams (SO). He will, obviously, once again rely on transfers to fill the void as he looks to make this program a consistent contender. The returning group paired with the transfers coming in give the program high expectations for what they will be able to do.
Leading the transfer group is former Miami (FL) PG Chris Lykes (SR), who is only 5’7” but he plays the game with never-ending energy and will compete for the starting PG gig. He can score at all 3 levels as he averaged 14ppg over 4 seasons, but was never really a distributor at Miami, a role the Razorbacks will be looking to fill. If he can take care of the ball and push in transition to make plays he could start for Musselman as the lead guard. 6’6” wing Au’Diese Toney (SR) also comes to the program looking to start after starting and leading Pitt a season ago, putting up 14/6. He has been expanding his ability from outside and excels at attacking the rim, and should serve as a key playmaker for Musselman who is looking to replace a lot of scoring. Stanley Umude (SR) comes in from S. Dakota after 3 All-Summit selections and turning in an absolutely dominate season a year ago. He should come right in and start as a small ball 4, and at 6’6” with scoring ability at all 3 levels will be a dangerous offensive weapon for Musselman. There is no replacing what Justin Smith meant to the Razorbacks team, but this might be the closest Muss could get. Trey Wade (SR) from Wichita St will serve as a depth piece on the wing, as the 6’6” F plays a physical brand of basketball but hasn’t ever developed much of an offensive game. Jaxson Robinson (SO) out of Texas A&M will similarly fight for minutes on the wing, and came in last season as a top-75 recruit that was known as a great scorer. He could develop into a really good scorer at this level but clearly needed time to develop after only getting 9 mins/game for a bad A&M team. Muss did bring in 1 Freshman to finish out this class and it’s 6’5” G Chance Moore (#95). Moore is a lanky guard who has good athleticism and shows promise as a 3 level scorer and a strong defender. His length and feel for the game should allow him to develop into an all-conference level player down the road, but his role this season will be in relief.
Musselman has a bigger challenge than a year ago as the talent coming in isn’t quite to the level of what left campus. I do think they’ll be good enough to compete at the top ¼ of the Conference, but a 3 seed in March is not a level I expect them to reach. In Notae, Davis, Lykes, and Umude they have some proven playmakers, and it will be interesting to see how Muss deploys these weapons. I’d look for Lykes/Davis/Toney/Umude and either Vanover or Williams to start in a timeshare at the 5. Notae should play starters minutes, but he can’t be a PG and would make the Razorbacks very small. I’d expect Lykes/Davis/Notae to play together some, but that will put real stress inside on the like of Umude/Williams/Vanover to rebound at a high level and protect the rim. This team will play fast as it did a year ago and that will help, but they will likely need to ratchet up the defense even more to make up for the lack of offense. Moody and Smith were dominate forces for them and Tate led the show, which is a lot of production to try and replace. Notae was a huge spark plug for them scoring last season, but he was also very streaky. If he’s cold where can they go? That lack of a proven consistent go-to guy makes this Razorbacks’ ceiling a little lower than a year ago, but they still should go dancing come March.