When the Arkansas Razorbacks brought in Eric Musselman as head coach, the expectations were clear.
Former head coach Mike Anderson got the Hogs to the NCAA Tournament three times in nine seasons, but Arkansas wants to be there every year in hopes of becoming the national power that the program was during the Nolan Richardson era.
So, the expectations are high for Musselman and his staff, and they’ll try to find success in their first season in Fayetteville.
Here are five storylines to watch for Arkansas during the 2019-20 college basketball season.
5. Musselman’s winning ways
Despite being a Division I head coach for only four seasons, Musselman has already achieved a tremendous amount of success. He went 110-34 in four seasons at Nevada, which included three straight seasons of 28 or more wins and three tournament bids – one of which resulted in a magical Sweet 16 run. Arkansas hasn’t posted 28 wins in a season since losing in the national title game in 1995. And while the SEC offers a tougher challenge than the Mountain West, Musselman’s track record should produce optimism within the fanbase, even if earning that many wins may be unrealistic this season.
4. Transfer central
Speaking of Musselman’s ways, college basketball fans know how successful he has been in the transfer market. Well, he’ll try to use the same method to get the Razorbacks back near the top of the SEC in a hurry. Jacksonville guard JD Notae and Stetson forward Abayomi Iyiola will sit out this season, but two grad transfers in Jeantal Cylla and Jimmy Whitt will be key parts of the rotation. Cylla averaged 13.7 points at UNC Wilmington last season and can do a little of everything. Whitt, who started his career at Arkansas before transferring to SMU, offers the athleticism and experience that Musselman is looking for in his first season. Connor Vanover, a 7-3 sophomore from Cal, could play a role as well if granted a waiver.
3. Where’s the size?
Arkansas fans have become accustomed to having tall players like Daniel Gafford and Moses Kingsley manning the paint in recent years. However, the tallest rotation player this season will likely be 6-8 sophomore Reggie Chaney. That’s not unusual for a Musselman-coached team since he values pace and space in his system. Of course, that will require everyone – guards included – to make up for the 8.3 rebounds per game that Gafford contributed a season ago. The Hogs have a lot of necessary pieces to play Musselman’s system, but rebounding must be a priority in a league filled with size and athleticism.
2. The lone senior
Adrio Bailey is the only true senior on the roster, and he’s someone the new staff will lean on for his experience. The 6-6 forward could very well factor into the mix at both the 4 and 5 spots due to the lack of size and style of play, so he’ll have opportunities to contribute in multiple ways. Bailey has started 44 games in three seasons, and again, that experience is something that will be extremely valuable considering that the majority of the frontcourt is made up of underclassmen. Bailey’s numbers may not be huge, but he figures to play an important role.
1. Elite backcourt
The SEC will feature a ton of great backcourts this season, and the Razorbacks have one that has to be included among the group. Isaiah Joe was the best shooter in the conference last season in making 113 made 3-pointers in his freshman season. Mason Jones made 76 3-pointers of his own and notched two 30-point games in league play. Jalen Harris was terrific at point guard and was tied for first in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. Desi Sills is another good shooter who came on strong during his first season. Add the experience of Whitt to the mix, and Musselman has of the most talented and versatile backcourts not only in the SEC but also in the country.
Blake Lovell is a national college basketball writer for ClutchPoints. He’s also a contributor for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview magazine. He hosts two podcasts: Marching to Madness (CBB) and Establish the Pass (NFL).