With Musselman, Arkansas is Rediscovering Path to Gloryby mikeursery February 7, 2020 0 comments
Going from a mid-major to a Power 5 conference school seems like a big jump for a head coach. It hasn’t seemed that way so far for Eric Musselman and the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Arkansas decided it had enough of Mike Anderson as the Head Hog on the hardwood. The former assistant under Nolan Richardson was fired after the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. Arkansas hired Musselman soon after, looking for a new direction for the program.
Musselman posted a 110-34 record with the Nevada Wolfpack in four seasons, winning at least 20 games in each season. Also, the Wolfpack reached the Sweet 16 for just the second time in school history in 2018. Nevada won 29 games in each of its last two seasons.
This is the kind of success Arkansas has not seen since the 1990s and early 2000s under Richardson. A program and fan base that thirst for a return to consistent Sweet 16 appearances and beyond may have found that route with Musselman.
At this point in the season, the Razorbacks are 16-6 overall and 4-5 in the SEC. The non-conference schedule was mostly tame, but Arkansas did manage to pick up a pair of key wins over Georgia Tech and Indiana. The Razorbacks went into conference play with a 12-1 record but lost five of nine since the conference slate began.
That record shouldn’t be taken at face value, however. The conference schedule is not that easy. The SEC could have as many as six teams go dancing in March, with another 1-2 teams possibly sneaking in. Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology update projects the Razorbacks as the No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region.
So far, the Razorbacks’ five conference losses have come by less than eight points. They lost by two points to No. 18 LSU in Baton Rouge. They had No. 10 Kentucky on the ropes at Bud Walton Arena but took their foot off the gas in the second half when it appeared that they would close out the win. Most recently, they fell by three points in an overtime loss against No. 11 Auburn.
How the Razorbacks fare the rest of the regular season will tell just where this program is in terms of competing. Arkansas has road games against Tennessee and Florida, and a home date for a rematch against LSU. Stealing one or two of these games improves the Razorbacks’ chances of getting a higher seed. They still have to play in the SEC Tournament, however.
The players quickly bought into Musselman after he arrived, or so it seems. Junior guard Mason Jones has become something of a breakout star in Fayetteville. His 20.7 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game and 3.5 assists per game lead the team. Senior guard Jimmy Whitt, Jr. and sophomore guard Isaiah Joe are also averaging double figures in scoring.
The fans are also buying into what Musselman brings. Bud Walton Arena continues to be one of the toughest atmospheres in the SEC. Musselman can be seen shaking hands and taking group selfies with fans after games. Fan interest took a hit during the Stan Heath and John Pelphrey eras. It made a climb while Mike Anderson was the head coach. It’s returning to its peak under Musselman.
Arkansas likely won’t make the Sweet 16 or even beyond this season. An early exit from the NCAA Tournament won’t be the standard, however. With Musselman at the helm, the potential for the Razorbacks is a return to glory not seen since 1994.