It had been a while since the Razorbacks have been competing late into March Madness, but last season Arkansas surprised many by making it to the Elite Eight and having a high finish in the SEC. Now heading into this season, the question comes down to whether or not Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks are ready to make the jump this season or if this team is one that maybe struggles a little bit. While recruiting going into next season has fans excited for the future, there’s no time like the present and this team has a chance to achieve high levels of success this season. With a good group of returning talent, plus a few key transfer additions, this Arkansas team has what it takes to not only contend for an SEC title but make a deep NCAA Tournament run as well.
While adding in transfers is the trend that Eric Musselman has dominated since becoming a head coach, Devo Davis is the star of this team and should be treated as such. The potential SEC Preseason Player of the year is one of the most electrifying guards in the sport, he’s a quick and athletic guard, who is an absolute ball-hawk on the defensive end. Offensively he really improved throughout last season, becoming a good scorer from driving to the rim and he has an ability to make mid-range jumpers, and while he isn’t a good three-point shooter, he will look to develop that this season. Davis is also an elite passer, who will set up the rest of the Razorbacks offensively with many open three-point attempts due to his ability to attack the paint and make opponents switch onto him.
While Davis should run the point, Arkansas still has a plethora of transfers to fill out the rotation. Chris Lykes looks to move into a spot where he could play both on and off the ball next to Davis. Lykes is a good scorer, passer, and shooter, who excels in an up-tempo system. Yes, being 5’7 will make him somewhat of a liability on the defensive end, but he will make that up offensively and should be in a situation where they hide him on that end. Au’Diese Toney put up good numbers playing in an off-ball situation at Pittsburgh, now the question becomes whether or not he can improve as a shooter and defender while taking a lesser role. Stanley Umude is a 6’6 combo forward that is a high-level scorer and elite rebounder, who should transition nicely into being the starting four-man for this team.
JD Notae returns to Arkansas and might fill in as the sixth man once again this season. Notae is a terrific defender, good shooter, and scorer, while he can create offense for teammates. Notae’s one of those players whose name isn’t going to show up in the box score but good things happen when he plays. Jaylin Williams looks to start at the five this season where he should be poised for a monster season now that he’s established himself as a go-to option. While Williams struggled to find minutes throughout the regular season, when it mattered most, Williams showed his ability to dominate the interior with his size, physicality, and ability to both score and rebound at a high level.
Musselman-coached teams are often narrowed down to 6-7 players and while that six-man rotation seems intact, that most certainly can change. KK Robinson failed to break the rotation but seems poised to have some impact, he’s a lead guard that can set things up offensively but needs to improve over this offseason. Trey Wade is a 6’7 forward that brings in wing versatility and some offensive creation. Kamani Johnson could create some additional interior offense and rebounding but at 6’7, he might have a limited role. Chance Moore is a 6’5 freshman that brings in the ability to score from the perimeter and could be a long-term option at the guard spot. Add in Connor Vanover, who is 7’3 and is a good shooter, although he is a liability defensively when asked to switch.
This Razorbacks team is going to take time to develop, much as was the case a season ago. While the pieces are similar to the ones from a season ago, when transfers/ freshmen come in, there’s always an adjustment period where players need to get used to one another. That said, this is a team that should once again be playing well late in the season and have a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
This Razorbacks team should excel defensively with Devo Davis setting the tone by picking up full-court, Jaylin Williams being a defensive center and rebounder, plus a good collection of wing defenders. While the defense probably takes a step back, with Jalen Tate and Justin Smith both gone, the offense is also much improved. Stanley Umude is one of the best scoring forwards in the sport, Chris Lykes is a great scorer, while the team should get more offensive production out of sophomores like Davis, Williams, and Robinson. Now the question becomes whether this team can come together in March and achieve levels of success not seen since the Nolan Richardson era, as they hope to make it to the Final Four.
PG: Devo Davis
SG: Chris Lykes
SF: Au’Diese Toney
PF: Stanley Umude
C: Jaylin Williams
B1: JD Notae
B2: KK Robinson
B3: Trey Wade
B4: Chance Moore
B5: Connor Vanover