FAYETTEVILLE — There is a lot of hype surrounding this year’s Arkansas basketball team and nothing that happened in its season opener Monday night will change that.
If anything, what the No. 14 Razorbacks did in their 93-59 shellacking of Alcorn State inside Bud Walton Arena will only further ratchet up the sky-high expectations for 2023-24.
How high are they? Earlier in the day, Fox Sports pundit John Fanta not only picked Arkansas to make the final Final Four, but he has the Razorbacks winning it all for the first time in 30 years.
Of course, a 34-point beatdown of a SWAC team — albeit the two-time defending regular-season SWAC champions — isn’t the kind of thing that will have fans flocking to purchase flights to Phoenix, but one aspect of the game should come as an encouraging sign that Arkansas has finally added a key ingredient to such a postseason run.
The Razorbacks shot 12 of 30 (40%) from beyond the arc against the Braves. That is more 3s than they hit in any game last season, topping the 11 they hit against Georgia. Arkansas also shot 40% or better from deep in only eight of 36 games, and none of them features more than 20 attempts.
That shouldn’t be surprising considering Arkansas ranked 326th nationally in 3-point shooting last year at an abysmal 31.3%.
“It was really important that I didn’t keep hearing about it from (the media) and everybody else about our shooting,” head coach Eric Musselman said with a smile. “We tried to address it. I think we addressed it, but only time will tell.”
It’s still very early, with only one real game on the books, but the sample size is starting to increase and it’s starting to look like Musselman accomplished that goal.
Between the Red-White Showcase, two exhibitions and season opener, Arkansas is shooting 39.1% from distance and averaging 29 attempts in the three games against outside competition. In those same events last year, the Razorbacks shot just 31.0% and averaged 13.3 attempts when excluding the intrasquad scrimmage.
|Event||2022-23 Team||2023-24 Team|
|Red-White Showcase||7 of 31 (22.6%)||14 of 28 (50%)|
|DII Exhibition||7 of 18 (38.9%)|
(vs. Rogers State)
|11 of 34 (32.4%)|
(vs. UT Tyler)
|Charity Exhibition||4 of 12 (33.3%)|
|8 of 23 (34.8%)|
|Season Opener||4 of 10 (40%)|
(vs. North Dakota State)
|12 of 30 (40%)|
(vs. Alcorn State)
|TOTALS||22 of 71 (31.0%)|
|45 of 115 (39.1%)|
|SEASON||31.3% on 15.9 attempts||TBA|
That’s significant because those numbers aren’t too far off from where Arkansas ended up last season. The competition has been similar, so it would probably like that trend to continue in 2023-24.
Making Monday’s shooting performance particularly impressive is the the Razorbacks started the game 1 of 6 and then made just two of their final 11 attempts. In between, they were scorching hot for about 15 minutes that spanned the end of the first half and beginning of the season half, knocking down 9 of 13.
Arkansas also did it without arguably two of its best pure shooters, as Cincinnati transfer Jeremiah Davenport was ice cold, missing his first five 3s before finally knocking one down, and sophomore Joseph Pinion didn’t even take one until the final three minutes, when the game was already well in hand.
In their place, Temple transfer Khalif Battle and Houston transfer Tramon Mark filled it up. Battle finished with a game-high 21 points and shot 3 of 6 from deep, while Mark was right behind him with 16 points on 4 of 6 shooting from downtown.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life,” Battle said. “Not to be cocky or anything like that, but I’ve been a scorer my whole life. My grandma always told me, when you know who you are, you know what you do.”
The Razorbacks also got one 3-pointer apiece from Trevon Brazile (on 2 attempts), Pinion (2 attempts), Davonte Davis (3 attempts) and El Ellis (4 attempts), on top of Davenport’s lone make.
It’s Official: Brazile is Back
He showed some flashes in the exhibition games, but if there were any lingering concerns about Trevon Brazile returning from his torn ACL, he needed only 19 seconds to erase them Monday night.
On the first possession of the 2023-24 season, the 6-foot-10 big man blew by his defender and threw down a one-handed slam to open the scoring. Around the 15-minute mark, he added a two-handed dunk late in the shot clock after some excellent ball movement.
However, Brazile’s biggest highlight came a couple minutes later. He received a pass from Jeremiah Davenport in the paint, went up and dunked right on top of Alcorn State’s Trevon Stoutermire, who stands 6-foot-8, 200 pounds.
The way he dunked in the game’s opening seven minutes, you would have had no idea that it was just his third game — and first that actually counted — back from tearing his ACL last December.
“I think our trainers and doctors and TB himself, they did a phenomenal job of being patient,” Musselman said. “I thought the timeline that we all put together was awesome. We were a little conservative on the front end, and now he’s able to play the way that he’s capable of playing.
“I thought athletically tonight, he rose above a lot of people. Yeah, I would say he’s 100% healthy and kind of fearless the way he’s jumping and rebounding in traffic.”
Brazile’s night may have already been over anyways, but he was ejected midway through the second half for leaving the bench following a hard foul on teammate Khalif Battle, providing Musselman with a teaching moment.
It didn’t put too much of a damper on his performance, though. He finished with 13 points on 4 of 5 shooting, including 1 of 2 from beyond the arc, and made all four of his free throws while also adding six rebounds and one steal. The Razorbacks were plus-23 in his 22 minutes on the floor.
“He was out for like nine months, so I feel like it’s really underrated to see what he’s doing and how confident he is in his work and in his craft,” Battle said. “He’s a hard-worker. But to see him go out there after missing the whole season to a tragic injury, it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
Sorting Out the Arkansas Basketball Rotation
All 13 scholarship players for Arkansas basketball saw the floor and played at least three minutes in the first half of the game against Alcorn State. It wasn’t until the closing minutes of the game, but even the two walk-ons got some action.
That’s a stark contrast to how Eric Musselman typically rolls, but don’t expect that to continue as the season progresses.
“Guys are playing their ways into rotations and guys are playing their ways out, that’s just kind of how it happens,” Musselman said. “But we’ll probably shorten the rotation. When that is, I don’t know. The game will dictate it.”
Exactly how much he’ll shorten it remains to be seen, but he said playing all 13 guys is “unrealistic.” He mentioned possibly going as deep as eight or nine, but in the past, it’s been more like 7.5 — meaning seven or eight players depending on the game.
“You want players to be able to feel they can play through mistakes, as well,” Musselman said. “Sometimes I think when you extend the rotation, guys might not feel that way.”
**check back later for more stats, tidbits and notes from the Arkansas vs Alcorn State season opener**
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