Eric Musselman Did Connor Vanover a Big Favor Last Year. This Season Only Confirms It.

Connor Vanover, Eric Musselman, Arkansas basketball, Oral Roberts basketball
photo credit: Nick Wenger / Arkansas Athletics

I really don’t like the cliché “When one door closes, another opens.” Nah, sometimes the situation really sucks. Sometimes the door should’ve never closed. Sometimes, there shouldn’t have been a door or there isn’t another one to open. Sometimes there is no silver lining.

But, occasionally in life, there is a second chance. And sometimes you were better off to have someone cut ties with you. It could be a teacher, boss or coach. That’s absolutely what happened in the case of Connor Vanover, the Little Rock native and former Razorback. Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman did him a huge favor. Last season, he made it abundantly clear during the second half of the season that the 7-foot-5 forward wasn’t in his plans, so the Little Rock native rarely took off his warmup top and was relegated to cheerleader as Arkansas made an Elite 8 run.

For the record, I didn’t understand why Musselman completely wrote the tallest Razorback of all time off by December of the 2021-22 season. Vanover appears to have a good reputation throughout his collegiate career and had sat out a year after transferring to Arkansas from California.

It seemed like he had earned his marks and might have deserved a few extra minutes down the homestretch. But a 7-5 player who isn’t an offensive force inside and who isn’t making his trademark outside shots has less room for error. Or at least that was the Arkansas basketball staff’s take. Musselman shrugged it off as a “pace of play” issue. Regardless of that argument, Vanover knew he needed to leave Fayetteville, and he made an unbelievably smart decision to land at Oral Roberts University, in nearby Tulsa, Okla.

Connor Vanover Benefits from Transferring

The decision paid big dividends almost immediately. After two early-season losses to perennial mid-major powers St. Mary’s and Houston – one of the favorites to win a national championship – the Golden Eagles settled in and didn’t lose a Summit League conference game. After dominating the Summit League tournament, the Eagles enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the hotter teams in the country, riding a 17-game winning streak. 

Vanover is one of the catalysts of the success. He is averaging 12.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.3 blocks, the latter of which ranks second nationally, on his way to getting honors for Summit League Newcomer of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

He’s also shooting 33 percent from the 3-point line and, as you can see below, is looking a lot more fluid than he did last season in his limited minutes under Musselman.

Clearly, getting away from nightly battles against SEC bigs and sticking with a consistent diet of mid-major competition has been a boon for the 23-year-old, who at Oral Roberts is listed as 2 inches taller and 12 pounds heavier than what he was at Arkansas.

Joining Vanover is former Baptist Prep teammate Issac McBride, a Vanderbilt transfer averaging just over 11 points this season. McBride originally signed with Kansas out of high school. 

Arkansas basketball fans remember struggling to beat ORU two years ago in a Sweet 16 game. Max Abmas, one of the stars in that game, is still leading the charge. He averages 22 points with four rebounds and four assists and is a 3-point marksman.

More Success than Arkansas Basketball

So, the Oral Roberts basketball team is looking like the 12 or 13 seed you don’t want to see on Selection Sunday: A team loaded with veterans, who can shoot the ball and has run through its league. The Golden Eagles are rimming with confidence and have nothing to lose.

On the other hand, Arkansas was backing its way into the tournament until Thursday night. The Hogs weren’t playing well until a much needed win vs Auburn in the first round of this week’s SEC Tournament and at this point are looking to avoid the dreaded 8 or 9 seed heading into a second-round game vs Texas A&M on Friday night.

A season-ending injury to Trevon Brazile and Nick Smith Jr. missing much of the season has made for a disappointing year in what Hogs fans hoped would be a Final Four season. The disappointment is evident and the future very cloudy considering Smith and Anthony Black will most likely bolt for the NBA, while at least one or two other players may not return. 

All things considered, Connor Vanover is now in a much better situation. He has had a chance to contribute on a winning team that could make a deep tournament run, and he may have caught the attention of NBA scouts after playing a career high in minutes. It’s a good bet he will make a decent living somewhere playing basketball and now the NBA looks less like a long-shot than before. That probably would have not happened had he stayed at Arkansas, even if this version of Vanover would have actually been a good spacing with this Hogs team after Brazile went down with injury.

The best could still be coming for Vanover and ORU. Another Sweet 16 run would only enhance the profile of all of the Golden Eagles’ key players. Vanover might not have envisioned any of these scenarios when driving two hours west of northwest Arkansas for his new life. He was simply looking for somewhere he could play. Instead, he found a place he could flourish individually and be appreciated for what he does well.

It just so happens he now gets to enjoy a lot more regular-season team success than he would have had at Arkansas if he had ridden the bench for another season.


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