Breaking Down 6 Different Starting Lineups Hogs Could Deploy in 2024-25

Arkansas basketball
photo credit: FAU Athletics / Arkansas Athletics / Craven Whitlow / Tennessee Athletics

The offseason is far from over, but for Arkansas basketball, the search for core rotation players could already be at its end – despite having only nine players on scholarship.

New Arkansas basketball coach John Calipari has been vocal about focusing on only “eight to nine” guys for his first roster at the helm in Fayetteville. This doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll have only nine scholarship players come tipoff, but it does indicate that he likely already has all the high-priority, high-NIL players for the upcoming roster.

“If there’s a 10th guy, he knows he’s the 10th guy,” said Calipari, referring to managing expectations of the four remaining roster spots he has the option to fill before the season starts.

The return of Trevon Brazile put the Razorbacks at nine scholarship players for next season. His return also filled an area of need for the Hogs as a stretch big man capable of playing both the four and the five while spacing the floor, providing supplemental rim protection and generally impacting the game without needing the ball in his hands all the time.

With Brazile’s return likely finalizing the core nine-man rotation, it is about the right time for fans to start fantasizing about what potential lineups Calipari may deploy with this upcoming roster. While this kind of speculation in mid-June is about as valuable as “Way-Too-Early” preseason polls, it can still be fun.

At least with these potential lineup projections, we have a select few player stats, skill sets and positional archetypes to base things off of rather than trying to rank hundreds of newly built or revamped rosters at the same time.

So, let’s get into it.

Projected Starting Five

POSPlayer
GDJ Wagner
GJohnell Davis
FAdou Thiero
FTrevon Brazile
FJonas Aidoo

The biggest reason this is my projected starting five at this early stage is the experience this group brings to the court.

Davis has four years of collegiate experience, including a deep tournament run as the best player on a Final Four team. Aidoo and Brazile each have three years of SEC experience. Wagner will be coming into his second season under Calipari, while Thiero will be entering his third.

It’s also hard to imagine a starting five without Davis and Aidoo in it – both from an experience and skillset standpoint. Davis is the No. 1 candidate to lead the Hogs in scoring next season thanks to his all-around offensive skill set, and Aidoo is the closest Arkansas has to a true center at this point. These are the two most likely starters.

While freshmen Boogie Fland and Karter Knox are likely to provide more of an offensive punch than players like Wagner and Thiero, the defense and experience these two provide could be pivotal in setting the tone early in games. It’s also worth remembering that Wagner earned the starting position over a pair of likely lottery picks in Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham at Kentucky last season.

Brazile gets the nod from me primarily due to his size and skillset. When not asked to be an offensive facilitator or leader – like what his expectations were coming into last season – Brazile can absolutely thrive in a “dirty work” role. He can space the floor both as a spot-up shooter and vertically as a lob threat either as a roller in pick-and-roll action or as a cutter. He’s also more comfortable crashing the offensive glass than he is trying to create his own shot.

Playing Brazile next to playmakers like Davis and Wagner should, in theory, set him up for more success than asking him to create plays for himself. He’s also better defensively as a help-side shot-blocker than a primary post defender, making him more suited to play the four beside a player like Aidoo rather than serving as the backup center.

This lineup’s shortcoming, though, is consistent shooting. Davis is a knockdown scorer and Brazile has proven to be more than serviceable, but the trio of Wagner, Thiero and Aidoo combined to shoot 46-of-160 (28.8%) from long range in a combined six collegiate seasons. A step forward from any of these three players – preferably at least two of them – would make this a deadly starting lineup.

Alternate Arkansas Basketball Starting Fives

  1. Youth Prevails
POSPlayer
GBoogie Fland
GJohnell Davis
GKarter Knox
FAdou Thiero
FJonas Aidoo

In this alternate starting five, potential 2025 NBA lottery pick Boogie Fland takes the reins as the lead point guard, forming arguably one of the most explosive offensive backcourts in the country next to the scoring machine that is Johnell Davis.

Fland is obviously unproven at the college level, and it would certainly be interesting for Calipari to move away from Wagner after starting him over the offensive firepower of Sheppard and Dillingham last season, but this decision is far from impossible.

Karter Knox joins Fland as starting five-star freshmen in this scenario. Knox is the most likely candidate to earn a starting job among the four players not listed in the original projected starting five. He has a good level of experience playing with Overtime Elite. In fact, Knox actually became the first player in Nike EYBL history to lead the 15U, 16U and 17U age groups in per-minute scoring in three consecutive summers, including averaging 22 points this past summer with OTE.

Knox could quickly become a premiere scorer at the college level – he just needs to show it first. The key to him becoming a go-to player for Arkansas next season likely depends on his defensive development and ability to stay on the court even if his shot isn’t falling in a given game.

If Knox does indeed become a vital part of the offense, it will come as no surprise to see him soaking up a lion’s share of minutes on the wing regardless of who earns the starting nod. In this hypothetical, he replaces Brazile in the lineup, moving the alleged 6-foot-8 Thiero up to the four position.

Thiero was roughly 6 feet tall as a point guard late in his high school career and came into Kentucky as a freshman listed at 6-foot-4. Since he’s reportedly grown all the way to 6-foot-8 over the last couple of seasons.

Moving Knox into the starting three alongside Thiero would also allow a bit more switchability on defense and versatility on offense. While Brazile is a good spot-up shooter, Knox holds the potential to be a legit go-to scorer. Playing the four instead of the three also allows Thiero to spend more time crashing the glass and being a general pest in the paint on both sides of the ball, without worrying as much about spacing.

  1. Offensive Firepower
POSPlayer
GBoogie Fland
GJohnell Davis
GKarter Knox
FTrevon Brazile
FZvonimir Ivisic

Zvonimir “Big Z” Ivisic makes his first appearance on this list under a lineup labeled after his strong suit: offensive firepower. At a listed 7-foot-2, Ivisic shot nearly 38% from long range in 15 games for the Wildcats last season. He’s got a unique skill set that includes shooting, finishing and underrated vision for his size, making him a versatile offensive weapon.

His introduction into the lineup brings us to arguably Arkansas’ biggest potential weakness heading into next season, however, which is interior defense once Jonas Aidoo goes to the bench.

Neither Ivisic or Brazile are considered bruisers in the paint, though both have good size in terms of height and wingspan. Ivisic did rank among the elite in the SEC in terms of block rate (11.9%) during limited minutes last season, though. This metric is an estimate of the percentage of actual blocks compared to the total possible shots a player could have blocked while on the court.

Arkansas’ main centers last season – Makhi Mitchell and Chandler Lawson – posted a 7.4% and 5.9% block rate, respectively. National Player of the Year Zach Edey only posted a 6.9% block rate last season for further reference.

It’s also worth remembering that this summer will be Big Z’s first full summer in a collegiate weight room after he joined the Wildcats midway through the regular season in 2023-24. Perhaps an extra 15 pounds or so of muscle could help change this narrative and make him an even better option at backup center.

Playing the two beside each other could also allow them to help each other protect the rim even against bigger, stronger opponents, perhaps mitigating this lineup’s potential weakness.

On a more positive note, the two playing together certainly provides more floor spacing than any other lineup on this list – not to mention the 40%-plus long-range shooting of Davis combined with the projected shooting ability of both Fland and Knox.

This lineup holds the potential to be one of the best offensive units in the country next year if they’re able to hold their own on the other side of the ball enough to stay on the court together. That could become a tall task without arguably the three best projected defenders on the roster in Wagner, Thiero and Aidoo.

  1. Small Ball
POSPlayer
GBoogie Fland
GDJ Wagner
GJohnell Davis
FAdou Thiero
FTrevon Brazile

Small ball has grown in popularity at both the collegiate and professional level in recent years after being molded by the Miami Heat utilizing Chris Bosh at center during the early-2010s and perfected by the Golden State Warriors with Draymond Green as their primary center during multiple title runs.

Former Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman employed this tactic at times with Trevon Brazile when he was available in each of the two previous seasons and the matchup allowed it. Of course, against physically-dominant big men, this lineup likely wouldn’t thrive defensively.

However, this lineup does provide the first look at a true three-guard lineup similar to what Calipari has used in the past given his plethora of talent at the guard position. There were even times last year when Wagner shared the court with Sheppard and Dillingham despite all of them being relatively small.

Wagner would actually be the key in this lineup as the likely best defender amongst the guards listed. This combination would depend on his ability to defend the biggest guard on the opposing team, along with Brazile’s ability to hold his own in the paint.

On the other side of the ball, this group provides a ton of speed, a ton of playmaking and more than enough scoring weapons. Thiero would make this lineup even more potent if he takes a step forward as a spot-up shooter, but even if he’s relegated to the dunker spot – which is typically defined as the short corner between the edge of the lane and the 3-point line along the baseline – Brazile should theoretically provide enough floor spacing to make this lineup work.

The combined scoring ability of Fland and Davis with other high-IQ playmakers around them is an intimidating thought if they’re able to put it all together in this potential small-ball lineup.

  1. Tall Ball
POSPlayer
GJohnell Davis
GKarter Knox
GTrevon Brazile
FZvonimir Ivisic
FJonas Aidoo

Then, of course, there’s the opposite approach where the goal is to overwhelm on the boards and build a veritable fortress in the paint. While this lineup may be a bit of a stretch in terms of actually happening, hear me out.

Davis is a capable ball handler, and though he might not be the primary ball handler in a lot of lineups this season, he’s more than capable of creating and initiating with the ball in his hands. This lineup, however, does force him to be the lone ball handler barring Knox becoming more of a facilitator than originally expected.

The offensive game plan with this lineup would essentially be to give Davis the ball and set as many pick-and-rolls or pick-and-pops as possible until someone makes a play. Or let Knox get the ball in an isolation situation with virtually everyone else spotted up ready to knock down a jump shot.

There aren’t many other offensive options with this group. While Brazile and Ivisic do provide adequate floor spacing, neither is known to be a primary creator with the ball in their hands. Sure, either or both can make things happen from the high post or as a relay passer – making quick decisions after catching a pass from a facilitator – but you wouldn’t want to base much of your offense around them being in isolation situations.

The real benefit of this sort of lineup comes on the defensive side of the ball where virtually every position could have a size advantage against their opponent. While this could lead to the three and four on the other team having a quickness advantage over Brazile and Ivisic, it might not matter with three different 7-foot wingspans awaiting them in the paint.

Perhaps a more realistic rendition of this lineup would be to insert Thiero in place of either Brazile or Ivisic, allowing for a bit more versatility on both ends of the court with two big men on the court at once instead of all three.

  1. Young Bulls
POSPlayer
GBoogie Fland
GDJ Wagner
FKarter Knox
FBilly Richmond
FZvonimir Ivisic

While basically every single player on the upcoming roster will be a “new face” for Razorback fans, it’s always fun to imagine what a lineup consisting of the most incoming freshmen as possible would look like.

In this hypothetical, the three highly-touted recruits would share the court together while joined by the two returning sophomores from last year’s Kentucky squad in Wagner and Ivisic.

Obviously, the biggest downside with this sort of group would be overall experience, but this could be somewhat mitigated by the energy and potential chemistry built by being the young bulls on the squad together.

This lineup features two of the projected best pure scorers on the team next year with a shooting, versatile big man in Big Z. This is also our first look in this hypothetical list at incoming freshman Billy Richmond.

While Richmond was the lowest rated of the three incoming freshmen, he’s still a highly-touted recruit with a college-ready frame that could impact games with his strength, driving ability and high motor from the wing position. He may, however, be too small to play the four against certain matchups.

The defensive versatility here would allow switches on screens basically one through four, making it tough for offenses to smoothly flow through their sets. This group would get its core firepower from Fland and Knox, and could become dangerous if they get enough help. 

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