Arkansas Breaks 28-Year Preseason Ranking Drought Despite Slip from ‘Way-Too-Early’ Polls

Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

Preseason hype for Arkansas basketball is officially at its highest point since the Razorbacks were on top of the college basketball world.

Arkansas checks in at No. 10 in the preseason AP Poll, which dropped Monday. This is the program’s first time in the AP’s preseason top 10 since entering the 1994-95 season at No. 1, fresh off a national title.

The only SEC team ranked higher than the Razorbacks is Kentucky at No. 4. The two teams are set to play twice in 2022-23, first at Rupp Arena on Feb. 7 and then at Bud Walton Arena to close out the regular season on March 4.

Tennessee (No. 11), Auburn (No. 15) and Alabama (No. 20) are also in the top 25, giving the SEC five ranked teams in the preseason. That is tied with the Big 12 for the most of any conference.

Half of the Big 12 is ranked, headlined by Baylor and Kansas tied at No. 5. The Bears will host Arkansas in this year’s Big 12/SEC Challenge on Jan. 28. The Razorbacks will also play No. 12 Texas in an exhibition game in Austin on Oct. 29, but that game won’t count on either team’s postseason resume.

Arkansas is guaranteed to play at least one preseason ranked team at the Maui Invitational next month, as it will face either No. 9 Creighton or No. 25 Texas Tech in the second game. There is potential for another, with No. 17 Arizona and No. 19 San Diego State on the other side of the bracket.

Arkansas’ Fall From ‘Way-Too-Early’ No. 1

While the No. 10 preseason ranking is the Razorbacks’ highest in 28 years, it is still a ways off from where many experts had them immediately following the season.

Several outlets, including ESPN and Sports Illustrated, actually put Arkansas at No. 1 in their “way-too-early” rankings for the 2022-23 season. Those rankings were contingent on a few things that didn’t shake out as they were initially predicted.

JD Notae and Au’Diese Toney could have returned as super seniors, with the latter being the most likely, but neither did. There was also the looming decision for Jaylin Williams, who ultimately decided to stick in the NBA Draft and was a second-round pick by the Thunder.

When the dust settled, only two players from last year’s Elite Eight team — Davonte Davis and Kamani Johnson — remained. However, the Razorbacks did bring in the No. 2 signing class, highlighted by a trio of McDonald’s All-Americans, and one of the top portal hauls in the country.

Heralded freshman Nick Smith Jr. has been discussed as the top NBA prospect playing college basketball this year and is widely presumed to follow in Moses Moody’s footsteps as the second one-and-done in UA history. Fellow five-star prospects Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh could potentially join him, too.

The incoming transfers are highlighted by Trevon Brazile from Missouri and Ricky Council IV from Wichita State, both of whom are expected to be significant contributors. A 25-point effort by Arizona State transfer Jalen Graham in the Red-White Game could also have him in the mix after a quiet showing in Europe.

Dick Vitale High on Arkansas Basketball

Even with with all of the departures from last year’s team, not everyone has jumped off the Arkansas basketball bandwagon.

Legendary ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale still has the Razorbacks at No. 3 in his preseason rankings. They are behind only blue-blood programs North Carolina and Kentucky, but ahead of Houston and Gonzaga.

“Eric Musselman has done a solid job with the Razorbacks and he has another deep and talented squad,” Vitale wrote. “He has one of the nation’s most anticipated diaper dandies in Nick Smith (and) the transfer portal was vital again… Musselman has won 53 games over the last two years and expects more big things.”

Preseason KenPom Ratings

Although it arrived with much less fanfare than the preseason AP Poll, Ken Pomeroy released his preseason ratings Sunday and Arkansas basketball came in at No. 14.

That is fourth in the SEC, which actually has the preseason No. 1 team in Kentucky. Tennessee clocks in at No. 4 and Auburn is just ahead of the Razorbacks at No. 13.

In Pomeroy’s analytical system based entirely on efficiency calculations, the Razorbacks are No. 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 6 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to the KenPom preseason projections.

Arkansas has ended each of the last two seasons at No. 18 on KenPom.

The NCAA has its own separate NET rating to determine which quadrant games appear on NCAA Tournament resumes, but KenPom is a good starting point.

Treating the preseason KenPom ratings as NET ratings, the Razorbacks have at least 13 Quadrant 1 opportunities on their 2022-23 schedule. As long as they don’t face Cincinnati from the other side of the Maui Invitational bracket, that number jumps up to 14.

They also have another nine Q2 opportunities, or 10 if the Cincinnati matchup happens. That is 23 of 31 regular-season games. The remaining eight opponents qualify as three Q3 and five Q4 games for Arkansas.

Last season, using numbers on Selection Sunday, the Razorbacks played 19 Q1/Q2 games — and that included a pair of games in the SEC Tournament.


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