It was about this time last year that excitement for Arkansas basketball reached a fever pitch.
Coming off a second straight Elite Eight appearance and with a trio of five-star recruits — including Anthony Black, who had just committed at the McDonald’s All-American Game — coming in, the Razorbacks were widely viewed as legitimate Final Four contenders.
Those expectations went to another level when ESPN and Sports Illustrated tabbed Arkansas as preseason No. 1 in their “way-too-early” top 25 rankings.
The Razorbacks fell well short of that, but did make a run in the NCAA Tournament, knocking off defending national champion and top-seed Kansas to reach the Sweet 16. It was their third straight year making it to the second weekend of the Big Dance, something it had failed to do even once in the previous 23 tournaments.
Whether it’s a good thing or not, those expectations aren’t going away. National analysts aren’t quite as high on it in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s national championship game as they were last year, but Arkansas is still getting plenty of love in numerous “way-too-early” rankings.
Best of Arkansas Sports compiled 11 such polls and the Razorbacks were one of 15 teams that cracked the top 25 in each of them. They were as high as No. 7 (The Sporting News) and as low as No. 19 (Sports Illustrated). Here’s where the others have Arkansas:
- 247Sports: No. 9
- FoxSports: No. 9
- Aaron Torres: No. 10
- ESPN: No. 12
- CBS Sports: No. 12
- HeatCheckCBB: No. 13
- The Athletic: No. 17
- USA Today: No. 18
- Jon Rothstein: No. 18
However, many of those rankings were working on the assumption that Ricky Council IV would return, but the Razorbacks’ leading scorer declared for the NBA Draft on Tuesday. They also assume that Davonte Davis will ultimately withdraw his name, but for now, he is also entering the NBA Draft. Jordan Walsh’s decision is also unknown, but as a projected second-round pick, most of the rankings included him as a returner.
As projected lottery picks, Nick Smith Jr. (already declared) and Anthony Black are assumed gone. Even if Davis and Walsh join them and Council, Eric Musselman has developed a reputation for bringing in coveted players from the transfer portal.
“Given Eric Musselman’s track record, we can safely assume the projected starting lineup today will look vastly different two or three months from now,” ESPN’s Jeff Borzello wrote. “We can also assume it will feature plenty of talent.”
As the name of the polls suggest, it is way too early to project the potential of the 2023-24 Razorbacks because there’s no telling who will be on their roster by the time the season rolls around. That said, the Razorbacks likely won’t slip much because they’ve proven to be a force in the NCAA Tournament under Musselman.
“Because it’s Arkansas, you know they’ll be active in the portal, and have already been linked to a ton of guys,” Aaron Torres wrote. “Regardless of who stays and who goes, you know the Hogs will have a team ready to compete at the highest level next year.”
The first of what could be several transfer additions happened on Tuesday. Guard Keyon Menifield Jr., a Pac-12 All-Freshman team selection at Washington, announced his commitment to the Razorbacks.
Way-Too-Early Composite College Basketball Poll
We also combined those rankings into a single composite poll, by giving the No. 1 team in each individual ranking 25 points, the No. 2 team 24 points and so on to the No. 25 team receiving 1 point.
Despite being the No. 1 team in only two polls, Marquette came out on top in the composite, just ahead of UConn. The national champions are No. 1 in seven of the polls. The other two rankings have Duke in the top spot.
Those three schools are 1-2-3 in our composite “way-too-early” poll, with Purdue and Creighton rounding out the top five. That means three of the top five spots belong to schools in the Big East.
Arkansas checks in at No. 15, with Alabama (No. 9) and Kentucky (No. 11) being the only SEC schools ahead of it in the composite. Texas A&M (No. 16), Tennessee (No. 19) and Auburn (No. 25) are also in the top 25, with Missouri and Mississippi State ranked in at least one individual poll, landing them in the “receiving votes” section of the composite.
All together, 39 different teams were included in at least one of the 11 way-too-early polls used for the composite, which can be found in its entirety below:
|Team||Conference||Points||2022-23 Record (postseason)|
|1. Marquette||Big East||258||29-7 (Round of 32)|
|2. UConn||Big East||257||31-8 (National Champions)|
|3. Duke||ACC||239||27-9 (Round of 32)|
|4. Purdue||Big Ten||234||29-6 (Round of 64)|
|5. Creighton||Big East||219||24-13 (Elite Eight)|
|6. Miami (Fla.)||ACC||192||29-8 (Final Four)|
|7. Michigan State||Big Ten||187||21-13 (Sweet 16)|
|8. Kansas||Big 12||181||28-8 (Round of 32)|
|9. Alabama||SEC||175||31-6 (Sweet 16)|
|10. Florida Atlantic||AAC||172||35-4 (Final Four)|
|11. Kentucky||SEC||164||22-12 (Round of 32)|
|12. Houston||Big 12||157||33-4 (Sweet 16)|
|13. UCLA||Pac-12||155||31-6 (Sweet 16)|
|14. Arizona||Pac-12||147||28-7 (Round of 64)|
|15. Arkansas||SEC||142||22-14 (Sweet 16)|
|16. Texas A&M||SEC||101||25-10 (Round of 64)|
|17. Baylor||Big 12||90||23-11 (Round of 32)|
|18. Gonzaga||WCC||89||31-6 (Elite Eight)|
|19. Tennessee||SEC||57||25-11 (Sweet 16)|
|20. San Diego State||MWC||55||32-7 (National Runner-Up)|
|21. Texas||Big 12||53||29-9 (Elite Eight)|
|22. North Carolina||ACC||50||20-13 (missed postseason)|
|23. Saint Mary’s||WCC||43||27-8 (Round of 32)|
|24. USC||Pac-12||41||22-11 (Round of 64)|
|25. Auburn||SEC||18||21-13 (Round of 32)|
Arkansas Basketball in One Shining Moment
Six years ago, when it was a couple of bad calls away from knocking off eventual national champion North Carolina in the second round, Arkansas was completely left out of the “One Shining Moment” montage CBS puts together at the end of every NCAA Tournament.
That didn’t happen Monday night, as the Razorbacks made five appearances in the three-minute clip. Here’s a rundown:
- 0:23 – Kamani Johnson going up for the tip vs. Illinois
- 0:29 – Mahki Mitchell defending a 3-pointer by Kansas’ Gradey Dick
- 1:10 – Eric Musselman celebrating with his shirt off after the Kansas win
- 1:33 – Ricky Council IV, Anthony Black and Davonte Davis celebrating
- 1:42 – Kamani Johnson, Eric Musselman and Jordan Walsh celebrating in the locker room
Moore coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…