FAYETTEVILLE — Even after doubling the size of its transfer portal haul since the early signing period, Arkansas football is not yet done bringing in new players.
The Razorbacks put the finishing touches on their 20-man high school class by officially signing tight end Shamar Easter on Wednesday, the first day of the traditional signing period.
They also announced the addition of five transfers who have already enrolled and will go through spring ball, giving Arkansas 10 total transfers. However, head coach Sam Pittman said he still has room to add nine more for 2023.
“There’s 85 scholarships and we’re at 76,” Pittman said. “Once you get to 76, if you look at it as an NFL pattern, they’re at 53 and they seem to be able to get pretty good players out there, so I think right now would be the best players available.”
While he said the plan is to target the best available, it does sound like the Razorbacks have an idea of how to divvy up their remaining scholarships.
On the offensive side of the ball, Arkansas is set at quarterback and running back, but the other positions could stand to add more. Despite already bringing in three wide receivers, Pittman said he’d be open to adding another “dynamic one.”
He would also like to add an “older” tight end and another offensive lineman — specifically one who can play center because they lost Ricky Stromberg, Luke Jones and Marcus Henderson from last year’s team.
“I’d like to look at another guy that can snap the ball,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to find maybe one more. In losing guys last year, a bunch of those guys could snap. Obviously Ricky played center, but Jones could snap.”
Defensively, the Razorbacks need another interior defensive lineman and linebacker simply from a depth perspective.
They signed six high school defensive backs and have added a pair of transfers from Baylor, but Pittman said Arkansas “certainly would entertain others there.”
Even including that influx of players, the Razorbacks are set to have only 15 scholarship defensive backs next season because of the mass exodus this offseason that saw 11 players in the secondary transfer out.
“For me, it’s about what’s best for the roster, and that’s for Coach Pittman to decide,” co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Marcus Woodson said. “When it comes to Coach Wilson and myself, we’re going to be prepared with the guys that can help us win in the secondary that are available. At the end of the day, I’ll add all nine to the secondary if he allows that, and we’re going to have the guys in position where we can do it.”
Sam Pittman Press Conference Updates
Head coach Sam Pittman met with reporters for about 20 minutes Wednesday afternoon to discuss the newest Razorbacks — both players (high school signees/transfers) and coaches.
Here are some updates from that interview…
On his new assistants: They’re outstanding men, outstanding coaches. I’m really honored they chose to come to Arkansas and coach with me.
On the newest player additions: Since we last talked, we’ve added three guys on offense and three guys on defense. We’ve signed 20 high school players. I believe that should be our minimum. Times change – the portal window and things like that – but we still need to recruit high school players. We’ve signed 10 transfers so far and we have nine scholarships still remaining. 12 high school kids are here and eight will be here this summer. All of the transfers are here.
On the Hogs landing all of their in-state targets: Our No. 1 goal each year is to keep everyone we’ve offered in the state. We’ve done that pretty well. Our high school coaches in the state are tremendous to us. We want to be good to them, as well. When the fourth quarter comes, it means a little bit more to a guy who’s been born and raised an Arkansas fan. Seems like there’s even more in next year’s class.
On his pursuit of Dan Enos: As soon as I found out there was interest in Coach Briles to leave – maybe 3 or 5 or 10 minutes after that (is when I reached out to Enos). I’ve had respect for Dan Enos for a long, long time. He was my boss last time. I was very comfortable working for him and I hope he feels the same about me.
On Dan Enos’ offensive scheme: Offensively, Dan has always – here, at Alabama, at Maryland – ran an offense around his personnel and their talents. That starts at the quarterback positions. He knew what we had and we’re going to use KJ’s abilities to the fullest. Since he left Arkansas, he’s been in multiple offensive philosophies, so I think he can and will adjust.
On his new defensive assistants: When I interviewed Travis Williams, I knew he was the guy. … You better have good recruiters and recruiters are usually good people. I thought Marcus Woodson is one of the best DB coaches in America and he’s a better man. He’s a recruiting machine. Deron Wilson comes from a family of a coach, a well-respected coach and recruiter. He’s a different guy. He’s not his uncle. He’s got Louisiana ties and we need to get involved in that state a little bit more.
On the roles of Williams and Woodson: Travis Williams is the defensive coordinator and Marcus is the co-(defensive coordinator). He’ll handle everything on the back end. He’s the man back there. He deserved that title because of his experience. Plus there’s no way I could have hired him without giving him that title.
On security Shamar Easter after he didn’t sign early: Coach Turner did a great job of building a relationship with Shamar. He wanted to come to Arkansas for a long, long time. Sometimes there’s panic when there’s change.
Watch the Sam Pittman press conference here:
New Assistants Press Conference Updates
Following Pittman’s press conference, the three newest assistants — offensive coordinator Dan Enos, co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach Marcus Woodson and secondary coach Deron Wilson — also answered questions for about 20 minutes.
Here are some updates from that interview…
Dan Enos, on his offense: In this game, it’s constantly evolving. You can either adapt and evolve with it, or get left behind. I try to stay on the cutting edge. Going to different places, I’ve learned all of the different things. The RPO is a whole new realm that we didn’t do the first time around. You also want to do things your personnel can do.
Dan Enos, on KJ Jefferson compared to Taulia Tagovailoa: There are actually some similarities. KJ reminds me of Jalen Hurts, too. I like finding comparisons. I’ve coached a lot of QBs over the years. They’re all different. No two are the same. But the great ones I’ve been around, there are similar characteristics.
Deron Wilson, on what drew him to Arkansas: The person who drew me here was Coach Pittman. He’s a stand-up, great guy. As soon as the opportunity came open, I reached out to some mentors and they said he would be the best head coach I’ve ever worked for. When people you trust say those things, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Deron Wilson, on how he’ll sell Arkansas to recruits: The first thing when you think of the University of Arkansas, if you go to other states, you have all these pro teams. In Arkansas, you have the University of Arkansas. It’s the flagship program. Kids grow up wanting to come here. Your pitch is that this is the pro team.
Marcus Woodson, on how he’ll sell Arkansas to recruits: I don’t sell anything. To me, it’s about the people. I feel this is the best staff in the country. You get what you see. When it comes to development, I feel like we’re the best in the country. Also, it’s Arkansas – it can open up doors beyond football that will benefit you in life. Once you come and visit this place, it speaks for yourself. That’s the key, getting them on campus.
Marcus Woodson, on his recruiting territories: When it comes to defensive backs, we’re going to recruit the best ones in the country regardless of location. That said, I’m most experienced in the southeast. Mississippi is my home state, so I feel like SEC-caliber recruits there, we’ll have a chance to compete for. I’ve recruited Dallas and some other areas in Texas. Having Coach Wilson from Louisiana, that should help, as well.
Marcus Woodson, on how he improved Florida State’s secondary: Florida State was pretty bad when we first got there, as well. It took some work to get where we were when I left. So I think that experience should help me here. The main thing after watching film, I want us to be intentional with everything we do. The pieces are there with the guys we have on campus now. We can win with them. At the end of the day, I want to be super competitive. We can clean up some of the fundamentals. That’s going to fix a lot of the problems. I expect us to go from last to one of the top in the country.
Dan Enos, on being back in Fayetteville: It’s been a whirlwind because it happened very quickly. It’s been really good because I have a lot of familiarity with Fayetteville. I haven’t had to use the GPS. That’s usually a struggle when you go somewhere. … The passion that the fans have for this university and being out with Coach Pittman and people talking to him, it’s a very special and unique place. So it was easy to come back.
Marcus Woodson, on working with Travis Williams: We’re brothers. We were at Auburn together and we hit it off right away and felt like we knew each other for a lifetime. His wife and my wife, his kids and my kids, we’re one family. He’s the defensive coordinator and he’s the chief of that room. My sole focus is primarily the back seven and how we do things to get the back end cleaned up.
Dan Enos, on impressions of Sam Pittman: When Coach Pittman got the job, a lot of people asked me about it. I said he would be a great coach because he’s very smart and organized and a great communicator. And the players loved him. He wasn’t their friend, but he demands respect by the way he coaches and teaches. I figured he’d be a great football coach.
Dan Enos, on his experience as a head coach: Having been a head coach, I feel like I’m a better assistant coach. There aren’t a lot of days off when you sit in that chair. You understand the pressure and things that come with that. I try to take a step back and look at the head coach’s vision and how I can help him with that. Being a head coach before has given me more appreciation for them.
Watch the Deron Wilson, Marcus Woodson and Dan Enos press conference here:
Despite the area being hammered by snow, sleet and ice, Arkansas basketball threw quite the block party for the Mitchell twins’ birthday Tuesday night.
The Razorbacks rejected 13 shots — most of which were by Makhel and Makhi Mitchell themselves — and never trailed in an 81-70 win over Texas A&M at Bud Walton Arena.
It was one shy of matching the UA record in an SEC game, which they set four years ago against Georgia, and easily the most in any game during the Eric Musselman era, topping the 11 Arkansas (15-7, 4-5 SEC) had against Alabama two years ago.
While Jalen Graham notched the first two and Ricky Council IV skied to get the final one, the 10 in between were all by the Mitchell twins, who were celebrating their 23rd birthday.
“As I left tonight heading to the arena, one thing my wife said was, ‘Make sure you start the Mitchell twins, because it’s their birthday,’” Musselman said. “I said, ‘Yeah, okay. Thanks, Danyelle.’ Both of them were good. I mean, that’s a lot of blocked shots.”
For much of the season, Makhi Mitchell has had the bigger role. He’s played more than twice as many minutes as his brother and started all but one game.
That flipped against the Aggies (15-7, 7-2), as Makhel Mitchell flirted with a triple-double and finished with 9 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and seven blocks, which tied the UA record for a regular-season SEC game and was one shy of his career high set at Rhode Island last season.
The 6-foot-10 big man proudly wore his green “Glass Cleaner” jacket — presented in the locker room after each game to the Razorbacks’ top rebounder — into the postgame interview room.
“Coach emphasizes going vertical and stuff,” Mitchell said of his performance. “Me and my brother actually put in our own drills that could help us defensively in a game, and it showed tonight with the seven blocks and also rebounding as well. It just started in practice.”
Even though he hasn’t played in six of Arkansas’ 22 games this season, with only one of those being because of an injury, Mitchell is second to only his brother in total blocked shots this season.
When factoring in the discrepancy in playing time, Mitchell is by far the top shot blocker on the team, averaging 5.2 blocks per 40 minutes. His brother, by comparison, is averaging just 2.9. The last Arkansas player with a better rate in a season was Moses Kingsley, who averaged 5.3 per 40 minutes as a freshman in 2013-14.
Musselman credits his “great anticipation” for that shot blocking ability, plus said he was also a factor in Texas A&M having zero dunks and being just 15 of 39 on layups, according to the UA stat broadcast, even if it doesn’t necessarily show up in his stat line.
“I think he gets off the floor way better maybe than someone his size and weight (usually does),” Musselman said. “He does get off the floor quickly. He anticipates. Long arms, he takes pride in blocking shots. I thought he had some great verticality, too, maybe where he wasn’t credited with a blocked shot, but he altered some shots.”
Making the performance that much more impressive is the fact that Mitchell is still only 10 days removed from suffering what he described as a “really bad” foot sprain in the win over Ole Miss.
He was originally believed to be out 1.5-2.5 weeks, but ended up missing only one game and returning seven days later, recording 4 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks 23 minutes against Baylor on Saturday.
“I’ve just been working, getting up (for) treatment early with the trainer and stuff, trying to get back on the court,” Mitchell said. “Then most of the time, I was just pushing through it because I know I’m tough, and I can fight through things like that, and that’s what I did tonight.”
Missing five games because of a coach’s decision and averaging only 10.7 minutes when he has gotten on the floor, all while watching his brother carve out a significant role on the team, Mitchell could have easily had a bad attitude about how the season has played out, but he told Chuck Barrett on the UA’s postgame radio show that he’s just trusted the process and Musselman.
That paid off in Tuesday’s game, which actually marked the third time he’s started alongside Makhi Mitchell this season. Although Musselman had said it was his wife’s suggestion, in the press conference the 58-year-old coach smirked and said he didn’t start them only because it was their birthday.
Instead, he revealed in the postgame radio show that it was a strategic move to counter Texas A&M big men Henry Coleman III and Julius Marble, who are physical rebounders and do a good job of pinning guys in the block to open up dribble drives for guards.
Regardless of the reasoning, it was obvious Makhel Mitchell appreciated playing with his brother, who had a solid game with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks in 15 minutes.
“It’s amazing,” Mitchell said. “It’s always good to play with my brother. We get out there and share the court together, do our jobs and go by the game plan and execute.”
Council and Davis Stay Hot
The Mitchell twins might have thrown the block party, but Ricky Council IV and Davonte Davis brought the fireworks.
None were bigger than the fast-break reverse dunk by Council as Texas A&M was trying to rally for a come-from-behind victory. After Makhel Mitchell’s fifth block and 10th rebound, the ball ended up in Anthony Black’s hands and he pushed the ball forward to the Wichita State transfer streaking down the court.
With no one between him and the rim, Council not only finished with authority, but did so in style — earning the No. 1 play on SportsCenter in the process.
He added four more free throws after the dunk, but it was definitely the highlight of his 19-point outing. Even though he was just 1 of 7 from beyond the arc, Council was still 6 of 16 overall from the floor — a solid encore from his 25-point, 10-of-17 performance at Baylor.
Davis matched him in the scoring column with a season-high 19 points on a more efficient 7 of 13 shooting. It was his seventh straight game in double figures, a stretch in which he’s reached at least 16 points in every game.
“When you have two players like Ricky and Devo that can create and get their own shots, it opens things up,” Musselman said. “And certainly, the shot selection that Davonte’s had from 3 has been really good with his feet set. He’s shooting the ball at a really good clip of late from 3.”
Davis missed his first two 3-pointers Tuesday night, but then made four of his next six to finished 4 of 8 — a continuation of his recent hot shooting from beyond the arc. During his aforementioned seven-game stretch, he’s made 16 of 35 (45.7%) attempts from distance, which is a drastic improvement from the 17.9% he shot over the first 14 games of the season.
“It’s just me putting in the work,” Davis said. “I put it in every single day. Wake up, go to the gym. Before I go to sleep, go to the gym. I’m just going to continue to put in the work, and hopefully it continues to show like I’ve been seeing.”
In addition to his 45.7% shooting from beyond the arc, Davis is shooting 48.4% overall from the field and 75% from the charity stripe while averaging 16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals in 37.7 minutes for Arkansas basketball over that span.
Black Guts it Out
Already dealing with a wrist injury, Anthony Black appeared to tweak his knee in Saturday’s loss at Baylor, but missed only a few minutes before returning to the game and playing 36 minutes.
While there may not have been anything structurally wrong, the freshman did suffer a “pretty significant contusion,” Musselman said. He earned a lot of praise for playing through it after the Baylor game and again after playing 38 minutes against Texas A&M.
“Just a real gutty performance by Anthony Black,” Musselman said. “As of yesterday we had no idea if he was going to be able to play. (He) couldn’t really go through much of shoot-around, was held out completely in yesterday’s practice, but he was in the training room as late as 10 o’clock last night trying to play through injury and he played 38 minutes basically on a knee that’s severely bruised.”
The only player to start every game this season, Black scored 11 points — with most of his damage coming at the free throw line (7 of 9 at the stripe) — while also grabbing 5 rebounds, dishing 7 assists and notching 2 steals. He did turn it over four times, but his seven assists were one shy of matching his season high set against Ole Miss.
That gives him 89 for the season, which is already tied with Ron Huery for the eighth-most among freshmen in Arkansas basketball history, according to HogStats. His 4.05 assists per game rank fourth among UA freshmen, behind only Kareem Reid (6.64), Courtney Fortson (5.93) and Lee Mayberry (4.22).
JordanWalsh Off the Bench
One of the side effects of Anthony Black being healthy enough to play Tuesday night was Jordan Walsh coming off the bench for just the fourth time this season.
Eric Musselman said Walsh practiced with the starting group while Black received treatment on his knee and that he probably didn’t find out until pretty close to game time that he wasn’t in the starting five.
Despite not checking in until more than midway through the first half, Walsh played one of his better games. He finished with 12 points on 4 of 8 shooting and 7 rebounds in 27 minutes.
Most importantly, Walsh was never really in foul trouble and played 91.4% of the available minutes from the point he first entered the game.
“I thought Jordan tonight was a real game-changer for us,” Musselman said. “His energy was phenomenal. He played most of the second half. He approached the game the right way. … I thought he mentally did a great job coming in ready to play.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
Winless in five attempts so far, the Arkansas basketball team will get yet another chance for a road victory Saturday afternoon at South Carolina. It should be the Razorbacks’ best shot yet.
The Gamecocks are tied for last place in the SEC after a 66-51 home loss to Mississippi State on Tuesday, which dropped them to 8-14 overall and 1-8 in conference play. They are by far the worst team in the league, according to KenPom (No. 255) and the NET (No. 273).
Tipoff inside Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
Because of the aforementioned bad weather, the Texas A&M basketball team had a tough time getting to Fayetteville. The Aggies’ flight was diverted to Wichita, Kan., and they then took a bus to Tulsa on Monday. They drove the rest of the way in via bus Tuesday, rolling into town a little before 11 a.m. CT on the day of the game.
For the first time since he became the Arkansas basketball coach, Eric Musselman welcomed his mom to Bud Walton Arena for a game.
Much like last Tuesday’s game against LSU, which was impacted by snow, the crowd was much smaller than it otherwise would have been. Still, it made its presence felt and Musselman was much appreciative of the fans who were there. “It’s not what it normally is, but considering the circumstances, I don’t want to use the word ‘shocking,’ because nothing shocks me with our crowd anymore, but it was really really phenomenal,” Musselman said. “The students, I wish we could give them all a big hug and thank them individually. Because I know our players really appreciated the student support tonight for sure.”
A major reason Texas A&M managed to hang around most of the game, even pulling within four with 4:10 remaining, was because it dominated the offensive boards. The Aggies grabbed a whopping 24 of 51 (47.1%) available offensive rebounds, which was above their season average of 36.3% (12th nationally, per KenPom).
The Razorbacks scored 42 points on 57.7% shooting (15 of 26) in the first half. That was the most first-half points Texas A&M has allowed in an SEC game this year, surpassing the 34 scored by Vanderbilt. The Aggies had been holding conference foes to just 24.3 points per first half this season.
Because of sleet and ice in Northwest Arkansas, the Texas A&M basketball team was unable to land in Fayetteville on Monday. Instead, the Aggies’ flight was diverted to Wichita, Kan., and they took a 2.5-hour bus ride to Tulsa, where they stayed the night. They then took a bus the rest of the way to Fayetteville, about 2 hours, earlier today.
The UA has announced that the game is still on for 6 p.m. CT. However, it has cautioned fans to “use their best judgment” when deciding whether or not to come. Much like last week’s game against LSU, most parking lots will be free and open, there will be no shuttle service and only a limited number of concession stands will be open.
Arkansas is once again changing its starting lineup, with both of the Mitchell twins – Makhi and Makhel – in the starting five. Jordan Walsh is out the lineup to make room for Makhel. It’s the third time the Mitchell twins have started together, with the other times coming against Alabama and Vanderbilt.
11:21, 1H – Arkansas 17, Texas A&M 12
Fresh off a 25-point performance against Baylor, Ricky Council IV seems to be feeling it again. He’s already got 7 points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting, including a corner 3. He also has a couple of assists.
The Razorbacks are hot out of the gates, starting 7 of 11 (63.6%) from the floor. Five different Aggies have scored. It might be a larger margin for Arkansas, but it has turned it over three times and allowed Texas A&M to grab four offensive boards.
HALF – Arkansas 42, Texas A&M 34
Arkansas briefly extended its lead to 10 with a fast-break 3-point play by Jordan Walsh, but Buzz Williams immediately called a timeout and the Aggies responded with five straight points.
That bucket by Walsh was the Razorbacks’ last field goal for nearly four minutes, a drought snapped by a 3-point by Devo Davis. Anthony Black also got a tip-in in the closing seconds to give the Hogs an 8-point halftime lead.
Offensive rebounding is keeping the Aggies in it so far, as their 12 offensive boards have led to 10 second-chance points. Arkansas is also turning it over too much, with eight first-half turnovers.
FIRST HALF STATS – Arkansas vs Texas A&M
10:31, 2H – Arkansas 60, Texas A&M 49
Arkansas scored the first four points of the half, stretching its lead to 12, but it was short-lived. Texas A&M quickly dug back into it with more offensive rebounds and some bad offensive possessions by the Razorbacks.
The Aggies got it down to six before Arkansas got it back out to 10. But just like the last time, Texas A&M fought back and cut that lead in half, pulling within five thanks to five straight points by Tyrece Radford. However, a Walsh 3-pointer and Davis layup have put the Hogs back up by 11.
Ricky Council IV and Devo Davis have 13 points apiece, while Walsh has 10 and Makhel Mitchell has 8. Radford leads the Aggies with 14.
FINAL – Arkansas 81, Texas A&M 70
Davonte Davis’ fourth 3-pointer of the game put the Razorbacks up by 13, their largest lead of the night, with 7:52 remaining. However, the Aggies answered with an 11-2 run to quickly cut their deficit to four with 4:10 left.
That was as close as Texas A&M got, as Arkansas managed to finish off the victory without trailing a single time.
Davis threw down a dunk a the buzzer to give him 19 points, matching Council for the team lead. However, the star of the night was Makhel Mitchell, who had 9 points, 13 rebounds and 7 blocks in 32 minutes.
FINAL STATS – Arkansas vs Texas A&M
#0 – G Dexter Dennis
#0 – G Anthony Black
#4 – G Wade Taylor IV
#4 – G Davonte Davis
#23 – G Tyrece Radford
#1 – G Ricky Council IV
#15 – F Henry Coleman III
#15 – F/C Makhi Mitchell
#34 – F Julius Marble
#22 – F/C Makhel Mitchell
Arkansas vs Texas A&M Preview
After yet another heartbreaking loss, the Arkansas basketball team doesn’t have long to lick its wounds before returning to the hardwood.
Just three days after a three-point loss at No. 17 Baylor, the Razorbacks are back in action Tuesday evening, as they return home to host Texas A&M in the first of 10 straight critical SEC matchups to close the regular season.
Aside from the final outcome, a 67-64 loss to the Bears that ended with a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer, Arkansas did several positive things Saturday that it can build upon moving forward — such as shooting 50.9% from the field, dishing 16 assists and limiting an elite offensive team to a season-low 33.9% shooting.
“We gave ourselves an opportunity to win against a really, really good team,” head coach Eric Musselman said postgame. “Execution in a lot of different areas, I thought we were good. I thought the players did a really good job of clock management and gave ourselves an opportunity to potentially put the game into overtime.”
As much as that loss hurt, the Razorbacks now must shift their focus to an Aggies squad off to a roaring start in SEC play under the leadership of fourth-year coach Buzz Williams. Texas A&M basketball sputtered out of the gates in non-conference play and is 15-6 overall, but it is tied with Tennessee for second in the conference standings at 7-1 in league play.
“They have a veteran team,” Musselman said. “They really know their roles… The last two years they’ve struggled in non-conference and once they’ve gotten to conference play they’ve played with great confidence. It’s a team that plays really, really hard.”
What to Expect from Texas A&M Basketball
Wade Taylor paces the Aggies offensively with 14.8 points per game on 35% 3-point shooting. The 6-foot sophomore attempts roughly six 3-pointers per game while also contributing 4.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 26.9 minutes.
Expect Devo Davis to employ his elite defensive prowess against Taylor after turning in another defensive masterpiece against Baylor on Saturday, limiting the dangerous Adam Flagler to a season-low 5 points on 1 of 11 shooting.
Tyrece Radford provides a unique challenge for the Hogs. Despite being only 6-foot-2, Radford is capable of playing several positions on the court. He contributes 13.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for Texas A&M and acts as a walking mismatch against most teams. His ability to get to the free throw line will provide another element to the challenge of defending him – especially given the Hogs’ high foul tendency during conference play.
Radford has a free throw rate of .615, meaning he attempts roughly .615 free throws per field goal attempt. This rate is matched by only one Razorback: Kamani Johnson – who actually shoots more free throws than field goals. The length of Anthony Black or strength of Ricky Council IV could come in handy when slowing down Radford and keeping him off the charity stripe.
Henry Coleman, a 6-foot-7 junior, acts as the team’s center most of the time. He leads the team in rebounding at 5.8 per game to go along with 10.0 points and 1.1 assists per game. Most importantly, he leads the team in offensive rebounding at roughly 2.0 per game. It will be interesting to see who earns this defensive matchup because the Aggies also start Julius Marble – a 6-foot-8 junior – alongside Coleman. The Hogs will once again need to rebound as a team to limit Texas A&M’s second-chance points.
These four Aggies will likely be at the forefront of Musselman’s scouting report and defensive gameplan, as he hinted at in his postgame press conference after the Baylor game.
“Taylor is a guy that can make threes, he’s got really good quickness,” Musselman said. “Radford is a matchup problem for everybody in the SEC, not just us. He can play the 2, 3, 4. Marble is a guy inside and can make mid-range shots. And then Coleman is a guy that plays extremely hard, so two big, physical guys that offensive rebound at a high rate. It’s a team that is playing really well in conference play.”
Former Arkansas guard KK Robinson will make his return to Fayetteville for the first time since transferring to Texas A&M over the summer. After never establishing a consistent foothold with the Razorbacks, the Little Rock native took his talents to College Station in hopes of an expanded role and more consistent minutes in the backcourt.
That hasn’t been the case, though. Robinson has played 10-plus minutes only once in his last eight games dating back to Nov. 25. His one game playing 10 minutes came against South Carolina on Jan. 14 when the Aggies jumped out to a 21-5 lead in the first 9 minutes, led by as many as 46 and ultimately won the game by 41 points. Otherwise, the former Hog hasn’t seen any semblance of a consistent role on his new team.
As a team, Texas A&M doesn’t shoot particularly well from 3-point range. It shoots 32% from long range on the season, but only 30% against SEC teams – including 26% in its last four games. Taylor is the clear leader from beyond the arc with his 6.0 attempts per game on 35% shooting, but the Aggies also have four other players shooting at least 33% on one or more attempts per game.
What to Expect from Arkansas
The Razorbacks’ 3-points loss to Baylor on Saturday was their fourth game of the season losing by exactly three points – including their third such loss in the last nine games. Arkansas played its best half of defense to date in the first half against Baylor, holding the Bears scoreless over the final four minutes of the first half and taking a 33-27 lead into halftime.
Unfortunately, the recurring themes of foul trouble, turnovers and allowing too many free throws was once again too much for the Hogs to overcome down the stretch. Watching the game from a Razorback fans’ perspective, it’s hard not to question many of the calls made by the officials.
But, yet again, Arkansas can only control what it’s capable of changing. It allowed too many second-chance points, shot 6 of 11 from the free throw line and couldn’t generate enough points off turnovers to overcome any potentially questionable calls.
“The one thing that you always want from your basketball team is to play as hard as they possibly can,” Musselman said postgame. “Anybody that was here walked away and saw a great basketball game. I feel for the locker room. They’re giving it all they have.”
Arkansas has been playing the right way through the majority of their last five games, though you wouldn’t know it from the 2-3 record over that span. A mixture of turnovers, foul trouble and prolonged lapses on the defensive side of the ball has cost the Razorbacks three of their last five games despite putting together respectable efforts in all of them.
Another potential reason for Arkansas’ inability to close out games is its growing list of injuries. Of course, Trevon Brazile (ACL) is out for the year and Nick Smith Jr (knee) remains sidelined indefinitely with no updates on his progress, but the players taking the court for the Hogs are also becoming more and more banged up.
“Makhel Mitchell was supposed to be out 1.5-2.5 weeks,” Musselman said. “He comes back and misses one game and suits up and gives us great minutes on a bad ankle. Anthony Black is extremely banged up. He continues to suit up and put forth an incredible effort. Ricky Council, obviously with the minutes he’s played, has been banged up.”
Devo Davis extended his elite offensive stretch with another 16-point outing against Baylor. This is Davis’ sixth consecutive game scoring at least 16 points. Prior to this stretch, Davis had never scored 10-plus in five consecutive games during his 2.5 seasons at Arkansas.
In total, the 6-foot-4 junior is averaging 16.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals on 48% – 44% – 79% shooting splits over his last six games. Unfortunately, the Hogs are only 2-4 in that stretch despite holding leads in the second half of each of these games other than the loss to Alabama where they trailed by two with under five minutes to play.
What to Watch in Arkansas vs Texas A&M
Arkansas basketball has the 10th-tallest team in the country, according to KenPom, and is starting to use that to its advantage offensively. Makhi and Makhel Mitchell have been more effective in the pick-and-roll of late, while Jalen Graham continues to show up elite footwork in the post. Texas A&M should provide another huge opportunity for the Razorbacks’ frontcourt.
Though the Aggies play hard and are an above-average offensive rebounding team, their average height ranks 258th nationally with a starting frontcourt featuring players standing 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8. Arkansas typically starts three players over 6-foot-7, including Makhi Mitchell who stands closer to 6-foot-10. Watch for Arkansas to attempt to command the paint on both sides of the ball in this intriguing matchup of play styles.
This also extends to Ricky Council IV (6-foot-6) and Anthony Black (6-foot-7), who have seen a few post touches in recent games when they’re guarded by shorter guards. Exploiting mismatches might be the best offensive strategy for this Razorback team that has not excelled in creating plays off the dribble.
Texas A&M ranks No. 67 in adjusted defensive efficiency, though they’re only allowing opponents to shoot 45% from inside the 3-point arc on the season – including 43.5% against SEC teams. Back in Bud Walton Arena, the Hogs absolutely have to take advantage of a smaller defensive matchup to get back in the win column.
On the flip side, Texas A&M has not been overly bothered by good defensive teams. On the season, the Aggies are 3-2 against teams in the top 20 of adjusted defensive efficiency – including 2-0 against Florida (No. 8). Arkansas ranks No. 12 in this metric, but it’ll clearly still have its hands full slowing down the Aggies defensively.
Game Prediction: Arkansas vs Texas A&M
Arkansas continues its steady improvement while also receiving a boost from the hometown crowd. Texas A&M basketball is playing better than perhaps many expected at this point in conference play, but the Razorbacks are also better than their record indicates.
With big performances from the frontcourt alongside the trio of Devo Davis, Anthony Black and Ricky Council IV, Arkansas will put the Aggies away late in the second half of a tightly contested game. In the end, the Razorbacks’ size will be too much for Texas A&M to overcome. Arkansas builds on its recent improvement and starts what hopefully becomes an extended winning steak.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Texas A&M
Date: Tuesday, Jan. 31
Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 6 p.m. CT (ESPN2)
ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 71.2% chance to win, favored by 5.9
When he finally puts pen to paper on National Signing Day, Shamar Easter will be the 20th high school prospect to sign with Arkansas football in the 2023 class.
Most of the group signed their National Letters of Intent in December, during the early period, but the Ashdown tight end opted to wait until the traditional period so he could get to know new tight ends coach Morgan Turner a little better.
That’s just what happened and he reaffirmed his commitment following an unofficial visit earlier this month, giving the Razorbacks a chance to finish with a rare top-20 recruiting class.
A lot of attention has been focused on head coach Sam Pittman’s efforts to fill out the class via the transfer portal, but it’s also hard to ignore the talented group of incoming freshmen.
Arkansas leaned heavily on traditional recruiting base Texas, as a quarter of the players (five) are from the Lone Star State, as well as other border states (four from Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee) and newer areas of emphasis within the SEC footprint (three from both Alabama and Georgia).
The Razorbacks also dipped into Florida and crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois for recruits, but — as it is every year — taking care of business in their own backyard was a priority. Unfortunately for Pittman and his staff, though, there weren’t exactly many options to choose from in the current senior class.
Historic Low for Arkansas Football
Shamar Easter will be just the third in-state signee for the Razorbacks in 2023, joining Bentonville offensive lineman Joey Su’a and North Little Rock defensive lineman Quincy Rhodes Jr.
If that seems like a light group, that’s because it is a historically low number of Arkansas football signees from the Natural State.
Best of Arkansas Sports has a mostly complete database of high school football players who have signed with FBS programs since 1994 and the Razorbacks’ three signees this year is their lowest single-year total over that span.
Considering the more regionalized nature of recruiting before that timeframe, not to mention expanded scholarship limits and the fact there were no annual limitations on the number of players schools could sign, it is probably safe to say the three in-state signees in this cycle is an all-time low for Arkansas football.
The previous low was set in 2012 and matched in the first two classes signed by Sam Pittman — 2020 and 2021.
TE Shamar Easter (Ashdown)
DE Quincy Rhodes Jr. (North Little Rock)
OL Joey Su’a (Bentonville)
LB Marco Avant (Jonesboro)
TE Erin Outley (Little Rock Parkview)
QB Landon Rogers (Little Rock Parkview)
OL Terry Wells (Wynne)
DE Jashaud Stewart (Jonesboro)
ATH Blayne Toll (Hazen)
LB JT Towers (Joe T. Robinson)
LB Catrell Wallace (Bryant)
DB Defonta Lowe (Bearden)
DE Jeremy Sprinkle (White Hall)
LB A.J. Turner (East Poinsett County)
OL Jeremy Ward (Pottsville)
The Razorbacks nearly set the low in each of the last two years and a case could be made that they did in 2020, as Catrell Wallace never made it to campus, but he did sign. The following year, Landon Rogers briefly decommitted before ultimately sticking with Arkansas.
Landing only three in this year’s class was not necessarily Pittman’s fault, as only six total Arkansas natives signed with Power Five programs — and the other three weren’t offered by the Razorbacks.
Pine Bluff athlete Jordon Harris is staying in the SEC at Missouri, but he didn’t play football until his senior year of high school. Fort Smith Northside cornerback RJ Lester originally committed to Kansas State before flipping to Oklahoma State. Pulaski Academy offensive lineman Allen Thomason was heading to Stanford as a preferred walk-on before being elevated to a full scholarship.
There’s a chance Star City linebacker CJ Turner ends up with a Power Five program, as he was previously committed to Colorado before being dropped by new head coach Deion Sanders, but that seems unlikely at this point in the process.
It’s also worth noting that several in-state prospects are continuing their careers at the Power Five level as preferred walk-ons. Bentonville offensive lineman Trevor Martinez is heading to Oklahoma State and Harding Academy kicker Kyle Ferrie is heading to Mississippi State, while the Razorbacks have landed several PWO commitments from in-state recruits.
Assuming the number of scholarship signees remains at six, though, it would match the 2012 class for the fewest Power Five signees from Arkansas on record. In addition to the four who signed with the Razorbacks that year, Jonesboro athlete Zac Brooks signed with Clemson and Pulaski Academy offensive lineman Jason King signed with Purdue.
Help on the Horizon in Arkansas Recruiting
Those who have followed Arkansas recruiting for a while know that the state is often cyclical, with thin years typically followed by strong classes of in-state prospects.
That has never been more true than with the 2023 and 2024 classes, as the latter appears to be one of the Natural State’s best in recent memory on the heels of one of its weakest.
The Razorbacks have already offered eight 2024 in-state prospects and three others have been offered by one or more Power Five programs. At least another six have a Group of Five offer, with three of them having multiple.
With more than 10 months to go until the early signing period, it is shaping up to be a fantastic crop of recruits in terms of both quality and quantity.
All five have long and impressive offer sheets, with some of college football’s biggest powers — Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon and others — battling the Razorbacks for their services.
Arkansas offered Malvern offensive lineman Vinny Winters when he was still just a freshman and was his first Power Five offer. He’s since added Missouri and Kansas State while visiting several other schools.
The two most recent in-state prospects offered by the Razorbacks are wide receivers: CJ Brown from Bentonville and Courtney Crutchfield from Pine Bluff. They were the sixth Power Five offer for Crutchfield, who was previously offered by Oklahoma and others, and the third for Brown, following Purdue and Louisville.
A couple of other players to keep an eye on include a pair of offensive linemen — Fort Smith Southside’s Kobe Branham and Lonoke’s Chauncey Johnson — who have been offered by Texas A&M and Missouri, respectively, as well as Malvern running back Jalen Dupree, who’s been offered by Boston College and Kansas State.
More coverage of Arkansas football and Arkansas recruiting from BoAS…
Eric Musselman has owned the month of February the last two seasons. It’s been FebruEric, if you will. Whether or not Arkansas basketball can peak at the end of the season again may determine not just what seed it earns in the NCAA Tournament, but whether it earns a bid at all.
Over the last two seasons, the Razorbacks went 13-1 in February with the lone loss being a 1-point decision at Alabama last year. Those runs propelled them to their 3- and 4-seeds in March Madness, and deservedly helped earn Musselman the benefit of the doubt as the Hogs started 1-5 in SEC play this season.
It would be awesome for Arkansas basketball fans if the Muss Buss can find a way to kick into high gear in February one more time. There is reason for optimism. The Hogs won their last two SEC games easily and largely outplayed Baylor in Waco despite ultimately losing the game by three points. It feels like the team is playing better than it was in early January. It’s just enough to keep hope alive that Arkansas can make another run in March.
But should that be the expectation? Probably not. At least, not to the extent that the Hogs go undefeated or only lose once over the coming weeks. The Hogs have been playing better over the last few games, and are in great position to continue winning several games, but right now it feels unlikely this team reaches the same heights as the last couple of seasons. This is a different group with different challenges.
Nick Smith Jr Speculation
The biggest challenge obviously is the injury situation with losing Trevon Brazile in early December and the ongoing saga of Nick Smith Jr. Uncertainty regarding Smith’s eventual availability has loomed over Arkansas’ season since literally the opening day of the year. The team has said all the right things throughout the season about focusing on the players available, but they’ve been asked about it extensively on the record, and who knows what it’s been like for them off camera. It’s hard to say how much of a distraction it’s been, but it’s been a lingering issue for the program since November.
Since the public has never been informed of what exactly the issue is with Smith’s knee, it’s led to nonstop speculation regarding when or if he’ll return to the lineup. ESPN broadcast analyst Fran Fraschilla gave his opinion during the Baylor game by saying, “Hog fans won’t want to hear this – I don’t think he’s coming back (this season). I think he’s going to get ready for the NBA.”
It remains to be seen whether or not Fraschila is right. Musselman said a few weeks ago that he didn’t expect Smith back in January and that he’d be re-evaluated at the end of the month. Now we’re at the end of the month. If that re-evaluation is still on schedule, hopefully we’re about to find out one way or the other for sure and we can all proceed accordingly.
Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette isn’t dousing Arkansas basketball fans’ hopes with cold water like Fraschilla did. “This is a critical time for Arkansas to win a few more games before we can get Nick Smith back as we expect,” he said on Thursday. “Sometime in the first week of February or after that.”
Musselman hasn’t been so forthcoming lately. When asked following the Baylor loss — a game neither Smith nor Brazile traveled to — if there was any update on Smith’s status, though, Musselman gave a one-word response: “No.”
If the electrifying, skilled combo guard does return, it would instantly boost the program’s momentum.
How Arkansas Basketball Can Right the Ship
Back in Musselman’s first Razorback season, there was no February magic. Like this year, the team lost one of its best players for a while, and there was a major impact to the team’s success. Isaiah Joe went out due to a knee injury for a few weeks, and the team promptly lost five straight games without him, placing them squarely on the NCAA bubble when the SEC Tournament started. Most bracketologists this year don’t seem to have Arkansas on the bubble yet, but the team’s lack of road wins so far means that nothing in the postseason is guaranteed.
Injuries aside, despite showing improvement in recent games, this team hasn’t played as cleanly as its predecessors. They turn the ball over too much. In SEC play, they’ve turned over more than 1 of every 5 possessions, according to KenPom. They get whistled for fouls too much. The Hogs’ defensive free throw rate is among the worst in the country, meaning Arkansas’ opponents are shooting more free throws than most other teams’ opponents.
I’m happy to join the chorus of complaints that officials often call too many fouls during a game. The 56 whistles in the second Missouri game were particularly egregious. That being said, this is not a new development in college basketball, and it played into Arkansas’ hands the last couple of seasons so much that getting to the free throw line was a key part of the team’s strategy. There were times it looked like JD Notae was more interested in drawing a whistle than making the layup. Most of the time, it worked. This year, only Devo Davis and Ricky Council IV are making more than 75% of their shots from the stripe. Arkansas so far this season has made only 66.5% of their free throws in conference play – next to last in the league.
No doubt, if Nick Smith Jr had been playing more, that percentage would be higher. He shot 84.2% from the line in his five college games so far and, if healthy, would likely be battling it out with Council and Anthony Black for the team lead in free throw attempts.
Four of Arkansas’ seven losses have been by three points. A few points here or a turnover there can be the difference. These were games Arkansas was winning the last couple of years. They haven’t played cleanly enough to win those games this season. That’s part of having a younger team than Musselman typically has, but we’re at the point of the year when those younger players should have enough experience that they can start to reduce those errors. If they can, there’s reason to believe this team will win some big games coming down the stretch.
As of now, this is the biggest what-if season in recent Arkansas basketball history, but there are still a few chapters left to write. There are some things out of the team’s control, but playing more disciplined basketball would take them a long way. Maybe not all the way to the Elite Eight, but then again, if this team plays up to its ability, they’ll be tough to knock out.
UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, Nick Smith Jr.’s sent out a Tweet stating he means to come back or otherwise wouldn’t still attend classes, practices and home games:
Of course, there’s also a distinction between one’s intent and what unfolds in reality.
Check out some highlights of Nick Smith Jr in his limited action with Arkansas basketball:
Mike Irwin on Fouls Called vs Hogs
As always, the venerable Arkansas sportscaster had a lot to say about the recent trend of so many more fouls called against the Razorbacks than the other way around.
He points to the loss at Baylor as the latest case in point: “It was fairly evenly called in the first half. So when it’s around 10 fouls to 11 fouls in the first half, and then you end up with a seven to one disadvantage for Arkansas five minutes into the second half, you start wondering, ‘Okay. Both teams are playing aggressive defense. Why is one being called for a foul and the other not?'”
“I challenge anybody to go back and take a look at the video, the second half of that Baylor game, and tell me it was called the same way on both ends. It was not,” Irwin said on his Pig Trail Nation “Ask Mike” segment.
He adds that his theory is that college referees are more susceptible to crowd pressure than at lower levels simply because they get more blowback from attending fans if they make calls against the home team. He doesn’t see this as an issue at the lower youth levels, like the one in which his fifth-grade grandson plays.
High major college referees are more prone to “make emotional decisions instead of logical decisions,” he added. “It’s just the pressure that you put on these guys. Because I saw right up clear, right in front of my face, what happens when you don’t put pressure on referees. You just let them do their job. They do the job correctly.”
The gamble Cade Fortin took by joining Arkansas football as a walk-on has paid off, as he won’t have to pay for his final year with the Razorbacks.
The quarterback was placed on scholarship this semester and will remain on it next fall, a UA spokesperson confirmed to Best of Arkansas Sports, giving Arkansas four scholarship quarterbacks for the 2023 season.
Not your average walk-on, Fortin began his career as an ESPN four-star signee at North Carolina and even started a pair of games before transferring to South Florida, where he was also on scholarship and started a pair of games.
His decision to transfer to Arkansas may not have been met with the same excitement from fans as other additions last offseason, but bringing in someone with his experience was vital for the Razorbacks’ thin quarterback room.
After going through the 2022 season with only two scholarship quarterbacks — KJ Jefferson and Malik Hornsby — Arkansas will have double that number next year. In addition to Jefferson and Fortin, the Razorbacks also brought in Jacolby Criswell as a transfer and Malachi Singleton as a four-star signee.
Cade Fortin with the Razorbacks
Although he came to Fayetteville with four career starts against Power Five opponents under his belt, Cade Fortin didn’t exactly put up big numbers and was never a full-time starter.
He completed only 50.4% of his passes for the Tar Heels and Bulls, averaging just 5.0 yards per attempt with one touchdown pass and three interceptions, while also rushing for 152 yards and two scores on 27 carries (5.6 yards/carry).
Considering those numbers were far from awe-inspiring and his status as a walk-on, Fortin figured to be a depth piece and veteran presence for the Razorbacks, capable of running the scout team while KJ Jefferson and Malik Hornsby handled the primary quarterback duties.
However, it wasn’t long before that narrative started changing. Fortin appeared to beat out redshirt freshman Lucas Coley, leading to Coley’s transfer midway through spring ball, and then challenged Hornsby for the backup job.
The coaches were so comfortable with the thought of Fortin running the offense that they gave Hornsby a look at wide receiver — a package that lasted a few weeks before being unceremoniously laid to rest.
It was assumed that Hornsby was still the backup quarterback, but when Jefferson got banged up against Alabama, the Razorbacks turned to Fortin. He also started the following week at Mississippi State, but struggled and was ultimately replaced by Hornsby.
That caused Fortin to drop back to the third team, with Hornsby starting the LSU game in place of Jefferson, but it was his fourth-quarter 40-yard strike to Matt Landers that gave Arkansas a chance to knock off the Tigers.
Even with that big play, his numbers looked pretty similar to what he put up at his previous two spots. Fortin completed 48.3% of his passes and averaged just 4.7 yards per attempt while adding 17 yards on seven carries.
Arkansas Quarterback Depth for 2023
To the surprise of no one, Malik Hornsby entered the transfer portal again following the regular season and this time stuck, dropping down to the Group of Five level by landing at Texas State after a brief flirtation with Nebraska.
While they may not have anyone quite as electric from a speed perspective, the Razorbacks appear to have a much deeper and more talented quarterback room in 2023.
In an ideal world, KJ Jefferson will play every meaningful snap of the season. He is proven to be an elite college football quarterback when healthy — but that qualifier is important. A big, mobile quarterback who doesn’t like to shy away from contact, Jefferson dealt with multiple injuries that caused him to miss two games entirely and severely limited him in a third last year.
Such issues increase the importance of quarterback depth and Arkansas seems to have addressed that this offseason.
The biggest addition was likely Jacolby Criswell, a Morrilton native returning home after spending three years at North Carolina. Although he was never the full-time starter for the Tar Heels, he battled for the starting job with Sam Howell — who has started a game in the NFL — and Drake Maye, a frontrunner for the 2023 Heisman Trophy.
In limited action at North Carolina, he completed 18 of 31 passes (58.1%) for an average of 6.6 yards per attempt with one touchdown and one interception, while also averaging 6.7 yards on 20 carries and adding a score on the ground.
He won’t surpass Jefferson, but the hope is that Criswell can come in and immediately lock down the backup job, positioning himself to take over as the starter in 2024.
That would mean Fortin battles it out with the other newcomer, freshman Malachi Singleton, for the No. 3 spot. A four-star recruit, Singleton is likely more talented and has more potential, but it’s still a pretty big jump from high school to the SEC — even from a state as loaded as Georgia.
The Razorbacks will probably give Singleton a look at some point in 2023, utilizing the four-game redshirt rule, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the coaches lean toward Fortin’s experience over Singleton’s potential in the event of injuries to Jefferson and Criswell.
Plus, it’s worth noting that Fortin might be better suited to play right away than Singleton under new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who is bringing in a more pro-style system than can be hard for young players to quickly grasp and immediately plug and play.
Fortin’s numbers certainly don’t instill a lot of confidence if he were to be forced into action, but Enos has a track record of improving quarterbacks from a passing perspective. Just look at Brandon Allen, whose completion percentage jumped from 56.0% to 65.9% and yards per attempt jumped from 6.7 to 9.3 under Enos.
Worst-case scenario, Cade Fortin never sees the field while serving as a reserve quarterback capable of running the scout team and providing veteran leadership to Singleton and the rest of the room — making him more than worthy of a scholarship.
2023 Super Seniors for Arkansas Football
Under traditional rules, Cade Fortin would be out of eligibility and unable to play in 2023 because he was a fifth-year senior this past season. However, all players active in 2020 have been granted an extra year because of the pandemic.
Defensive end Jordan Domineck was originally the first to announce he was coming back, but he has since reversed course and transferred to Colorado for his final season of college football.
Three other Razorbacks could join Fortin, as tight end Nathan Bax, defensive back LaDarrius Bishop and defensive end Zach Williams have yet to publicly announce their decisions for 2023.
Center Ricky Stromberg declared for the NFL Draft rather than return as a super senior and left tackle Luke Jones chose to move on with his life, while the others joined Domineck in the transfer portal.
Tight end Trey Knox transferred to South Carolina, defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols transferred to Purdue, punter Reid Bauer and safety Simeon Blair transferred to Memphis, and defensive back Trent Gordon has yet to land at another school after being deemed academically ineligible for the Liberty Bowl.
FAYETTEVILLE — The 2022 regular season is complete, but things aren’t slowing down for Arkansas football as it awaits its postseason destination.
In fact, it’s just the opposite. A four-day stretch of exit meetings begin Monday and a week later, the transfer portal opens up. Head coach Sam Pittman has already told reporters to get rested up Sunday because things are about to get crazy.
“That’ll be a blow-up day, now,” Pittman said. “It’s going to be the transfer portal, who’s going to come back, you have seniors (making decisions)… There’s going to be a lot of action going on — and it’s not just here. It’s everywhere in the country.”
The Razorbacks just finished off a 6-6 regular season and will find out their bowl selection in about a week, but the team could look very different between now and when that game is played — much less next season.
However, most of the attention will be on the players who choose to transfer out. Myles Slusher and a few reserves have already left and there will undoubtedly be others.
“Without a doubt, there’ll be some portal action and all that kind of stuff — us and everybody else in the country,” Pittman said after the loss to Missouri. “Then you just have to figure it out. It’s there for a reason and you just have to figure out, obviously, who wants to stay with the program and who wants to transfer out. They have their own reasons. We’ll visit with them and try to keep the ones that we need to keep.”
Last offseason saw key players like Greg Brooks Jr. and Joe Foucha leave, but most of the departures were players with limited to no playing experience. The Razorbacks have already seen major contributors leave in back-to-back weeks in Warren Thompson and Slusher, so now the focus is on whether or not more will join them.
When asked if he was concerned about other key players leaving, Pittman seemed to indicate that’s just the nature of college football in the transfer portal era.
“A lot goes on in the transfer portal, guys,” Pittman said. “It’s more than just playing time or not playing time. There’s a lot (that) goes on with it. You know, somebody gets ahold of them… A lot goes on about the transfer portal.”
With that in mind, Best of Arkansas Sports is going to keep a close eye on all of that roster movement and track how Arkansas goes about filling out its 85 scholarships below…
CURRENT 2023 SCHOLARSHIP COUNT: 73
w/ undecided super seniors: 76
**NOTE: Potential super seniors are listed only in the “decision to make” section until they make some sort of announcement. Other than that, players are included in the 2023 Arkansas football roster projection until they announce otherwise or give some sort of indication that they won’t return. That means there can be some overlap between the sections.**
**NOTE: Players are classified as if the 2020 season counted like normal. However, those who were active during that season have been granted an extra year. For example, Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer are listed as redshirt seniors, but they could technically choose to return in 2024.**
^committed to Arkansas in the 2023 class (high school and transfers)
The most important position in football will also be the most interesting to follow for Arkansas this offseason.
Whether or not KJ Jefferson decides to return for his traditional senior season with the Razorbacks is easily the most pressing offseason question for head coach Sam Pittman. He is the engine that makes the offense go and, with one more season, would have a chance to break all of Arkansas’ career passing records.
“I haven’t given any thought to it just yet,” Jefferson said when asked about the decision leading up to the regular-season finale. “I’m worried about Missouri and going out and making sure we get that win and keeping that trophy here. So I’m not worried about the future. I’m in the present right now.”
How this season has unfolded makes getting Jefferson back even more important for the Razorbacks because backups Malik Hornsby and Cade Fortin haven’t exactly instilled a lot of confidence that they can be the guy. Unlike Jefferson, who had a huge game against Missouri in a spot start for Feleipe Franks back in 2020, neither of them really took advantage of the opportunity.
Hornsby came off the bench and had some flashes against Mississippi State, but he’s still wildly inconsistent as a passer. He’s incredibly athletic and fast (although Mike Irwin criticizes his ability to maneuver on the field), so there’s a chance he develops into an SEC-caliber starting passer — but there’s a reason the Razorbacks experimented with him at wide receiver and gave Fortin the nod in the first game Jefferson missed. It’s also important to remember that Hornsby has already flirted with the transfer portal once and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if he does again.
Fortin is technically a walk-on, but he — and Kade Renfro — actually began their careers as scholarship quarterbacks at Power Five schools. However, Fortin is already a fifth-year senior and Renfro is coming off two torn ACLs in the past year.
UPDATE (Dec. 10): Arkansas has landed another player out of the transfer portal, as Morrilton native Jacolby Criswell — who spent the last three seasons at North Carolina — announced his commitment Saturday night.
UPDATE (Jan. 30): Not only is Cade Fortin returning as a super senior in 2023, but he has been placed on scholarship. Click here for our analysis of the news.
Projected 2023 Roster (4 on scholarship)
Cade Fortin — super senior
KJ Jefferson — redshirt senior
^Jacolby Criswell — redshirt junior
^Malachi Singleton — freshman
*Kade Renfro — redshirt junior
*Rykar Acebo — redshirt freshman
Leaving the Razorbacks
Malik Hornsby — entered the transfer portal (again)
Arguably no position on the Arkansas football roster is deeper than running back. When Isaiah Augustave arrives on campus, and assuming no one transfers out, the Razorbacks will have four four-star players in the room — and that doesn’t even include Dominique Johnson, who ended the 2021 season as the starter.
Rocket Sanders has enjoyed a breakout sophomore season that has drawn comparisons to Darren McFadden, while AJ Green and Rashod Dubinion have handled the backup duties. Perhaps the biggest question is how Johnson will rebound from tearing his ACL twice in less than a year.
Arkansas is so deep that its other two running backs, Javion Hunt and James Jointer Jr., decided to leave the team before the end of the season. Of course, it wouldn’t be surprising if someone else transfers out. After all, Trelon Smith was the top rusher among running backs last year and transferred to UTSA in the offseason.
The Razorbacks were once so thin at tight end that they experimented with converted linebackers, running backs, wide receivers and defensive ends at the position. One of those actually panned out, as Trey Knox has handled starting duties all year.
Knox’s top backup this season has been Nathan Bax. Both of them could technically return as super seniors next season, but they could also try their hand at the NFL and/or move on.
Something that might influence those decisions is the fact that Arkansas is bringing in a trio of four-star tight ends, not to mention Ty Washington being a redshirt freshman. Those youngsters could potentially influence decisions of guys like Sutherland and Outley, who have yet to see the field, much like they might have influenced Hudson Henry — who appears to be moving on after participating in Senior Night festivities as a redshirt junior. (Henry has yet to officially announce anything.)
UPDATE (Nov. 28): After not appearing in a game during his two seasons with the Razorbacks, Erin Outley has announced he’s entering the transfer portal. Considering the incoming talent at the position and his spot on the depth chart, it’s not a particularly surprising move.
UPDATE (Dec. 12): Trey Knox has decided he’ll use his super senior season, but will do so elsewhere. He entered the transfer portal Monday afternoon.
UPDATE (Dec. 18): Four-star commit Jaden Hamm has backed off his pledge to the Razorbacks. Here’s our analysis of his decision.
Trey Knox — entered the transfer portal instead of returning as super senior or declaring for NFL Draft
Hudson Henry — hasn’t announced anything, but went through Senior Night festivities as a redshirt junior
Erin Outley — entered the transfer portal
Collin Sutherland — medically retired
^Jaden Hamm — decommitted from 2023 class
The two transfers Arkansas landed out of the portal last offseason have proven to be vital pickups, as Matt Landers and Jadon Haselwood have been it’s top targets this year. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, it appears they’ll both be one-year mercenaries. Landers is out of eligibility and Haselwood has already accepted an invitation to the East-West Shrine Bowl, indicating he is entering the NFL Draft — but Pittman has said he’ll try to get him back.
Assuming both do move on, that would leave Ketron Jackson Jr. as the most experienced receiver on the team and Bryce Stephens as the only other receiver with somewhat significant playing time. Jaedon Wilson has played a handful of snaps, but everyone else is really young.
Sam Mbake and Isaiah Sategna could push for a starting spot in their second season in the program and the incoming freshmen — Davion Dozier and Micah Tease — could also get on the field early.
It wouldn’t be surprising, though, to see Arkansas follow its same plan as last year and add a receiver or two through the portal. Another thing to keep an eye on is what Quincey McAdoo decides to do. His strong play would indicate him staying on defense, but Pittman said he’s talked about wanting to try playing both ways.
*Harper Cole — hasn’t announced anything, but went through Senior Night festivities as a redshirt sophomore
There’s a chance Arkansas’ offensive line looks much different in 2023 after relative stability during the first three seasons of the Sam Pittman era. Right tackle Dalton Wagner is out of eligibility, center Ricky Stromberg is expected to enter the NFL Draft instead of returning as a super senior and left tackle Luke Jones must make a decision himself regarding his extra year of eligibility.
If Stromberg and Jones don’t come back, both starting guards — Beaux Limmer and Brady Latham — would be candidates to slide over one spot and become the starting center and left tackle, respectively. Ty’Kieast Crawford figures to move into the starting lineup, too, because he’s been the sixth lineman this season.
Beyond them, second-year players like Patrick Kutas, E’Marion Harris and Andrew Chamblee could push for starting jobs. Chamblee and Devon Manuel have split backup left tackle duties this year, while Kutas has spent time at all three interior spots and Harris is a guard.
Another thing to keep an eye on in the coming weeks is the status of Jalen St. John, who has been suspended indefinitely following his arrest last week. He would be another guy capable of pushing for a starting spot if he’s still on the team.
UPDATE (Nov. 29): Center Ricky Stromberg has declared for the NFL Draft, a move he was expected to make rather than returning to Arkansas for his super senior season.
UPDATE (Dec. 5): Florida transfer Josh Braun has announced his commitment to the Razorbacks. Click here to read about where he fits in on the offensive line next season.
UPDATE (Dec. 16): Sam Pittman announced that starting left tackle Luke Jones will not return for a super senior season in 2023. He will, however, play in the Liberty Bowl.
UPDATE (Dec. 19): Jalen St. John has entered the transfer portal. His status with the program had been up in the air because of a felony theft arrest. Click here for our analysis of what his departure means for Arkansas.
UPDATE (Dec. 21): Marcus Henderson has entered the transfer portal. He is Arkansas’ 21st scholarship player to do so since fall camp. Click here for our analysis of what it means for the Razorbacks.
Ricky Stromberg — declared for NFL Draft rather than return as a super senior
Dalton Wagner — out of eligibility
Perhaps no position could be bolstered by super seniors more than the defensive line, as three significant contributors — Jordan Domineck, Isaiah Nichols and Zach Williams — have the option to return. Of that group, Domineck probably has the best chance at the NFL Draft.
They are three of eight defensive linemen who played at least 250 defensive snaps during the regular season. Only one of those eight, Terry Hampton, is out of eligibility and can’t come back. His loss could be negated by Taurean Carter returning from injury or Nico Davillier taking on a larger role in his second season in the program.
The other half are all players with remaining eligibility: Eric Gregory, Jashaud Stewart, Landon Jackson and Cameron Ball. That’s a pretty solid core for the defensive line, assuming none of them leave.
UPDATE (Nov. 29): After three seasons with the Razorbacks, Eric Thomas Jr. has announced he plans to enter the transfer portal. He played sparingly as a defensive end, but carved out a role on special teams and did not redshirt during his time at Arkansas.
UPDATE (Dec. 1): Arkansas finally got a bit of good news Thursday morning when Jordan Domineck announced he would return and play for the Razorbacks again in 2023, using his extra year of eligibility. That is big for Arkansas for multiple reasons.
UPDATE (Dec. 17): A spokesperson for the UA confirmed that Isaiah Nichols plans to enter the portal instead of returning to Arkansas for a super senior season. He also won’t play in the Liberty Bowl.
UPDATE (Dec. 18): Three-star commit Stephen Johnson has flipped to Auburn. Here’s our analysis of his decision.
UPDATE (Dec. 21): Arkansas got a pleasant surprise on the first day of the early signing period, as Pitt transfer defensive end John Morgan III signed with the Razorbacks. Click here for a closer look at what they’re getting in the super senior.
UPDATE (Jan. 22): The Razorbacks have seemingly found their replacement for Domineck, landing former Missouri defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat from the transfer portal. Click here for our breakdown of his commitment.
Projected 2023 Roster (13 on scholarship – 14 depending on super seniors)
^John Morgan III — sixth-year super senior
^Trajan Jeffcoat — sixth-year super senior
Taurean Carter — redshirt senior
Eric Gregory — redshirt senior
Marcus Miller — redshirt senior
Jashaud Stewart — senior
Landon Jackson — junior
Cameron Ball — redshirt sophomore
Nico Davillier — sophomore
JJ Hollingsworth — redshirt freshman
^Ian Geffrard — freshman
^Kaleb James — freshman
^Quincy Rhodes Jr. — freshman
*Roy Patterson — redshirt junior
*Jon Hill — redshirt sophomore
*Kyle Thompson — redshirt freshman
Decision to Make
Zach Williams — could return as a super senior
Leaving the Razorbacks
Dorian Gerald — out of eligibility
Terry Hampton — out of eligibility
Jordan Domineck — entered the transfer portal despite previously announced his return as a sixth-year super senior
Isaiah Nichols — entering the transfer portal instead of returning as a sixth-year super senior
Eric Thomas Jr. — entered the transfer portal
^Stephen Johnson — decommitted from 2023 class (flipped to Auburn)
*Randall Dennis Jr. — entered the transfer portal
The Bumper Pool era has finally come to an end. The Razorbacks’ all-time leading tackler has had hip surgery and will miss the bowl game. Because of Pool’s injury, Chris Paul Jr. has gotten plenty of reps this season and started in his absence against Missouri.
There’s a good chance he’ll be the leader of the linebacker room next year because Drew Sanders — who has proven to be a huge pickup from the portal — will likely enter the NFL Draft. That would open the door for Jordan Crook to move into the starting lineup as a sophomore.
Arkansas has typically used a three-man rotation at linebacker, so if Sanders leaves, the question then becomes who will be the third player. Former walk-on Jackson Woodard is certainly an option, as is Mani Powell, but one of the incoming freshmen could push for playing time and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Razorbacks pursue another transfer.
UPDATE (Dec. 6): As expected, Drew Sanders has declared for the 2023 NFL Draft and will not play in the Liberty Bowl. Click here for our analysis of what it means for the Razorbacks, including who appears to be next in line.
UPDATE (Dec. 22): The Razorbacks made another surprise addition on the second day of the early signing period, announcing it had signed South Florida transfer linebacker Antonio Grier. He flipped from UCF, following defensive coordinator Travis Williams to Fayetteville.
UPDATE (Dec. 30): Former walk-on Jackson Woodard has announced he intends to enter the transfer portal.
One key defensive back has already made his intentions known, as Myles Slusher quit the team the day after Arkansas beat Ole Miss. That is just the first of many dominoes set to fall in the secondary.
There are three players — Simeon Blair, LaDarrius Bishop and Trent Gordon — who could return as super seniors. Blair and Bishop would make sense to bring back, but the Razorbacks must decide if they also want Gordon to come back for another year.
There are also NFL decisions to be made. After a solid first season with the Razorbacks, Dwight McGlothern could declare for the draft as a junior. Much like last season, Jalen Catalon has a decision to make after undergoing shoulder surgery and it sounds like that could be coming sooner rather than later.
“I would suppose here after the game, he’ll put something out about his return or his not return,” Pittman said during the week leading up to the Missouri game. “I don’t want to steal his thunder on either one of those things, but we’re in a really good place with Jalen. … I’ve obviously had the conversation with him, and I’ll let him tell y’all when he’s ready to tell y’all what his decision is going to be, whether he comes back or declares for the league.”
As mentioned in the wide receiver section, Quincey McAdoo also has a decision to make regarding his position. We’ve left him in the secondary for now, but he has expressed interest in playing on offense, too.
It’s also worth noting that the Razorbacks are set to bring in six defensive backs in the 2023 recruiting class, so it wouldn’t be surprising if that means other guys opt to transfer out.
UPDATE (Nov. 28): After three seasons of limited playing time, Jacorrei Turner has announced he intends to enter the portal. He spent much of the 2022 season listed as the fourth-team nickel back on the depth chart and didn’t get any defensive snaps despite numerous injuries in the secondary.
UPDATE (Nov. 29): The rumors about Khari Johnson leading up to the Missouri game proved to be true, as he’s announced his intention to enter the transfer portal. He is the second significant member of the secondary to make such an announcement, following Myles Slusher.
UPDATE (Dec. 7): Lightly used cornerback Keuan Parker has entered the transfer portal. He was a redshirt freshman this season and, despite numerous injuries in the secondary and being listed as a second-team cornerback, played sparingly.
UPDATE (Dec. 8): After participating in Senior Day festivities as a redshirt junior, safety Zach Zimos has announced he’s entering the portal to use his two remaining years of eligibility elsewhere. He didn’t play much during his time with the Razorbacks, which unfortunately included a torn ACL during the 2021 season.
UPDATE (Dec. 16): In a surprising move, safety Jalen Catalon has decided to enter the transfer portal instead of returning to Arkansas as a traditional fifth-year senior or declare for the NFL Draft. Click here for our analysis of his decision.
UPDATE (Dec. 23): Trent Gordon has been declared academically ineligible for the Liberty Bowl and has left the team.
UPDATE (Dec. 30): Rather than return to Arkansas as a sixth-year super senior, safety Simeon Blair has entered the transfer portal. He is the second team captain to enter the portal this offseason. Click here for our analysis of his decision.
UPDATE (Jan. 6): After taking an official visit to Fayetteville, former Baylor cornerback Lorando Johnson committed to Arkansas. Click here for our analysis of his decision.
UPDATE (Jan. 8): Just a couple days after his former teammate committed, Alfahiym Walcott decided to also make the Baylor-to-Arkansas move. Click here for our analysis of his decision.
Cam Little enters the bowl game as Arkansas’ most accurate field goal kicker of all-time and will be just a junior in 2023. Eli Stein earned the starting long snapper job as a true freshman and held it until suffering a finger injury in the penultimate game of the regular season. Those two guys give the Razorbacks a good returning core in special teams.
The biggest question surrounding this group is whether or not Reid Bauer decides to use his extra year of eligibility at Arkansas. If he doesn’t, Max Fletcher would likely take over full-time punting duties. If he does, there could be another battle for the job — which has never scared Bauer away before — but it’d also mean a second straight year with two punters on scholarship.
It’s also worth noting that kickoff specialist Jake Bates, a walk-on, is out of eligibility. Little could add those duties next year, but Arkansas seems to like having separate players for those roles. That could open the door for walk-on Blake Ford or maybe the Razorbacks find another player like Bates through the portal.
UPDATE (Nov. 29): Rather than return to Arkansas as a sixth-year super senior, punter Reid Bauer will enter the transfer portal and use his extra year of eligibility elsewhere.
UPDATE (Nov. 30): Walk-on long snapper Francisco Castro has announced he plans to enter the transfer portal. It’s not a surprising move considering he was the third-team guy this year and the starter – Eli Stein – was a true freshman.
UPDATE (Dec. 1): Walk-on punter Patrick Foley has announced he plans to enter the transfer portal after two seasons with the Razorbacks. Even with Bauer leaving, he probably wouldn’t have been higher than second-string because of Fletcher. His departure leaves Arkansas with only one true punter (Fletcher) for the bowl game, but Cam Little could also punt if needed.
WACO, Texas — Once again, Arkansas basketball put itself in position for a signature win Saturday afternoon. And once again, it came up just short.
The Razorbacks squandered a six-point halftime lead and Joseph Pinion missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer in their 67-64 loss at No. 17 Baylor inside the Ferrell Center.
It was a tough ending to a game that Arkansas grabbed control of with an 11-0 run to end the half and still led with five minutes remaining, with the loss dropping it to 0-5 in true road games.
“The one thing that you always want from your basketball team is to play as hard as they possibly can,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “Anybody that was here walked away and saw a great basketball game. I feel for the locker room. They’re giving it all they have.”
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, it was an all-too-familiar ending. They also have three-point losses to Creighton and Missouri away from Fayetteville. All three of those could have been Quadrant 1 victories, according to the NET rankings, but instead they are now 1-5 in those games. The lone victory was the miracle win against San Diego State at the Maui Invitational.
Arkansas also lost at LSU by three, which is currently a Quad 2 loss and in danger of slipping into the Quad 3 range, as the Tigers are No. 131 and must stay in the top 135 to remain in the second quadrant.
As the calendar inches closer to February, those things start to loom very large when it comes to NCAA Tournament bids. The Razorbacks were 6-5 and 7-6 in Quadrant 1 games the last two years, when they earned 3 and 4 seeds, respectively.
“I’ve never had a season like this at all since I’ve been coaching and I’ve been coaching a long time,” Musselman said. “Like I said, I feel for the locker room. Three games could flip…four, whatever… I just hope we can figure out a way to continue to get better.”
‘Dagger’ Name Backfires
Saturday’s loss was particularly tough because Arkansas couldn’t have drawn up a better final play, considering the circumstances.
Baylor took a seven-point lead on a Keyonte George 3-pointer with 1:21 remaining, which could have been the final nail in the coffin, but the Razorbacks didn’t roll over and quit.
Eric Musselman praised his team for showing “no panic” and having excellent clock management down the stretch. That was particularly true in the final 10 seconds.
Coming out of a timeout with 8.8 seconds left, Arkansas had a play drawn up with three options for a 3 that would have tied the game, but Davonte Davis chose to drive it to the basket for a quick two instead of trying to force a 3. That made it a one-point game before LJ Cryer knocked down a pair of free throws to stretch it back to three.
Davis took the in-bounds and was fouled with 4.3 seconds left before getting a chance to get off a 3. Arkansas was still in the 1-and-1, but the plan was for him to make the first and then run a play Musselman picked up from Hubie Brown during his NBA days.
Even though Davis missed the first one, the Razorbacks still executed the play to perfection, with Kamani Johnson and Jalen Graham both appearing to tip the rebound to the right corner, where Joseph Pinion had bolted as soon as the shot went up. Unfortunately for Arkansas, the freshman sharp-shooter missed the open look, with the shot going off the top of the backboard.
“The free throw is exactly what we work on at the end of the summer — it’s called ‘Dagger,’” Musselman said. “Joseph had a good look. Just sometimes a shot doesn’t go. It’s tough to ask a guy who sat for that long as well.
“I thought the players did a really good job of clock management and gave ourselves an opportunity to potentially put the game into overtime.”
The name of the play actually backfired on the Razorbacks, as it proved to be the dagger in the heartbreaking loss.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Jalen Graham said he thought it was the “hardest we played” in a road game this season and that it was a “good performance,” but not enough to come away with the win.
“For us to come in here and be 0-4 (on the road) and still put up the fight that we did and having it come down to the last shot away is huge,” Graham said. “I think we’re going to change things around, to be honest.”
Toughing It Out
Just 2.5 minutes into the game, Anthony Black drove the middle of the lane and slid when trying to come to a jump stop. He was called for a travel — one of his only two turnovers — and, more importantly, came up limping after the play.
Less than a minute of game action later, Black checked out of the game. He immediately started getting treatment from the trainer, who rubbed his right knee before spending some time on the stationary bike and checking back in after missing less than three minutes.
The freshman ended up playing 35 minutes and finished with 7 points, 3 assists and 6 rebounds, several of which he had to sky for and grab in traffic — despite Eric Musselman revealing he is also dealing with a wrist injury and saying he’s “extremely banged up.”
“I knew he was going through some pain from the first half, but I knew he was never going to stop playing,” Graham said. “(Black) is tough. We need him. He’s a big guard, and we just need him to play. And he knows that we need him. He’s never going to give up on his team.”
Musselman also revealed that Makhel Mitchell was originally expected to miss 1.5-2.5 weeks with the injury he suffered against Ole Miss last Saturday. Instead, he missed only one game and returned against Baylor, playing 23 big minutes with his brother, Makhi, dealing with foul trouble.
Davonte Davis is dealing with some minor injuries, as well, so Musselman praised his team for fighting through the pain in a tight game against a ranked opponent.
“There was a point when we didn’t know if he was going to be able to go back in the game,” Musselman said. “Our trainer’s done a great job. … I mean, Makhel had a boot on and couldn’t walk three days ago. So we have a group of guys that are in uniform that are just, again, playing through injuries. I can’t compliment them enough.”
Injured stars Nick Smith Jr. (knee) and Trevon Brazile (ACL) did not travel with the team. Musselman said there was no update on Smith’s status when asked about it after the game.
Foul Disparity (Again)
In both his postgame radio interview with Chuck Barrett and with the media, Eric Musselman pointed to the free throw discrepancy as “obviously” the biggest difference in the game.
The Razorbacks ended up being called for five more fouls than Baylor, but the fouls were 11-4 at one point late in the second half. That resulted in the Bears shooting 21 of 24 (87.5%) from the line, compared to 6 of 11 (54.5%) by Arkansas.
“I thought we did a good job trying to attack the rim,” Musselman said. “In the first half offensively we were phenomenal. We were phenomenal defensively in the first half. Second half we just didn’t get to the foul line at all.”
Five of Arkansas’ fouls were called in a 52-second span about five minutes into the second half, getting Baylor into the bonus for the final 15 minutes.
“How much does it change when someone’s in the bonus that shoots fouls as good as their players? It drastically changes the game,” Musselman said. “I mean, five minutes into a half…”
From an individual standpoint, Jordan Walsh picked up two of those back-to-back, just one second apart. That doubled his foul total, sending him to the bench with four fouls. That limited him to just 9 minutes and 12 seconds in the second half.
“We lost one of our better defenders that can guard fours and guards,” Graham said. “We’re away, that’s all I can say about it. I’m not too happy about it. There were a lot of things that could have been called both ways, but it is what it is.”
In the first half, Musselman actually received a technical foul — his first of the season — when he disagreed with a call that went against Makhel Mitchell. The big man appeared to have established position when Keyonte George plowed through him on a drive to the basket, but instead of it being a charge, it was a blocking foul on Mitchell. George completed the 3-point play and LJ Cryer added the two technical free throws to make it a 5-point possession.
While Musselman continued to decline commenting specifically about the officials, as he doesn’t want to get fined, Graham said he and his teammates have come to expect such a discrepancy.
“We feel like that’s always going to happen away,” Graham said. “We just have to keep playing hard. We’re not going to get punked. We’re not going to back down. That’s not who we are. So, we’re going to keep pushing and we’re going to push back.”
One positive from the loss was the play of Ricky Council IV, the Razorbacks’ leading scorer who has struggled of late.
He surpassed his scoring total from the previous two games combined in the first half alone, with 14 points, and finished with 25 points on an efficient 10-of-17 shooting performance.
“I thought he did a great job of finding seams in the zone, especially in the second half,” Musselman said. “We kind of moved him around in different areas. I think our zone offense is drastically improved.”
Council was good in both halves, but was better in the first. He shot 6 of 7 in the first half, then 4 of 10 in the second half — while playing all but 51 seconds.
“First half, they got him to where they wanted to get him and he made some tough shots,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “He’s a really good player but he earned his points tonight. He didn’t get a lot of freebies and easy ones.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
With non-conference games fully behind them, the Razorbacks will only play SEC competition the rest of the regular season. They jump back into it Tuesday against Texas A&M at Bud Walton Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
The Aggies have been one of the more surprising SEC teams in conference play. Despite losses to Murray State, Boise State, Wofford and a couple of others in non-conference play, they won their first five SEC games before a tough loss at Kentucky.
It went on the road next and bounced back with an upset win at Auburn, snapping the Tigers’ nation-leading 28-game home winning streak. One of four teams not participating in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, Texas A&M would move into a tie with Tennessee for second in the SEC standings with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
This is the final year of the Big 12/SEC Challenge, as ESPN is ditching it and replacing it with a similar event between the SEC and ACC. Saturday’s loss dropped Arkansas to 4-5 all-time in the challenge, with all four wins coming at home and all five losses coming on the road.
As former members of the old Southwest Conference, Arkansas and Baylor have met on the hardwood quite a bit. Even though this was just the fourth time they’ve played as non-conference foes, the Bears are now the Razorbacks’ fourth-most common opponent, with 145 matchups. That moves them just ahead of Rice (144) while still trailing Texas A&M (164), SMU (155) and Texas (154). Even with losses in the last three, Arkansas leads the all-time series 96-49.
The announced attendance at the Ferrell Center was 10,627 — a season high for Baylor and the second-largest ever in the building.
Baylor was led by freshman phenom Keyonte George, a top-10 prospect in the 2022 class. A childhood best friend of Anthony Black, he scored 24 points on 8 of 20 shooting. “He’s phenomenal,” Musselman said. “He just rose up, knocked down his foul shots. Just has an incredible-looking shot… I mean, he’s a really, really, really special player — really special player.”
As a team, the Bears shot a season-worst 33.9% (20 of 59) from the field. “Coach wanted to do a goalie and he also wanted to hit off a couple of their players that he thought were not good scorers, good drivers or people that can’t make plays,” Graham said. “We were just hitting off those guys and letting those guys catch the ball and try to make plays. It was working in our favor. That was the main reason why they were pretty much shooting bad.”