For the first time ever, the Razorback men’s basketball team won a road game at a Big 10 team’s arena. That this happened against an historic powerhouse in Indiana, against a one-loss team ahead of Arkansas in most rankings, makes Arkansas’ thrilling 71-64 win on Sunday night all the more significant.
Following the game, Razorback radio color commentator Matt Zimmerman (a former assistant under Mike Anderson) held nothing back: “This is a very, very special team,” he said to play-by-play man Chuck Barrett. “I think they can win the SEC this year.”
There’s still a rather large mountain to climb there, but at 11-1 record the Hogs vie with Auburn as the hottest team in the SEC heading into conference play. Critically, the conversation around the team is shifting. It was assumed all preseason and throughout most of this non-conference schedule that the Hogs’ lack of size inside would be an Achilles’ heel. Against the towering, bruising Hoosiers, however, it was anything but.
“Every night people say, ‘How is Arkansas gonna match up with fill-in-the-blank?,'” Eric Musselman told Chuck Barrett minutes after the game. “Well, you know what — how are they gonna match up with us? Because in reality, Mason Jones at the four spot is a nightmare for opposing teams.”
“[Others ask] ‘How do we match up? How are we going to be able to hold our own on the glass? It’s ‘We don’t play enough guys, so we’re going to get tired.’ Well, who got tired tonight? The team with all the depth got tired. It wasn’t Arkansas.”
Here is the rest of the Eric Musselman interview after the Arkansas-Indiana game:
“It was awesome, Chuck, can’t wait to get back to Fayetteville. We Just talked to the team and said Bud Walton should be rocking on Saturday against Texas A&M as we head into SEC play. This is a great way to go into conference play, without a question. In the last 50 years or whatever, this is one of the hardest buildings to win in.”
Chuck Barrett: They’re calling the Hogs right here behind you. Everybody was wearing red here, so you couldn’t tell who the Razorback fans were. I think we can tell right now.
Eric Musselman: We got a lot of Razorback fans here. It’s so awesome.
Chuck Barrett: You close the ballgame on a 19 to 3 run. Tell us about what the keys were and talk us through that almost eight-minute period there.
Eric Musselman: Well, we just kept talking about how we wanted to try to limit the touches of No. 4, Trayce Jackson-Davis. At halftime, we changed our post defense. I thought we did a great job of fronting and changing his angles. I think he only had four points in that second half. That was the big key to try to slow down their offense a little bit.
On Razorback rebounding:
“Every guy that checked in the game got a rebound. That is huge for us. I thought we scrapped around. The big thing is when you play in front of a crowd like that, it’s just how do you kind of hang around, hang around, hang around.
In one of the timeouts late, maybe with about 10 minutes, I said ‘We’ve got to start knocking down some threes.’ That’s where our advantage was gonna be, was to space the floor, try to hit as many threes as we possibly could.”
Catch the highlights reel of Arkansas-Indiana here:
Chuck Barrett: Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones at the end. You talk about spacing the floor — when they get looks, they’re as deadly as anybody.
Eric Musselman: Yeah, [Indiana] tried switching it and we ran a little flare one time. With those two guys, when they’re involved in pick and roll, it’s a tough cover for the opposition.
Chuck Barrett: Fun night, coach. Congratulations. Let’s go to Fayetteville.
Eric Musselman: Hey Chuck, I know one thing, man. I’m going to have a heck of a plane ride back, as everybody in this travel party’s going to. Let’s go Hogs! We’re going to see you on Saturday night at Bud Walton — let’s get that place rockin’!
After Arkansas-Indiana, some major national media figures paid Arkansas basketball respect:
Just look at these Tweets:
What is Arkansas Ranked?
UPDATE: Not everyone gave love, though. On Monday, Associated Press voters not only left Arkansas out of the Top 25, but also kept them out of the unofficial “Top 30” — despite the fact that the Hogs are now No. 26 in the NET rankings.
Arkansas basketball would be ranked ranked No. 34, according to the nine votes it received:
More insight from Eric Musselman:
These Hogs have ” done a great job of adapting to a new style and a new system, really on both sides of the ball. We worked hard this summer on trying to implement stuff,” Musselman said in the post-game press conference. “We didn’t want to continue to try and evolve in December and January, we wanted out of the gates to try and as many offensive sets as possible and to have defensive schemes in.”
“Then we are able to tweak some things like we were able to teak tonight. The way we defended two different halves, we defended the post play completely different… Every game we hear the same thing, how is Arkansas going to match up with people? Well, they also have to match up with us because we play four guards and we space the floor and we’re hard to match up with when we’re knocking down threes… I thought the other thing was we did a good job of defending without fouling. That was a huge key coming into the game.”
Details on guarding the Indiana big man, Trayce Jackson-Davis who only had three shots in the second half think after scoring 16 points in the first:
“The first half we had out point guard guarding him and we fronted, and I thought he outran us to be honest. I don’t think he hurt us much in the half court, it was offensive rebounds, loose change, running the floor. Then in the second half, I thought Adrio Bailey and Reggie (Chaney) did a phenomenal job of just trying to limit his touches.”
“We wanted their perimeter players to get as many shots up as we could, and I thought that by eliminating Trayce Jackson-Davis’s inside shot attempts and trying to make them beat us from the perimeter, I thought it changed the game a little bit for us.”
Your dad was a great coach [Bill Musselman coached the Minnesota Gophers], but I don’t think he ever won here. How does it feel to come in here, especially with those memories of you as a kid coming in here with your dad’s team. What’s it like to win here?
“Just growing up and traveling with my dad, whether it was the Michigan team when Johnny Orr was coaching with Campy Russell or Coach [Bob] Knight’s team here, I went on every road trip I possibly could. To coach in a building that my dad coached in and played in this conference, even my son was like ‘wow this is really cool’ to think that his grandpa coached here.”
“With my wife and daughter, Danyelle wanted to come because she had never seen a game here and we brought Mariah, she probably would have rather stayed at home and done some dance or whatever. But we wanted her to experience Assembly Hall as well, just because of all the historical things that had to do with this building from a basketball perspective.”
For more on how Eric Musselman has transformed the culture of Hogs basketball, read this: