Yes, the college basketball season all Arkansas Hogs fans have been looking forward to is still seven months ago.
But that doesn’t mean it’s too early for way, way early preseason polling by some of the nation’s top college basketball insiders.
In recent days, Jeff Goodman, the longtime analyst for the likes of ESPN, Fox and CBS (and now Stadium), unleashed a 2020-2021 poll that put Arkansas at No. 22. and as the third highest-ranked team in the SEC behind Kentucky (No. 8) and LSU (No. 20):
“Mason Jones is a first-team all-league guy who should be back, and we’ll see what happens with elite shooter Isaiah Joe — and whether or not he goes pro. Eric Musselman brings in four Top 100 players and also adds transfers Connor Vanover (Cal) and JD Notae (Jacksonville).”-Jeff Goodman
Here are Goodman’s Top 25 teams:
1. Baylor .
5. Michigan State
7. Texas Tech
8. Kentucky – “Nate Sestina is gone, and look for Nick Richards, Tyrese Maxey and Ashton Hagans to leave early (Immanuel Quickley is probably 50-50). John Calipari has another talented freshman class coming in, including wings BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke and point guard Devin Askew. The Wildcats bring back E.J. Montgomery, Johnny Juzang and Keion Brooks.”
13. Florida State
14. San Diego State
16. North Carolina
19. West Virginia
20. LSU – “Will Wade will be without Skylar Mays, and he could lose Trendon Watford and/or Javonte Smart to the NBA Draft. My guess is at least one of those guys will return, as will Darius Days and Charles Manning Jr. LSU will add a top-25 player in talented scorer Cam Thomas, another top-75 player in Mwani Wilkinson, and also Georgetown transfer Josh LeBlanc.”
23. Arizona State
T25. Austin Peay
ESPN’s Jeff Borzello Is Even More Bullish
Today, ESPN’s Jeff Borzello released his first Top 25 poll and has the Razorbacks slotted even higher — at No. 20.
In his breakdown, Borzello praised first year coach Eric Musselman as well as Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe for their development into one of the nation’s highest-scoring duos. Borzello says both are expected to return in 2020-21.
“Musselman also landed four ESPN 100 prospects from inside the state and has three transfers eligible after sitting out,” he continues. “The ones expected to make the biggest impact are Jacksonville transfer J.D. Notae (15.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG), California transfer Connor Vanover (7.5 PPG) and top-40 recruit Moses Moody. All three could start right off the bat. Musselman has done the rapid-rebuild thing before at Nevada and he’s on his way at Arkansas.”
Borzello believes the SEC will be stronger overall in 2020-21 than Goodman does. He has Arkansa as the fourth-highest ranked SEC team behind Kentucky (No. 5), Tennessee (No. 14) and LSU (No. 18). Here are his Top 25 squads:
- Creighton (which Mike Anderson’s St. John’s squad beat near the end of the 2019-2020 season)
- Michigan State
- North Carolina
- Texas Tech
- Ohio State
- Tennessee: “…Four starters return, including three double-figure scorers: point guard Santiago Vescovi and forwards Yves Pons and John Fulkerson. Versatile wing Josiah-Jordan James is also back. Rick Barnes also has a loaded group of newcomers entering the program, led by five-star guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, as well as ESPN 100 forward Corey Walker and Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. Tennessee is going to be deep, experienced and versatile — and could move up the rankings as teams ahead of the Volunteers lose guys to the NBA draft.”
- San Diego State
- Florida State
- West Virginia
What to expect from Connor Vanover and JD Notae
Vanover and Notae, who sat out 2019-2020 as transfers, both project to play big roles in 2020-21. Vanover, a 7’3″ center, who has added muscle to his thin frame, will be a likely starter after starring in the 2019-2020 red-white game and playing well as part of the scout team in practices.
Vanover should mesh well with Jones, Joe, Desi Sills and Moses Moody by helping further space the floor when he’s on the court. He shot 35.5 percent of 76 three-point attempts in his lone year at California.
In the last few months, “I think the biggest growth that we saw from Connor was he went from not saying much at all on the floor to one of our better talkers,” Eric Musselman said in a press conference. “Communication on the floor is really important for us in our system and what we believe in. Connor went from kind of a shy, not saying much to being one of our stronger voices.”
Notae, a 6’1″ point guard, shot about the same clip during his sophomore season at Jacksonville. He’s been adjusting well to the speed and size of his teammates, Musselman said, to the point where he often played the best player on the opposing team while on scout team duty.
He impressed Musselman with the extra work he put in on the court and in the weight room, according to HawgBeat’s Andrew Hutchinson.” He is a versatile player who could play multiple guard spots for the Razorbacks.”
“He’s a quiet guy that’s really competitive and really tough-minded,” Musselman said. “He doesn’t say a lot, but he competes. He’s got great toughness. … He’s a guy that can create his own shot. He’s a guy that I think is going to be able to create offense through defensively getting steals.”
Expect incoming freshman Jaylin Willams to also play an important role on the 2020-21 team. See his skillset, which will help both inside and out:
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