FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Eric Musselman is treading on ground only Hall of Famers Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson have walked at Arkansas.
Musselman, entering his fifth year as Arkansas’ head coach, has led the Razorbacks to the postseason in each of the previous three seasons. They might have made it in 2020, too, had the postseason not been canceled because of COVID-19.
The odds are strong Musselman joins Sutton and Richardson by making the NCAA Tournament four straight years. The 14th-ranked Razorbacks were picked to finish third in the SEC.
Trevon Brazile was named preseason first-team All-SEC. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 11.8 points and 6.0 rebounds last season before suffering a season-ending right ACL tear in December.
“In my opinion, when he got hurt he was one of the best players in the league,” Musselman said. “When you’re one of the best players in the league, you’re probably one of the best players in the country.”
Preseason All-SEC second-teamer Davonte Davis was an elite defender last season. The guard can shoot it too — he averaged 10.9 points per game while making 35% from 3-point range last season.
Only five scholarship players return from Arkansas’ 2022-23 team as Musselman maintained his status as a dynamite recruiter in the transfer portal.
All six players he landed via the portal are expected to be in the rotation. Wings Khalif Battle (Temple), Jeremiah Davenport (Cincinnati), Tramon Mark (Houston) and Denjiay Harris (Southern Mississippi) are all new to the roster. El Ellis (Louisville) will handle point guard duties with Davis. Chandler Lawson (Memphis) will join Brazile at forward.
Point guard Keyon Menifield Jr. transferred in from Washington, but will redshirt as a sophomore.
Arkansas’ season ended last year in a blowout loss to Connecticut. The Huskies dominated Arkansas on the interior, a position the Razorbacks didn’t enhance from the portal.
Arkansas does return starting center Makhi Mitchell and reserve 6-foot-10 forward Jalen Graham. A full season from Brazile would help, though the most intriguing change is the addition of McDonald’s All-American Baye Fall. With three experienced bodies in front of him, Fall should be able to develop at a reasonable pace, though if the struggles inside continue, he may be pressed into duty.
“I thought our freshmen last year developed,” Musselman said. “We go from 10th in the SEC to growing with each game, and then it’s a team that upsets Kansas and plays in the Sweet Sixteen. It was because that group got better. I think there is a lot of upside for freshmen to grow over the course of a 30-game college season. It’s cool for a coaching staff to be a part of a player’s growth."
Musselman never settled on a consistent rotation with his roster last year, largely because of injuries to Brazile and eventual NBA Draft pick Nick Smith Jr. With all the aforementioned players plus returning sharp-shooter Joseph Pinion and McDonald's All-American guard Layden Blocker, plenty of mixing-and-matching is expected again in 2023-24, especially during the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Arkansas’ stretch of three straight Sweet 16s is the program’s longest since a run of four straight from 1993-96. The Razorbacks won the national championship in 1994 and returned to the title game in 1995, falling to UCLA.
The Razorbacks open the season at home Nov. 6 against Alcorn State. The schedule includes games against Stanford and either Memphis or Michigan before a Nov. 29 home game against No. 2 Duke. The SEC opener is Jan. 6 against Auburn.
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