Eric Musselman takes pace from Nevada Wolf Pack to Arkansas
AP Basketball Writer
Eric Musselman’s Nevada teams played an up-tempo style predicated on crisp passing and 3-point shooting. The Wolf Pack certainly had success with it, earning three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in program history.
Now Musselman is taking the show to the SEC.
In his first season as Arkansas’ head coach, Musselman plans to use some of the same free-flowing style that made his four-year run in Reno so successful.
“We’re obviously going to be a high-volume 3-point shooting team, play with a little pace,” Musselman said. “Same goals as we had at Nevada last year, 200 passes per game.”
The Razorbacks went to the NCAA Tournament three times the past five years, but it wasn’t good enough for Mike Anderson to keep his job.
The Razorbacks turned to Musselman, who had stints in the NBA, CBA and D-League and went 110-34 at Nevada. He takes over a Razorbacks program that is essentially the same as last year’s 18-16 team outside of forward Daniel Gafford, who left for the NBA after leading Arkansas in scoring and rebounding.
The other four starters are back: guards Isaiah Joe, Jalen Harris, Mason Jones and Adrio Bailey. Joe is one of the nation’s top 3-pointer shooters, Harris is a super distributor, Jones can shoot it from deep as well and Bailey is the type of player who does whatever’s needed. Sophomore guard Desi Sills and sophomore forward Reggie Chaney each averaged more than 16 minutes last season.
Musselman relied heavily on transfers at Nevada and bolstered his new team with graduate transfers Jeantal Cylla from UNC Wilmington and Jimmy Whitt Jr.
The 6-foot7 Cylla can bang down low, but also step out at hit 3s. Whitt, a 6-3 guard, is back in Fayetteville after leaving for SMU following his freshman season at Arkansas. He averaged 12.3 points and 6.4 rebounds for the Mustangs last season.
Cylla and Whitt have combined for nearly 1,900 career points — roughly the same as Arkansas’ top six returning scorers — and will provide a wealth of experience.
Arkansas also could get a big boost if 7-foot-3 Cal transfer Connor Vanover is granted a waiver by the NCAA to be play right away.
The Razorbacks were picked to finish 11th in the SEC preseason media poll.
“I definitely think people are overlooking us,” Joe said. “But at this point, we have to prove ourselves now.”
Joe was prolific after arriving in Fayetteville as a freshman last season. The athletic 6-5 guard was fourth in NCAA history for most 3-pointers by a freshman with 113, breaking the school record and SEC freshman record. He also became the first freshman to lead the SEC in 3-point shooting at 41.3% and is already within 40 3-pointers of cracking Arkansas’ top-10 career list.
And don’t expect him to slow down, either; during the Razorbacks’ exhibition game against Arkansas-Little Rock, Joe put up 17 shots from 3-point range.
Arkansas should have no trouble scoring, but faces two key areas to have a successful season: turnovers and defensive rebounding.
Nevada was able to have a relatively low turnover ratio despite playing at such a fast tempo the past few seasons, but the Razorbacks had troubles with live-ball turnovers and will be playing at a pace they’re getting used to. Cutting those down will allow their high-scoring offense to click.
Despite having big players, Arkansas has struggled to secure defensive rebounds in recent years, finishing 300th in Division I last season. Losing the 6-11 Gafford will hurt even more, so the Razorbacks will have to make a collective effort to crash the defensive boards.
Musselman will count on Whitt to help out with rebounding from a guard spot.
Arkansas has a relatively easy nonconference schedule, which should allow the newcomers to get comfortable with the returning players.
The Razorbacks open at home against Rice on Nov. 5, with games against Georgia Tech, Tulsa, Valpo and at Indiana before opening SEC against Texas A&M on Jan. 4.