Chile Pepper races, Red-White game take center stage

The Arkansas Razorbacks football team is enjoying an open date this weekend after a 2-3 start to the season. They will be back in action at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 12 in Lexington when the Hogs face Kentucky (2-3) on the SEC Network.

However, that doesn’t mean Razorback fans are without opportunities to call the Hogs.

Arkansas’ nationally ranked cross country teams take center stage at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival at Agri Park.

Lance Harter’s women’s team is ranked No. 2 in the nation, while Chris Bucknam’s men are ranked No. 25. The festival, which is celebrating its 31st year, is the only chance to see the Razorbacks compete at home until the NCAA South Regional Championships on Nov. 15 a week before the NCAA Championship, which will be held Nov. 23 at Terre Haute, Ind.

The Chile Pepper is known as one of the premiere running events in the nation, drawing regional competitors from most of Arkansas’ border states as well as the state’s top running programs on the high school level.

Each year are than 80 college teams and 120 high school teams battle for prestige and unique Chile Pepper themed awards. Additionally, 750 individuals participate in the Open 10k and 5K Fun Run plus the Tom Lewis 1 Mile Dash.

The Chile Pepper is a great event to experience, but it’s also one that allows runners of all stripes to compete in with the Tom Lewis mile run for competitors under 12 at 6:20 p.m. today and the Tom Lewis open mile run at 6:40 p.m.

The schedule of events on Saturday is:

7:30 a.m.. Open 10,000 meters
9 a.m. Men’s collegiate 8,000 meters
9:50 a.m. Men’s collegiate 8,000 meters heat 2
10:40 a.m. Women’s collegiate 5,000 meters
11:20 a.m. Women’s collegiate 5,000 meters heat 2
Noon High school boys varsity 5,000 meters
12:30 p.m.. High school girls varsity 5,000 meters
1:15 p.m.. High school boys open 5,000 meters
1:45 p.m. High school girls open 5,000 meters
2:45 p.m.. Junior high school boys 2 mile
3:15 p.m. Junior high school girls 2 mile

Red-White Basketball Scrimmage

New head basketball coach Eric Musselman will give Razorback fans a preview of what they are in store for this season at 3 p.m. at venerable Barnhill Arena for the Hogs’ Red-White basketball scrimmage.

Admission is free and seats are on a first-come, first-served basis. The arena, which has not hosted a men’s basketball game since a 1993 tilt with LSU, opens at 1:30 p.m.

Musselman and the Razorbacks will convene in the Walker Pavilion following the game, which will have four, eight-minute quarters and a seven-minute halftime.

Musselman expressed his admiration for the history of Razorback basketball when he was hired as head coach in April. The Razorbacks will celebrate their storied past with a ceremony to honor former head coaches Eddie Sutton (1974-1985) and Nolan Richardson (1985-2002). Members of Sutton’s family and Richardson and members of his family are scheduled to be on hand for the event held in the venue that truly is the cradle of Razorback basketball.

Musselman brings an exciting brand of basketball to the Razorback program, which he had dubbed Pace and Space. Offensively, Musselman likes to spread the floor with 3-point shooters, which opens the lane for drives to the basket. He wants to score with 3-pointers, layups and free throws. His offense does offer freedom, but the structure will be more disciplined that what fans were used to in Mike Anderson and Richardson’s system with more set plays.

Defensively, Musselman believes in an in-your-face brand of man-to-man defense that puts pressure on the ball handler and denies the passing lanes.

The Razorbacks will feature a smallish, guard-oriented offense this season out of necessity. While Musselman would rather have more size, his system at Nevada was centered around guards and wings who could shoot from 3-point range and also attack the basket for high-percentage shots and to draw fouls.

Musselman and his staff broke the team down into Team Eddie in the Red and Team Nolan in the White.

Team Eddies includes Isaiah Joe, Adrio Bailey, J.D. Notae, Emeka Obukwelu, Connor Vanover, Ethan Henderson, and Jimmy Whitt.

Team Nolan includes Jeantal Cylla, Desi Sills, Jalen Harris, Ty Stevens, Mason Jones, Abayomi Iyiola, and Reggie Chaney.

Musselman has stated that making the NCAA Tournament is the team goal in his first season, but that will be a challenge for a smallish team with only 11 players, but Musselman understands that needs to be the Razorbacks’ goal every season.

This should be a fun team to watch and mature with eight letterman returning from last year’s squad and with the addition of graduate transfers Cylla and Whitt, who played his freshman year with the Razorbacks before playing two season at SMU.

It’s always interesting to get to know a new coach and to begin to understand the ins and outs of his system.

Ironically, Musselman’s style of play can be viewed as a melding of Sutton and Richardson’s own style of basketball with an NBA flavor. It should be attractive to both fans and recruits.

However, what really sells a program is winning. Former coach Mike Anderson unfortunately did not do that consistently enough in his eight seasons despite not ever having a losing season.

Sutton and Richardson set the bar high with their winning ways that three coaches have failed to achieve since Richardson’s departure.

As a fan, I hope that Musselman will be able to return the Razorbacks to their glory days of the late 1970s through the end of the 1990s.

Razorback fans are starving to support a big-time winning program once again.