Hoop Hogs impress despite trouble with turnovers

Even among the most jaded Arkansas fans and onlookers, the Razorbacks basketball squad’s performances during their 10-day, four-game tour of Spain and Italy had to be at least a little bit impressive.

Yes, the competition was substandard compared to what Eric Musselman’s fourth Razorback squad will face in SEC play this season and maybe even most of their non-conference opponents, but the summer sneak peak at the Hogs for those who subscribed to Flohoops streaming service was well worth the price if only to place faces and playing styles with the names we’ve all heard and read about.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The play was sloppy. The Razorbacks probably averaged 20 plus turnovers a game. The Hogs’ shot selection probably wasn’t exactly what Musselman envisioned, and no doubt that had an effect on the team’s shooting percentage from the outside.

Such undisciplined play will be unacceptable to Musselman and his staff once the season rolls around in November, but the raw talent on display was impressive. Once this group gels into a cohesive unit, Hog fans are going to go nuts watching this squad play.

How long that will take is hard to know. If you remember, it took the Razorbacks until mid-to-late January to round into shape each of the past two seasons as Musselman experimented with his lineup and eight-man rotation during the first third of the season.

The same might happen this season, or maybe this early trip will expedite the players coming together as a team? There’s really no way to tell from watching the four games. But what you could see is why this recruiting class was ranked so highly — No. 2 in the nation — and also why Musselman offered scholarships to the transfers he brought into the program from the portal.

It’s early, but this is the single largest infusion of high-grade talent into the program at one time since Nolan Richardson brought in Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, and Oliver Miller from the high school ranks and Lenzie Howell from junior college for the 1988-89 season.

Strictly on talent not what they accomplished, I’d rate that group ahead of Richardson’s 1992-93 recruiting class which included freshmen Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman as well as transfers Corey Beck and Dwight Stewart, who of course, were the nucleus of the 1994 national title team along with Clint McDaniel who was a freshman in 1991-92.

Day, Mayberry, and Miller were all first-round NBA Draft picks in the summer of 1992. Of course, it was a different day back then. One-and-done players were uncommon.

At least three Razorback freshmen — Nick Smith Jr., Anthony Black, and Jordan Walsh — probably have aspirations of moving on to the NBA next summer, and with the way 6-10 sophomore Trevon Brazile, a transfer from Missouri, played, he might be on a similar trajectory.

Now, who knows how quickly each of them will develop this season, or what type of year any of them will actually have?

Odds are, however, that all of them won’t return for next season. It’s just the nature of the college game today. So, they are all on a one-year mission to achieve as much as they can with this Razorback squad.

How much can they accomplish?

Who knows? However, I did see enough talent on display to whet my appetite for the basketball season, even with a tantalizing football season on our doorstep, just three weeks away.

The Razorbacks went 4-0 during their tour. The Hogs defeated the Bakken Bears Monday, 70-59, with Smith, the nation’s top-rated recruit last year, sidelined by a sprained knee in the second half.

Previously, the Hogs defeated Valencia Selection, 108-59, last Tuesday; Catalon Elite, 99-86, last Thursday in Italy before traveling to Spain for yesterday’s game and last Saturday’s 75-54 victory over Orange 1 Basket Bassano.

In his post-game Zoom teleconference Monday, Musselman overall saw a lot of things he liked, but he made it clear that the Hogs’ turnover count must come down.

Musselman reiterated his goal for turnovers is no more than nine. So there is a lot of work to do.

“I’m really happy with how we played both sides of the ball other than the turnovers,” Musselman said. “And I think the turnovers are something that when you play high school basketball, turnovers are accepted because your talent can take over.

You can’t turn over the ball in the SEC and win. There’s too many close games. Now we have concrete evidence to show guys what we have to do better.”

Musselman nailed his squad hard for their carelessness with the basketball, and no doubt he will devise a way to make that abundantly clear to them physically when they return to the states. The work until preseason camp begins in October, I’d imagine, won’t be pleasant.

“The turnovers are ridiculous,” Musselman said. “Words can’t describe how concerned I am about our turnovers. Our three-point shooting has got to improve. I didn’t think it could match last year, but it kind of is.

“So in a short amount of time, meaning September and October, we have some guys that really have to work on taking care of the ball and then we’ve got to improve perimeter shooting.”

Musselman said he’ll demand better judgement on how and to whom passes are delivered, particularly in transition. He used football as an analogy.

“What we found is we are having all these turnovers in the middle of the field,” Musselman said. “I talked to our team about how hard it is sometimes for wide receivers when they do a down-and-in (route) compared to a down-and-out. When you talk to wide receivers, a lot of guys like to catch balls on the sideline rather than up the middle.

“We’re trying to give our big guys passes while they are running at full speed at the free-throw line. That puts our big men in a difficult situation no different than if you have a guy going down and in across the field and there’s four defensive backs or linebackers waiting to clock them.

“We have to become way better quarterbacks envisioning who we are passing the ball to and where we are passing the ball.”

The up side was that Musselman was pleased with the defensive performance of his squad against a veteran team. He called the first quarter of Thursday’s game one of the better defensive performances he’s seen.

“We beat a really good team, a really experienced team with 30 turnovers,” Musselman said. “That’s what happens when you have a lot of new guys. You’re going to turn the ball over a lot.”

Like most Hog fans, I have little doubt that Musselman will get the Razorbacks’ turnover issues under control.

Won’t it be interesting and fun to see how many more points this squad will be able to rack up when they aren’t so careless with the basketball?