Hoop Hogs show promise in easy opener

North Dakota State guard Luke Yoder (5) tries to drive past Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

The No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks may not yet be all that their current national ranking indicates, but after a bit of a slow start, coach Eric Musselman’s reconstructed squad showed most of the promise that ranking entails Monday with a 76-58 thumping of North Dakota State at Bud Walton Arena.

And that was without Nick Smith Jr., this year’s top-rated incoming freshman in the nation, who missed the game because of a knee injury. Musselman would not give a time table on when Smith might be ready to play.

Musselman’s reluctance to offer any information on the knee injury is likely to lead to fan speculation.

The victory looked like a first game for the Hogs, particularly early, but the Bison were out-talented at every spot on the floor no matter whom Musselman deployed. However, the Bison held their own with the Razorbacks until the final five minutes of the first half when Arkansas stretched the lead to 34-26.

Any butterflies flew away at halftime, and the Hogs played much better in the second half stretching the lead to more than 20 points on several occasions.

Much is expected of this squad by fans, but it’s far too early to begin passing judgment on the team and its individual players. Maybe by New Year’s we might have a clue at what type of true potential these Hogs have, but even then, we must remember that Musselman’s last two Elite Eight squads didn’t truly gel until mid to late January.

Razorback Men’s Basketball

Opponent: Fordham
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville

Next 5 games

Nov. 16 — South Dakota State
Nov. 21 – Louisville (Maui Classic)
Nov. 22 – Texas Tech or Creighton (Maui Classic)
Nov. 23 – TBD (Maui Classic)
Nov. 28 — Troy

That might or might not be the case with this squad, but its schedule is challenging enough for the Razorbacks to face some growing pains this month and in December as Musselman and his staff work to find the right mixture of players and chemistry to carry them deeply into the NCAA Tournament again this year.

There’s been a good bit of “Final Four or bust” talk in the preseason, and who knows, it might happen, but maybe those expectations should be tempered just a bit. We Hog fans tend to dream big, and when teams don’t meet those lofty expectations, our feelings get hurt. Case in point is what is going on with the football team at the moment.

It might be better if we keep our expectations in check and just see how this team and the season develops. With Devo Davis and Kamani Johnson as the lone returning players, it’s hard to predict how this team might or might not develop.

However, it is easy to see the squad is talented. Trevon Brazile, a 6-10 sophomore stretch forward who transferred from Missouri, and 6-6 junior guard Ricky Council IV, who transferred from Wichita State, certainly handled themselves well in their first regular-season contest for the Hogs.

Brazile and Council are about as athletic of a pair of Hogs as we’ve seen in a while. They remind me a little of Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls, but perhaps potentially better.

Their athleticism is chart topping as exemplified by two jaw-dropping dunks — one by each — on back-to-back second-half trips down the floor.

From the top of the key, Brazile drove by his man for a two-hand gorilla dunk. The next trip down the floor, Council topped it with a backwards slam in traffic that would have made any dunker in Razorback history proud.

Now, the competition wasn’t great shakes, but those dunks were top-notch.

Council led all scorers with 22 on a strong 9 of 14 shooting. He also had 2 assists, a steal and 3 rebounds. Seems like a guy who gets up like he does could have gotten more boards?

Brazile was right behind him with 21 points on 7 of 14 shooting, but he added 12 rebounds for a double-double. He had an assist and a block, too. Devo Davis had 18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, but five turnovers. That was nearly half of the team’s total of 11. He also didn’t have an assist.

Makhi Mitchell, a 6-10 center who transferred from Rhode Island, had 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals.

Anthony Black, a 6-7 freshman point guard from Duncanville, Texas, only scored 3, but made his impact felt with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and a blocked shot.

North Dakota State was at an athletic disadvantage, but perhaps the best thing the Hogs did all night was play defense. The Bison shot just 34 percent from the field and 24 percent from 3-point land. They suffered 14 turnovers, which was more than they could afford against the Hogs, but not that bad all things considered.

Arkansas shot 49% from the field and a solid 40% from 3-point range, but they only shot 10. Long-range shooting might not be this team’s forte, but as long as they understand that, they should be OK. The Hogs shot 70% from the free-throw line, which isn’t as strong as past Musselman teams, but it’s still solid.

The Razorbacks are back in action at 7 p.m. Friday when Fordham visits Bud Walton Arena.