Brazile injury prompts adjustments by Hogs going into Oklahoma contest

Arkansas forward Trevon Brazile (2) blocks a shot from Creighton forward Arthur Kaluma (24) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Coaching might as well be called adjusting because even in the best of times that’s what a college coach is doing most of their day.

Whether it’s tweaking an offensive or defensive package for the next opponent or reconsidering how to deplos the hands that are on deck at any given point in the season for any number of reasons.

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman is making adjustments 10 games into this season after the loss of one of his most talented and versatile players in sophomore Trevon Brazile for the season with a knee injury. It will take six to nine months after surgery for Brazil’s knee to heal and rehabilitate after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee.

Fifty years ago, the prognosis for Brazile’s return to basketball probably would have been less than 50 percent, and he certainly wouldn’t be the same player he was, when he returned.

Sports medicine thankfully has advanced so much that there is an excellent chance of Brazile returning as athletic as he was when his right knee buckled and he went to the floor with 7:30 left in the first half of a tough 65-58 victory over North Carolina-Greensboro.

In his media conference Thursday to preview Saturday’s noon game against the Oklahoma Sooners, Musselman lamented the personal setback for Brazile, who was on everyone’s NBA Draft board before the injury, and the difference it will make for his team.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Oklahoma
When: 12 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
Where: Tulsa, Okla. (BOK Center)

Next 5 games

Dec. 17 – Bradley (in North Little Rock)
Dec. 21 — UNC Asheville
Dec. 28 — at LSU
Jan. 4 – Missouri
Jan. 7 – at Auburn

The Razorbacks had what was considered one of the best if not the best recruiting classes along with transfer classes in all of college basketball. Though the Hogs have played nine games, there has only been one when all hands were on deck.

“It’s a shame this ballclub will really have only one game together that it was fully healthy,” Musselman said. “That’s not going to change. That’s just going to be a fact for the entire year.”

A lot of sweat equity by Musselman and his staff went into putting that recruiting class together, and Brazile was a huge part of it.

While he came off the bench, Brazile played starter’s minutes, averaging 27 a game along with 11.8 points, 6 rebounds, a steal and an assist. Brazile was a fine defender who could guard the three, four, and five as well as score offensively from any of those spots. He was by far the most versatile big man on the squad at 6-11, and among the most versatile on a team filled with Swiss-Army-knife-type players.

His loss is a blow personally for him, and one for a team that has its eyes set on the college basketball sky.

We’ll never know how good the Hogs could have been with Brazile. Musselman’s Razorbacks have played their best ball in February and March, and likely still will this year if the Hogs can remain relatively injury free from this point on.

Certainly the Razorbacks, which rely on very young players, will have ups and downs, but even without Brazile, the squad ripples with talent and versatility.

An injury always opens a door of opportunity. It will be interesting to see who will soak up Brazile’s minutes and which player will take his place as the six-man and possible energy guy.

The Hogs have no other player with the length, size, skill, and athleticism of Brazile, but they do have options.

Jordan Walsh already is a starter, but he probably will absorb some of Brazile’s minutes. Kamani Johnson is a likely candidate, too, to pick up more time on the floor.

Jalen Graham and Makhel Mitchell are bigs who have been productive at times. Both could see their playing time increase if Musselman opts to play big. However, his natural inclination seems to be to go smaller.

We’ll get our first glimpse at how the Hogs will adapt against a solid Sooners squad on Saturday. Oklahoma did a number on the Razorbacks last year at Tulsa with a 20-point victory, but only Johnson and Devo Davis were around to experience it.

This is a tough time for college athletes, particularly freshmen, with the semester winding down and final exams coming up fast. Their attention can be elsewhere besides on the court.

The Hogs are favored by 6.5 points, but Arkansas did not play well last Monday. The team is no doubt still adjusting to the return of Nick Smith Jr. and now to the loss of Brazile.

I think we’ll learn a lot about the focus of this team by how they play against the Sooners.