Hogs open promising hoops season with Alcorn State

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman celebrates an overtime exhibition victory over No. 3 Purdue on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. (UA Athletics)

Have you come down yet from last Saturday?

I don’t know if I have. The Arkansas Razorbacks’ 81-77 overtime victory over No. 3 Purdue last weekend in an exhibition game was some high-level college hoops.

Obviously playing the game in front of a sold-out Bud Walton Arena crowd was a huge advantage for Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks, but still what a game!

Going into the exhibition, I didn’t really know what to expect from the Hogs, but I honestly figured the veteran Purdue squad would roll in, win by about 10, and we’d all be impressed that this Razorback team made a game of it.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After a tight start by both squads, the Razorbacks absolutely took the fight to the Boilermakers. For a moment with around five minutes left in regulation, it looked like the Hogs might win by six to 10 points, but a little bit of selfish and careless play crept in and the Boilermakers erased the deficit and took momentary control for a 3-point lead.

However Tramon Mark, a transfer from Houston, would have none of that. He sank a trey from the left wing to tie the game up. That was an ice-water play if I’ve ever seen one.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Alcorn State
When: 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6
Where: Fayetteville, Ark.

Next 5 games

Nov. 10 – Gardner-Webb (ESPN+/SEC+)
Nov. 13 – Old Dominion (ESPN+/SEC+)
Nov. 17 – UNC Greensboro (ESPN+/SEC+)
Nov. 22 – Stanford, Battle 4 Atlantis (ESPNU)
Nov. 23 – Memphis or Michigan, Battle 4 Atlantis (ESPNU)

Louisville transfer El Ellis could have won the game on his drive to the basket, but left it a bit short off the glass, but he made up for it in the overtime period. Mark missed four free throws in a row, but made the ones the Hogs needed to seal the victory.

The guard and small forward play on this team looked strong. The interchangeable parts on this squad is ridiculous. The team is about eight deep with Hogs who can play two or more positions.

While the rebounding may have been lacking a bit, the defense Arkansas played was high level for an October exhibition game.

The competition for minutes and roles should keep this squad on its toes and help maintain a competitive edge in practice. The team has so many talented and mature players that if a Hog has a bad day there will be someone ready to take some of his minutes.

Certainly two exhibition games is a short sample size, and it’s easy to get too worked up about early season basketball.

But this is a team with the type of depth and versatility that reminds me of the 1989-1995 hey days of Nolan Richardson’s program. Musselman likes a tighter core group than what Richardson did, but this looks like a squad that can go nine to 10 deep on a regular basis if Muss chooses to do that.

The competition for minutes always kept Nolan’s best teams sharp throughout what is a long season. That looks like it will be the case with this Razorbacks squad, which might be better than their No. 14 ranking.

The early competition on the regular-season schedule might be a let down to fans and perhaps even to the Razorbacks after such a high in exhibition play, but the Hogs’ schedule heats up the week of Thanksgiving when they head to Paradise Island, Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis showcase Nov. 22-24.

When the Razorbacks return home, they host Duke on Nov. 29 in the SEC/ACC Challenge in what has to be the biggest non-conference game in Fayetteville since the 1992 UNLV contest at Barhnill Arena.

Before December rolls around, we’re going to have a good idea exactly what kind of potential this Razorback squad has for the a season in which is the 30th anniversary of Arkansas’ lone basketball national title over the Blue Devils in 1993-94.