Improved defense is Muss’ mantra for UNC-Greensboro and beyond

Arkansas’ Jalen Graham (11) and Davonte Davis (4) react in the second half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game against UConn in the West Regional of the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker) ()

After the No. 14 Arkansas Razorbacks’ stunning overtime upset of the No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers in their exhibition finale, the Hogs’ 3-0 start to the season might feel a bit anticlimactic.

That feeling should begin to change starting with tonight’s 7 p.m. matchup against North Carolina-Greensboro (1-1) at Walton Arena. The game can be streamed on ESPN + or SEC Network +.

UNC-Greensboro isn’t Purdue, but the Spartans gave SEC rival Vanderbilt all the Commodores wanted Tuesday night at Nashville before falling 74-70. No doubt they plan to push the Razorbacks just as hard, if not harder tonight.

Next week Eric Musselman packs up his Razorbacks for a trip to the Bahamas where the Hogs will compete in the prestigious Battle 4 Atlantis Invitational for three games against high-level competition.

The Hogs open against Stanford at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. On Thanksgiving, the Hogs will play either Memphis or Michigan at either 1:30 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. The Razorbacks’ opponent next Friday will be determined based on the outcome of the two previous days of play. The other side of the bracket features No. 20 North Carolina, No. 21 Villanova, Texas Tech, and Northern Iowa.

Once the Razorbacks return from their island sojourn, perhaps the most anticipated on-campus, non-conference matchup since Nolan Richardson’s No. 2 Hogs faced Jerry Tarkanian’s No.1 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in Barnhill Arena in 1991 awaits. The No. 9 Duke Blue Devils make their first appearance in Fayetteville for the first ACC/SEC Challenge on Nov. 29 in what is sure to be a night to remember.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: North Carolina-Greensboro
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17
Where: Fayetteville, Ark.

Next 5 games

Nov. 22 – Stanford, Battle 4 Atlantis (ESPNU)
Nov. 23 – Memphis or Michigan, Battle 4 Atlantis (ESPNU)
Nov. 24 – TBD, Battle 4 Atlantis (ESPNU)
Nov. 29 – Duke (ESPN)
Dec. 4 – Furman (SEC+)

Fans may go to Walton Arena tonight expecting a blowout, but they should not be surprised if the Spartans are as tough and rugged as the legendary warriors their mascot represents.

The Razorbacks survived last year’s contest with UNC-Greensboro, coming back to post a 7-point victory. Unfortunately, it was the game in which Trevon Brazile injured his knee, which sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Brazile seems to be fully recovered from the injury. His one-handed power slam was set up by excellent ball advancement from El Ellis and a spicy dish from Devo Davis. Monday night, It was the No. 3 highlight on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Brazile is prone to posterize an opponent on any given fast break. His averages are strong with 11.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks per game. However, that seems to be the tip of the iceberg for a young man who just oozes talent and ability.

I like the killer instinct we’ve seen in shooter Khalif Battle, who leads the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game, despite coming off the bench, and in Tramon Mark, a top-shelf defender who has already proven he doesn’t mind having the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.

Old Dominion center Leeroy Odiahi (21) dunks over Arkansas defenders Trevon Brazile (2) and El Ellis (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

El Ellis posted a beautiful stat line Monday in the 87-66 victory over Old Dominion. Yes, he led the Hogs in scoring with 17 points, but what stands out is that he served up 8 assists and had no turnovers. There’s not a coach in America that wouldn’t admire that ratio.

However, what Musselman will be looking for from his Hogs tonight is a slap-the-hardwood style performance on defense. Allowing Old Dominion to shoot 45.8% from behind the 3-point line erases any goodwill the Hogs earned with their offensive production.

Musselman knows that shooting percentages can falter on a given night, but defense is the engine that can drive you where you want to go on a consistent basis.

Defense is all heart and effort, and it almost always gives back what you put in.

That’s a lesson Musselman knows will travel with the Hogs to the Bahamas and beyond, and he’s going to push that truth to his squad until they can execute defensively in their sleep.

Musselman isn’t an easy coach to play for, but generally his lessons bear good fruit.