Muss to mix up rotation as Hogs figure things out

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman, front right, is ejected during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Joey Johnson)

By the time the Arkansas Razorbacks take the court at 5 p.m. Saturday to play the Lipscomb Bison at Simmons Bank Arena in Little Rock, they may appear to be a very different basketball team.

After the Razorbacks 79-70 loss to the undefeated Oklahoma Sooners in Tulsa, Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said there would be definite changes in the Hogs’ starting lineup and playing rotation.

The Razorbacks fell to 6-4 on the season with the loss. It’s obviously not where Musselman nor the Hogs expected to be at this point when they opened the season.

While the Razorbacks did defeat Duke, 80-75, in Walton Arena on Nov. 29 when the Blue Devils were ranked No. 7, the Hogs might have played their best so far this season in an exhibition game that ultimately means nothing when they defeated Purdue, 81-77, in overtime on Oct. 28.

The Hogs’ other marquee opportunities have seen them on the wrong side of the ledger against Memphis, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.

Those games weren’t fun, and while they aren’t exactly what you would label as bad losses, there are too many of them for such a small sample size.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Lipscomb
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16
Where: North Little Rock

Next 5 games

Dec. 21 – Abilene Christian, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)
Dec. 30 – UNC Wilmington, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)
Jan. 6 – Auburn, 1 p.m. (ESPN2)
Jan. 10 – at Georgia, 8 p.m. (ESPN2/U)
Jan. 13 – at Florida, 4 p.m. (ESPN)

Now the 78-72 home loss to UNC Greensboro is a bad loss. It’s the kind that sticks to your NCAA resume like tar.

If the Razorbacks make the NCAA Tournament this year — and make no mistake that’s an iffy proposition at this moment — that loss to Greensboro is going to hurt their seeding.

Honestly, depending on how the rest of the season goes and how much the Razorbacks improve, that loss might be the final stone that keeps them out of the Big Dance.

That may or may not be hyperbole, depending on how much the Razorbacks improve as this season moves along.

By a quirk of scheduling, the Razorbacks only play three games in the next 20 days. That’s an eternity of practice time for a college basketball team.

And Musselman is a coach who has proven that he can turn a team around within the course of the season.

We’ve seen him do it more than once in his four previous seasons at Arkansas, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned this team around, too.

One of the last things Muss said in his post-game press conference after the Oklahoma defeat is that he is going to tinker with his team — no set lineup or player rotation going into the next game.

There is no telling what kind of lineup we might see Saturday against Lipscomb. It will be different even if it is only for a short time, just so Muss can prove a point.

While this team is gifted with several talented guards who can score, Musselman is looking for a trio of guards who can keep themselves between the basket and the ball-handler.

That did not happen Saturday as Porter Moser’s Sooners drove at will on whomever Musselman put on the floor until he was ejected from the game after receiving two technical fouls.

He might have intentionally got ejected not to have to continue to watch his players’ poor defensive performance. Know that almost everything Musselman does on the floor is calculated to one degree or another.

Musselman said the Razorbacks were not playing with the defensive personality that he established at first in his four seasons at Utah and later with the Hogs.

I’m guessing we will see an improved performance by Saturday, despite the fact that final exams are being held this week at the UA.

Arkansas forward Trevon Brazile (2) drives to the basket against Oklahoma during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Joey Johnson)

Musselman also wants to see better organization from his point guards as the Hogs transition from offense to defense. They gave up too many quick hitters early in the shot clock by not being set defensively.

Musselman said his program is built on great toughness, a will to win, and great competitiveness, and added that his team will get better in those areas, and that it will become a part of its personality.

Musselman said the Razorbacks will concentrate on themselves and not spend as much time on game-planning for specific teams. He said a prime goal is for each player to understand and accept their role, play connected defense, and go to the boards with physicality. He indicated that all of that had been missing in recent outings.

Musselman said his team is struggling defensively and has not grasped its concepts like his previous college teams had.

Musselman did credit Trevon Brazile for his toughness of playing with a sore ankle that he turned in the 97-83 victory over Furman last Monday. Brazile playing was a game-time decision, Musselman said. Brazile played 15:21 but did not score. He grabbed a rebound and made 2 steals.

Only Khalif Battle with 13 points and Jeremiah Davenport with 12 points scored in double figures on a day when Arkansas shot 40% from the field and just 22.2% from 3-point range. Battle led all Razorbacks with 5 rebounds.

The Sooners pounded Arkansas on the boards 33 to 25 and shot 51% from the field and 38.9% from the 3-point line.

This is the last year for the Crimson and Cardinal series as a non-conference game. Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC officially this summer, guaranteeing the Hogs and Sooners will play each other often if not every year as rivals.

Musselman said every SEC team is a rival to him with no game standing out over the others because he grew up well outside the area in San Diego.

The Hogs have three more non-conference games against the aforementioned Lipscomb on Saturday, Abilene Christian on Dec. 21, and UNC Wilmington on Dec. 30 before opening their SEC schedule against Auburn at Walton Arena on Jan. 6.