Razorbacks go back to basics after season’s slow start

Arkansas guard Khalif Battle, third from right, dribbles through Oklahoma defenders during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Joey Johnson)

In basketball, a week is a long time between games.

When there is a week between games after a loss like the Arkansas Razorbacks absorbed last Saturday in Tulsa against the Oklahoma Sooners, it can seem like an eternity.

The Razorbacks have had intensive practices this week in anticipation of their next game against a capable Lipscomb squad at 5 p.m. Saturday at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock. Musselman scrimmaging his squad in practice this week is different from his usual in-season method of game preparation.

He said Wednesday in his news conference that the Hogs would continue working on themselves even with the Lipscomb game looming, and that he would not make a decision on his lineup or rotation until the day of the game.

The Hogs aren’t necessarily starting over from scratch this week, but it wouldn’t be wrong to call the work the Razorbacks have been doing as a back to basics approach.

The Sooners dismantled the Razorbacks’ defense, driving the lane at will. The final tally of 79-70 was not indicative of how bad the Sooners’ throttled the Hogs.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Lipscomb
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16
Where: Simmons Bank Arena in 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)

Before Oklahoma began to substitute, the Sooners had the Razorbacks in a choke hold, and basically ran away with the game after a fairly competitive first half.

When asked what the Hogs didn’t do wrong in the contest, fifth-year Razorback coach said Arkansas actually closed out on 3-point shooters relatively well. Interestingly enough, that’s an area previous Razorback teams had to work on during the pre-conference portion of the season.

Musselman is a devout believer in man-to-man defense. The Hogs have played zone on a limited basis during his tenure as a Razorback coach, and he has yet to give up on this squad improving their man-to-man defense.

Simply put the Razorbacks are working on staying between their designated man and the basket. As simple as it sounds, it’s not easy.

It’s anyone’s guess how different the Razorbacks’ lineup will look. Trevon Brazile worked on a limited basis this week through at least Wednesday’s workout. Musselman was unsure or possibly just didn’t want to say whether his talented forward would play.

Defense has never been Devo Davis’ issue. My guess is the senior will be in the starting lineup.

Traman Mark is also one of Arkansas’ better defenders, but if he is still working through a back and hip injury he suffered in the Bahamas in the Hogs’ final game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, he remains a question mark. But if Mark is healthy enough, he would be a likely starter, too.

Beyond Davis, Mark and Brazile if they are healthy, it’s anyone’s guess from a team full of candidates.

Saturday’s game is the first of three contests before the Hogs open SEC play on Jan. 6 when Auburn visits Bud Walton Arena.

There is a lot of time for work between the trio of games, depending on how much time off Musselman allows his squad for Christmas.

The Hogs need to make sure that their work pays off once the SEC season starts. A 6-4 record and a 125 RPI rating isn’t where most fans or Musselman envisioned the Razorbacks being at this juncture.

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 usually rounds his team into shape around mid-January, but this is a Razorback squad that could use a hot start in SEC play to begin making up ground.

If the Hogs are going to round into shape by the time SEC begins, we should start to see some evidence of it Saturday evening against Lipscomb.