Musselman to retool Hogs on heels of losing season

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman yells to his players on the floor during the frist half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina at the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Arkansas Razorbacks’ basketball season came to an unceremonious end Thursday with a 80-66 thumping by the No. 15 South Carolina Gamecocks in the second round of the SEC Basketball Tournament in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

The Razorbacks made a game of it early, actually leading for the bulk of the first half, but the Gamecocks physicality wore the Hogs down as South Carolina went on a scoring spree at the end of the first half and added eight unanswered points to open the second.

When Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman called an early second-half timeout to stop the bleeding, you could tell by the Hogs’ body language that they were done for the game and done for the season.

South Carolina’s 1-3-1 zone kept the Hogs from getting into their down-hill, give-and-go game, and double teams of prime Razorback scorers Tramon Mark and Khalif Battle forced the ball out of their hands which led to too many late-clock 3-point attempts.

The Razorbacks failed to draw the foul attempts that they usually do. Most of that had to do with the Gamecocks’ excellent defense and trademark physicality, but all too often Arkansas settled for outside shots.

The Hogs finished the season at 16-17. It’s the Razorbacks’ first losing season since 2008-09 and 2009-10 when Arkansas had back-to-back losing seasons under coach John Pelphrey.

No doubt, Musselman will do everything possible to turn the Razorbacks around quickly, and thanks to the transfer portal, it’s possible he will be able to do it.

Though the Razorbacks were beaten on Thursday, Musselman said he was more determined than ever and more dedicated to work to get the Hogs’ program turned back in the right direction.

Musselman is used to winning as his two Elite Eight and Sweet 16 appearances attest the past three seasons.

Battle was the lone Razorback brought to the podium to speak after the loss, and when asked what went wrong this season, the young man who has another year of eligibility with the Hogs if he wants it, said the issue was with the players failing to work together, not with the coaching staff.

Arkansas guard Tramon Mark (12) tries to go between South Carolina’s Josh Gray (33) and Myles Stute (10) during the frist half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

That was a brutally honest answer that Musselman will have to sort out as he and his returning players decide what options they have.

The transfer portal will obviously be a factor. Five players — El Ellis, Chandler Lawson, Jalen Graham, Makhi Mitchell, and Jeremiah Davenport — are out of eligibility.

The remaining Hogs did not have the type of seasons conducive to entering the NBA Draft, even though Battle and Mark did show their scoring prowess.

Trevon Brazile remains the Razorback with the most pro potential based on pure athletic ability and talent, but injuries kept him off the floor for nearly half of the SEC schedule, and he often played reticent rather than dynamic when he was on the court.

Devo Davis is another Hog with a decision to make. His first three years with the Hogs were outstanding overall, but this season seemed to be a struggle for him. He missed three games during SEC play for personal reasons. After exploding for 25 points to lead Arkansas over top-seeded Kansas last year in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, he had an up and down season.

I could see any or all of those four returning or any or all of them exiting.

One need Musselman has to fill through the transfer portal is point guard. Arkansas suffered all season because of the lack of a true point guard, who was more concerned with winning and facilitating rather than anything else.

Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (4) goes up for a shot as Vanderbilt forward Ven-Allen Lubin (2) defends during the first half of a NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference, Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

With Mitchell, Lawson, and Graham out of eligibility, Musselman also needs big men with toughness, ones that won’t fade against the talent and physicality they will face nightly in the SEC.

For whatever reason, mental and physical toughness did not permeate this Razorback squad like it did the past four seasons under Musselman.

Whomever Musselman brings in this spring and summer and whomever he chooses to keep from this year’s squad, the edge, tenacity, and selflessness his previous teams played with his first four seasons at Arkansas has to be regained if the program is to return to form.