By Kevin McPherson

LITTLE ROCK — With their four-game European exhibition tour wrapped up and capped by a 70-59 win over the Danish club Bakken Bears on Monday in Lake Como, Italy, the Arkansas Razorbacks returned home to Fayetteville late Tuesday with a perfect 4-0 record while having identified a blend of team strengths and weaknesses that will help inform head coach Eric Musselman on how to proceed with just under three more months of preparation before the start of the 2022-23 regular season in early November.

Fifteen Hoop Hogs and Arkansas’ sizeable extended basketball staff were enriched by the 10-day tour that offered many on- and off-court learning experiences while giving media and fans glimpses into the future regarding potential personnel rotations; the good, bad, and ugly of specific team dynamics on both sides of the ball; and the potential of individual players.

While the Hogs were in Europe, our content was not only hyper-focused on their exhibition tour but we also brought you expansive coverage of everything related to the men’s basketball program that included exclusive recruiting updates, scheduling updates, and Pro Hog nuggets that were all breaking in real time as the team was traveling and playing games abroad.

So, let’s get into another deep-dive analysis to put a bow on the Hoop Hogs’ four-game European tour followed by links to all of our 360-degree coverage of Arkansas men’s basketball spanning the past 10 days (Aug. 7-16) …

Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022 … Razorbacks EURO TOUR wrap sheet with final takeaways and analysis

Offense, strengths and weaknesses. The Hogs came into their foreign tour built for transition supremacy with a slash-and-pass philosophy in how to attack the paint and rim in halfcourt offense, which turned out to be precisely their gameplan in all four outings. The Hogs often executed beautifully — 40 dunks in 4 games to go with what seemed like a thousand layups while averaging 88.0 points per game with a 23.5-point average winning margin — but 84 turnovers (21.0 per outing) often mucked up the works. That Arkansas looked even more dismal shooting from 3 (16-of-56 for 28.6%) than it did last season when the Hogs were among the worst teams shooting from distance in Division 1 was offset by the fact they were laser-focused on getting to the cup in Europe, going an impressive 142-of-221 on two-point attempts (64.3%). Offensive rebounding was definitely a plus for the Hogs (55 total for 13.8 per game) as they often converted their putback attempts. One of the top free throws made and free throws attempted teams in D1 in each of Musselman’s first three seasons at Arkansas, the Hogs collectively managed only 41-of-58 from the foul line (70.7%), which not only fell well short of their standards but also checked up short relative to the collective free throw totals of their four EurOpponents. Their return home to Fayetteville on Tuesday created enough distance from FIBA rules and the bizarre international officiating that it immediately helped correct some of the turnover and fouling discrepancies, and whatever remains as legitimate issues in those two areas is fixable. But the three-point shooting woes? That may be the most glaring problem that could linger no matter where games are played once the season begins for real in less than three months.

Defense, strengths and weaknesses. Musselman was not pleased with his team’s defense following Arkansas’ first two games, he was more pleased with it after game three, and he was elated with it following the Hogs’ best performance on that side of the ball against its final and toughest competitor in the Bakken Bears, a team of veteran pros from all over the world including the United States and Canada. Arkansas was suffocating and stifling defensively as it kept Bakken from getting clean looks while preventing the Bears from scoring a field goal until 10 seconds remained in the first quarter in building a 20-5 lead. In the end, the Hogs held the Bears to 31% shooting from the field, including 19% from 3, while forcing 27 turnovers (that included 15 Arkansas steals). In the game prior to that, the Hogs held Orange1 Basket Bassano to 30% shooting (both overall field goals and three-point field goals) while forcing 26 turnovers in a 75-54 win. The Hogs held three of their opponents below 60 points while minimizing gambling and busted assignments as the tour progressed, and overall on-ball defense (staying in front, staying attached) as well as help-and-recover execution were consistently good once the team played its final two games in Italy. Defensive rebounding (29.5 per game), steals (a whopping 14.3 per outing), and deflections were pluses. Rim protection was more than adequate (4.8 blocks per game plus a lot of altered shots). Fouling on defense, including several hacks on three-point shot attempts, was the main culprit leading to opponents finding ways to pull within striking distance of the Hogs on the scoreboard. Oddly, we can’t remember a Hog getting set to draw a charge in Europe though four games (sincere apologies to Pro Hog Jaylin Williams).

* To say Arkansas freshman 6-5 combo guard Nick Smith, Jr., is a three-level scorer might just be underselling what Smith brings to the court as an alpha scorer. He’s really a rare four-level scorer = 1) above/at the rim finisher; 2) runners, floaters, and spinners in the 8-to-14-foot range; 3) mid-range shooting 15-to-18-feet out via an array of side-step, step-back, and catch-and-shoot craft; and 4) efficient volume 3-point shooting. There’s a fifth level — yes, we’re also inventing that phraseology here — which is clutch finishing from any of the first four scoring levels. Smith was an end-of-clock, end-off-game closer/sniper in high school, and he flashed that confidence in pulling up for a quarter-ending, buzzer-beating 30-foot triple in game three. Smith scored at four levels consistently in each of the first three Euro tour games (no outliers), with a slight knee injury that sidelined him after fewer than 13 minutes of first-half action in game four being the only effective defense in slowing him down. His field-goal shooting splits coming into game four were elite = 22-of-42 overall for 52.4%, including 8-of-18 from 3 for 44.4%, as he was averaging a team-high 18.0 points per contest. He finished second on the team at 14.8 points per outing on 24-of-49 field goals (48.9%), including a team-best 9-of-23 from 3 (39.1%). He was also productive with averages of 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.8 rebounds. Turnovers were a major problem for most of the Hogs, and Smith fell into that category as well with 12 total giveaways. Smith will command All SEC-caliber respect from opponents out of the gates, but in the three months preceding the start of the regular season we bet he’ll focus on the areas that require a greater attention to detail (ball security and defense) while evolving his overall game. Best bet to lead the Hogs in scoring and three-point shooting while challenging for team leads in assists and steals.

* In our recent published analysis we’ve expressed getting a sense of a Daniel Gafford/Bobby Portis hybrid with all-league gifts while possessing potential as a future first-round NBA draft pick after seeing the early returns from sophomore forward Trevon Brazile‘s performances in Europe. Agility, quick bounce, long strides and long reach (6-10 with 7-3 wingspan), shooting touch, open court skill, plus instincts as a defender. His shooting efficiency never waned from game to game — 29-of-34 overall from the field (85.3%) is ridiculous — and given that his volume of shot makes and attempts skyrocketed in game four against Arkansas’ toughest competitor (13-of-15 for 28 points against the Danish pro club Bakken Bears) he crossed a line from being ultra-efficient to being downright unstoppable. In that final game, Brazile expanded on what had been mostly a close-range scoring arsenal as he stepped out and faced up for a 12-foot runner, a 19-foot mid-range bucket, and a three-pointer (a la Portis). In four games, he totaled 1-of-4 from 3 (25%) and 4-of-5 from the foul line (80%) while averaging a team-high 15.8 points to go with 5.0 rebounds (but 8.0 boards in the final two games after being challenged by the coaching staff) and a team-high-matching 2.3 steals per game. He was credited with only 3 blocked shots in four games based on the available stats, but it seemed like he had at least twice that many while altering shots and stifling drives with his quickness, size/length, and athleticism on the interior. Finding consistency while adding strength in the offseason is often the key for a young player, but if any Arkansas frontliner should be feeling supremely confident in his rotation spot right now it’s Brazile.

* Freshman point guard Anthony Black came in as no stranger to international play as just two months ago he competed in the FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico, and he did not disappoint in Europe as the Hogs’ most frequent primary handler, averaging a team-high-matching 4.0 assists with a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, 6.3 points, 4.0 rebounds (tied for 4th on the team), and 1.5 steals while shooting 41.4% from the field, including 1-of-4 from 3 (25%). His court awareness in both transition and halfcourt offense plus his vision to see over and through tight spaces makes for an elite combination. Set-up dimes on side-out-of-bounds plays, diagonal and skip passes to shooters, back-door dimes to cutters, lob passes to dunkers, and downcourt passes over the defense in transition were just a few of the tricks that Black pulled out of his passing bag in Europe. At 6-7, sturdy, and athletic with deceptive burst, Black is a powerful finisher at the rim in transition as well as both on- and off-ball halfcourt offensive scenarios. In Arkansas’ third game when he set the tone early scoring the ball, Black generated 7 points playing off the ball — a catch-and-shoot corner triple to open the game against Orange1 Basket Bassano, a baseline rim-run dunk off a lob pass from a teammate, and a transition dunk running the court to receive a middle-to-left-wing pass. He’s also proven to be a disruptive defender using his big frame to harass smaller guards. We expect to see a lot of Black and Smith on the floor together when the rotations tighten up considerably, and we’d like to see a bit more of Black playing off the ball when that tandem is together.

* Having already made this point in another analysis piece, it’s worth emphasizing that veterans Devo Davis (6-4 junior guard) and Kamani Johnson (6-7 senior forward) have displayed leadership-by-example qualities while playing their roles because they KNOW their roles. Both consistently competed hard while bringing energy with a focus on winning one possession at a time, and those “it doesn’t take talent to __________” attributes are what Musselman hopes is infectious with the rest of the team. Davis and Johnson squeezed out a lot of production from the respective strengths of their games. Johnson was a blue-collar force using his powerful 6-7 frame to carve out space and bang against other big bodies while leading the team in rebounds at 9.5 boards per game (including 4.5 on the offensive glass) to go with 9.3 points (65.0% field goals and 11-of-13 free throws), 2.8 assists, and 1.3 steals. Davis‘ package of slash, defend, and facilitate was top shelf overall as he averaged 9.3 points (57.1% field goal shooting, including 1-of-6 from 3 for 16.7%, and 4-of-4 free throws), a team-high-matching 4.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and a team-high-matching 2.3 steals. He he did suffer 12 turnovers, although 7 were in one game so that was a bit of an outlier. Davis is a sure-fire Top 8 rotation player with starter value, and certainly Johnson was by far the most productive, big-impact 5-spot big out of four for the Hogs as he made a very strong bid to secure a spot in that Top 8 rotation.

* Talented wings in 6-6 junior Ricky Council IV, 6-7 freshman Jordan Walsh, and 6-6 freshman Barry Dunning, Jr., were often Terminator-relentless as slashers & athletic rim-hunters on offense while being aggressive, feisty disruptors on defense. Council was a consistent double-figure scorer (third on the team with 10.8 points per game on 50% field goals, including 33.3% from 3, and 68.8% from the free throw line) and dependable rebounder (second on the team with 5.5 boards) while looking the most regular-season game-ready of the three, which makes since given he comes in with two seasons of D1 basketball on his resume. Walsh was more productive across the board in the two games in Spain (10.5 points on 50% field goal shooting, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.5 steals) before struggling as he forced the issue too often in Italy. He finished the tour averaging 5.8 points (31.0% field goals, including 1-of-8 from 3 for 12.5%, and 4-of-6 free throws for 66.7%), 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 1.3 assists, and 2.3 turnovers per game. Dunning is THE feel-good story as he played his way into a Top 8 rotation role, at least he did in Europe if not moving forward. He was active, productive, efficient, and played within himself while minimizing mistakes. He averaged 7.5 points (65.0% field goals, including 1-of-2 from 3, and 3-of-6 free throws), 3.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, a team-best 1.3 blocks per game, and ONLY 1.0 turnover per game.

Top 8 rotation in Europe vs. Top 8 rotation to start ’22-23 season. It seems the quintet of Smith, Brazile, Black, Davis, and Council are solidly in line for starter-value roles even if one or more from that group technically plays off the bench. We also have Walsh in the regular season top rotation mix, as he was in Europe. Johnson and Dunning could stick, too, with Kamani having a decisive edge right now at the 5-spot based on a wide gap in production and efficiency in Europe compared to other 5-spot bigs in the Mitchell twins (Makhel and Makhi) and Jalen Graham. Dunning drew more praise from Musselman following practices and Euro games than any of the five other freshmen, and his play in Europe was worthy of the accolades. So, he’s definitely made a strong bid for Top 8 rotation consideration, especially if Musselman leans more toward small-ball lineups. The Head Hog obviously limited playing time for those who were struggling to execute and produce as they may still be unsettled within their roles and what’s expected — dynamics that can improve over the next three months which is why the Top 8 rotation to open the season may not be exactly what it was for most of the Euro tour.

Personnel combinations and matchup flexibility. Musselman experimented, he ran players in and out in stark contrast to his modus operandi, he also identified a Top 8 rotation that he was comfortable with for long stretches on the tour (again, does not mean it will look the same later). He got multiple looks at small ball, traditional, and big ball lineups. One of the big takeaways is that even his small-ball options are not small when you consider the Hogs are positionally big almost everywhere. There is so much size, length, and athletic versatility that a 6-7 pushing 6-8 point guard and a 6-10 with 7-3 wingspan stretch-4 with wing skills have already proven to be unique matchup nightmares for opponents, not to mention the 6-5 combo guard with once-in-a-generation offensive talent who so far has lived up to all the hype. It starts with those three — Smith, Brazile, and Black — in terms of who we believe will be on the floor together and the most. Because of the versatile talents of those three, the combinations are numerous in how Musselman colors in the remaining personnel details on any given night.

When Pigs Fly! Our 3 favorite EuroHog highlights (via UA hoops):

1) Brazile “have mercy”

2) “In the Nick of time” …

3) “Allow us to introduce y’all to Ricky Council IV”

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Monday, Aug. 8, 2022 … Preview article for Arkansas’ 4-game Euro tour (includes embedded Pig Trail Nation zoom preview and two open-practice recaps on HogvilleNET youtube):

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Game articles (includes embedded pre- and post-game HogvilleNET youtube content) …

– Game 1: Arkansas 108, Valencia Seleccion 59 (Tues., Aug. 9, Valencia, Spain)

– Game 2: Arkansas 99, Catalan Elite 86 (Thurs., Aug. 11, Barcelona, Spain)

– Game 3: Arkansas 75, Orange1 Basket Bassano 54 (Sat., Aug. 13, Lake Como, Italy)

– Game 4: Arkansas 70, Bakken Bears 59 (Mon., Aug. 15, Lake Como, Italy)

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More Euro tour content …

– Sidebar: Nick Smith, Jr., shrugs off injury to lead Hogs in EurOpening win (Tues., Aug. 9)

– Mid-tour analysis: Arkansas is 2-0 with 2 more to go (Friday, Aug. 12)

– Five things to consider on Hogs’ final day of Euro games, including brief Bakken Bears preview with embedded Pig Trail Nation segment (Mon., Aug. 15)

– Euro tour deep-dive recap on Drive Time Sports (Tues., Aug. 16)

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Recruiting, scheduling, and Pro Hog updates …

– 2023 5-star Arkansas target Baye Fall wraps up 2022 high school all star play, eyes UA visit (Fri., Aug. 12)

– 2023 4-star Arkansas target Wesley Yates has Hogs among his final 4 OV wish list (Sunday, Aug. 14)

– 2024 Hog offer & ESPN Nat’l No. 31 / 4-star Labaron Philon @LabaronPhilon (6-3 PG, Mobile, Ala.) just told me he does intend to visit Arkansas … cousin of Football Hogs great & NFL baller Darius Philon …

– Arkansas to face Bradley in North Little Rock on Dec. 17 (Mon., Aug. 15)

– Two Hog greats to appear on TNT’s national TV coverage of NBA ’22-23 Opening Night on Oct. 18 … 76ers G Isaiah Joe @zai_joe1 followed by Warriors G Moses Moody @mosesmoody, the latter doubling as Golden State’s championship ring ceremony night …

– At least 3 Hog greats & NBA ballers appear to be set to play on Christmas Day … Bobby Portis @BPortistime & the Bucks … Isaiah Joe @zai_joe1 & the 76ers … Moses Moody @mosesmoody & the Warriors