By Kevin McPherson

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Razorbacks have been using the limited practice time since returning from their four-game European exhibition tour in August to address a wide range of improvement opportunities with the 2022-23 regular season just two months away.

It’s back to just 4 hours total per week of on-court instruction, for now, and last week the Hoop Hogs were mostly locked into defensive, passing, and shooting drills, according to sources.

The biggest concentration of work came on the defensive side of the ball with a bend-and-slide drill identified as one example of the defensive teaching last week (seen here in this video released via Twitter by Head Hog Eric Musselman on Friday, Sept. 2:

Then a day later on Saturday, Sept. 3, as part of his unofficial visit to Fayetteville, 2024 5-star Hog target Jase Richardson of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas was courtside as a spectator inside the basketball performance center when the Hogs once again put in a heavy amount of defensive work during practice.

“My takeaways from practice were how hard this team works defensively,” Richardson said. “Defense is one of their main focuses in practice and I was impressed by how hard the team worked all practice.”

It makes sense that Musselman would have his team repetitiously drilling down on how to execute the nuances of his defensive expectations, schemes, and techniques, especially given that it was defense that had to evolve over time to turn around midseason adversity and become the catalyst to Arkansas teams advancing to two consecutive NCAA tournament Elite Eights and final national Top 10 rankings in 2020-21 and ’21-22.

If you’re not convinced that defense has predominated the overall identity of Musselman’s Hogs, consider the track record of his first three Arkansas squads:‘s No. 10-ranked team in Division 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2020-21 followed by a No. 11 finish in D1 in adjusted defensive efficiency in ’21-22; the No. 1 three-point field-goal percentage defense in Division 1 in ’19-20; top 10 in total defensive rebounds in D1 in both ’20-21 and ’21-22; top 20 in D1 in blocks per game in ’20-21; top 25 in total steals in D1 in ’21-22; and since-departed-Hog Jaylin Williams serving as the D1 leader in drawn charges (54) in ’21-22.

Yet none of those first three teams necessarily seemed destined to be very good as stoppers. It took time with plenty of growing pains along the way.

Fast-forward to Musselman’s first offseason press conference in June when he talked about his ’22-23 squad that is loaded with 11 talented newcomers, and he immediately intimated that he was pleased with what he had already seen from his team defensively in a few limited practices, specifically the rim protection and challenges to drives in the paint. It’s a tall order impressing the Head Hog so quickly when talking about defense.

But recalling the Hogs’ first two performances in Europe last month, Musselman was not particularly pleased with his team’s defensive discipline and execution in Spain, although he grew increasingly pleased with it once the team played twice more in Italy with tightened rotations and improved attention to assignment details. In fact, he was elated with the Hogs’ defensive play following the Hogs’ best performance on that side of the ball against its final and toughest competitor in the Bakken Bears, a Danish team of veteran professionals.

Arkansas was suffocating and stifling defensively as it forced turnovers while keeping Bakken from getting clean looks which prevented the Bears from scoring a field goal until 10 seconds remained in the first quarter as the Hogs jumped out to 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).

With that emerging defense combined with a consistent theme of mass attacks into the paint and at the rim for efficient finishes offensively, the Razorbacks overcame consistent problem areas in ball protection (21.0 turnovers per game) and three-point shooting (16-of-56 for 28.6% from distance) to win all four games in Europe by double-digit margins.

Freshman Nick Smith, Jr., was the only consistent bomber from distance in Europe (8-of-18 for 44.4% from 3) while the rest of the team went a collective 8-of-38 beyond the arc for 21.1% as only one other Hog — Ricky Council IV — made two triples total through four games.

The upcoming campaign could play out like last season with the Euro tour serving as a microcosm of things to come in that it may be the defense and more of the same devotion to getting to the cup and foul line on offense that helps mask three-point shooting woes. The Hogs ranked near the bottom in D1 in three-point shooting last season, and with mostly a new team in ’22-23 it would seem their struggles from beyond the arc in Europe have traveled back home with them given what a source said has been continued poor three-point shooting in practices.

That includes shooting work in 5-on-ZERO drills, the source said, which is concerning.

Pass with caution. As already mentioned, Musselman had his team going through passing drills last week. Obviously, the aforementioned turnover woes in Europe — so many were unforced — demanded a drill down on fundamentals, technique, and good habit-building in taking care of the basketball. One drill that Musselman video-highlighted via Twitter on Wednesday was a back-door-cut-recognition passing drill where he wove in highlights from games in Europe to demonstrate how the Hogs carried practice over to the game court. (linked here:

Do it again. One frontline Hog who had at least one big practice performance last week was senior forward Jalen Graham, who transferred to Arkansas from Arizona State in the offseason. A source said Graham “dominated” during a recent practice session, something Musselman surely was glad to see. At 6-9, Graham used a blend of plus-defensive play and 15-feet-and-in offensive craft to earn All Pac-12 second team honors a season ago. Graham was not among the Hogs’ top eight in minutes played or production in Europe, but stringing together consistent practice efforts like the one mentioned could elevate his playing time and role with the season still two months away.

Freshman Hog garners preseason honors. Arkansas’ rookie combo guard Nick Smith, Jr., came to Arkansas regarded as the No. 1 player from the class of 2022, and now he’s projected to earn national and SEC honors in his first season as a collegian. Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook has named Smith preseason All SEC and well as the national Newcomer of the Year. Expect more preseason nods for Smith in the coming weeks. Blue Ribbon also slotted the Hogs at No. 6 in its preseason rankings.

Pro Day for Future Pro Hogs. Arkansas will host its annual Pro Day on Oct. 5, with NBA scouts invited to come in and evaluate the ’22-23 Hoop Hogs. Multiple scouts told Hogville they intend to attend, with one saying he believes Arkansas has four potential first-round draft picks — Nick Smith, Jr., Anthony Black, Jordan Walsh, and Trevon Brazile.

Release the final schedule already, pretty please. With the release of Arkansas’ full 18-game slate of SEC games earlier this week, we now know all but 2 of the Razorbacks 31 regular-season games in ’22-23 (technically speaking, we know all but 4 because of the last 2 matchups in Hawaii that will be determined in tournament play in the Maui Invitational in November). The door remains open for Arkansas to schedule one or two in-state Division 1 opponents in rounding out its non-conference schedule, but regardless who fills the final two dates expect both to be home games at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The schedule as it is will be the most difficult in Musselman’s time at Arkansas: 5 road games vs. Kentucky, Baylor, Tennessee, Auburn, and Alabama plus 4 neutral-site matchups against the Maui Invitational field and Oklahoma will give the Hogs plenty of Quad-1 win opportunities away from home. Kentucky and Alabama will also play the Hogs at BWA as part of home-and-away series. For more on the ’22-23 Arkansas schedule, click the link to our recent Hogville article:

Razorbacks recruiting hits the road with upcoming on-campus visits set for mid-September. With four visitors set to come to Fayetteville over the Sept. 16-18 weekend — 2023 big men in 5-star Baye Fall and 2023 4-star Assane Diop coming in for an official visit, and 2024 guards in 5-star David Castillo and 4-star Dallas “Slim” Thomas coming in for unofficial visits — the Hogs will NOT host visitors this weekend (Sept. 9-11). Instead, the coaching staff hit the road to visit recruits at their schools as the NCAA’s recruiting period began on Friday.

Here’s our Twitter recap of what went down with a huge focus on Texas recruiting on Friday, plus upcoming off-campus visits planned in-state next week …

– Arkansas HC Eric Musselman & asst Gus Argenal plan to see ’23 priority Hog target & Nat’l No. 10 / 5* Ron Holland @ron2kholland (6-8 CF) in Duncanville, TX, on Fri according to Holland’s Mom. Holland’s taken OVs to his Final 4 of UA, UCLA, KY, TX. Also considering G-League Ignite

– Arkansas asst coach Anthony Ruta was in today (Fri, Sept. 9) to see 2023 priority Hog target & Rivals 5-star Wesley Yates III @thewesleyyates_ (6-4 G, Beaumont, TX), according to Yates’ father …

– Source: Arkansas asst Gus Argenal was in to see 2024 Hog offer & Nat’l No. 1 / 5-star Tre Johnson @iamtrejohnson1 (6-6 G, Lake Highlands, TX) on Friday …

– Source: Arkansas asst coach Gus Argenal is planning to be in DFW on Fri to see 2024 4-star Hog offer Dink Pate @IAMTHESHOOTER1 (6-7 G, Dallas Pinkston) …

– 2024 Robert Miller III is a 6-9 PF in Pasadena, TX … Top 70 / 4-star who Arkansas asst Anthony Ruta stopped in to see on Friday … Hoop Hogs coaching staff apparently thick in the Lone Star State today …

– Source: Arkansas asst Anthony Ruta is planning to be at Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, KS, on Monday, Sept. 12, to see 2023 5-star Hog commit Layden Blocker @Laygogetit2 …

– 2023 Arkansas commit, Little Rock native, & Nat’l No. 25 / 5-star Layden Blocker @Laygogetit2 has been invited to Team USA junior national training camp in October …

– Source: Arkansas coaches expected in to see ’24 Hog offer & Nat’l No. 36 / 4* K. Annor Boateng @annor2024 (6-5 wing) at LRCentral on Wed, Sept. 14 …

– Source: Arkansas asst Gus Argenal is planning to be at Little Rock Christian Academy on Wed, Sept. 14, to see 2024 Landren Blocker @Landrwin (6-4 G) and 2026 JaShawn “JJ” Andrews @JJAndrews2026 (6-3 G) at practice