By Kevin McPherson

LITTLE ROCK — There are a few chances but no guarantees that 10th-ranked Arkansas will face a nationally ranked team in the first two months of the regular season (November and January), but lo and behold the program is locked into such a battle this weekend when the Razorbacks invade the brand new Moody Center in Austin, Texas, for a tune-up road tilt against the 12th-ranked Texas Longhorns.

Tip off is set for approximately 3 p.m. CT in what is being billed as a charity exhibition game. There will be no television or livestream coverage.

Serving as Arkansas’ final dress rehearsal before the start of the regular season on Nov. 7, it’s a matchup that may not officially count toward the 2022-23 win-loss ledger but nonetheless it will catch the attention of the college basketball world while Hog fans will be dialed in like never before for an exhibition game.

No matter that it’s an unprecedented road exhibition game for Arkansas, or that it’s an unprecedented matchup against a high-major program that is ranked. For Hog fans, we had them at “Texas.” Add in the intrigue that Arkansas’ old Southwest Conference rival will soon be exiting the Big 12 conference to re-join the Hogs in the SEC, and if nothing else this game has some serious bragging rights at stake.

For Eric Musselman, what matters most is that he’s trying to challenge his young Arkansas team that despite its spoil of riches (talent, size, length, athleticism) is collectively inexperienced (11 newcomers among the 13 scholarship players), and with a difficult regular season that is fast-approaching (both the non-conference and SEC slates will be the toughest in Musselman’s four seasons as Head Hog) there is no better time than now to throw his Hogs into the storm of a true road game against a quality opponent.

And there’s added motivation for 5-star Arkansas freshmen Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh, who will be returning to their home state of Texas to play in front of family and friends.

“They (Longhorns) recruited me and came strong in recruiting, one of their pitches was the new arena,” Walsh said during a Thursday press conference to preview the game. He added that Texas coaches told him he could be the first player to score in the Moody Center, which in fact could still be how it plays out … as a Hog, though.

In games that count, Arkansas is 87-68 all-time against Texas. The last time both teams were ranked in the national Top 15, it was the No. 14 Razorbacks defeating the No. 12 Longhorns, 62-55 in overtime, at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville during the ’81-82 season. That was 41 years ago.

“It’s an exhibition game, for sure, but we’d be lying to you if we didn’t know what’s at stake,” senior forward Kamani Johnson said. “We’re looking at it as a rivalry game even though it’s just an exhibition.”

Musselman understands that many Arkansas fans’ expectations are based on beating Texas and not as much on accepting an exhibition game as a chance to improve, win or lose.

“Well I think they’re going to react,” Musselman said. “So, you already know that. It’s a great question. I don’t know if that’s a question or a statement. It’s an exhibition game. Look, we got the dress rehearsal, so to speak, out of the way with the game the other night where we were able to find out a lot of things. Not just on the floor, but it was the first time our players got to see how a team meal works and how the video works before the game and phones being collected in the locker room upon arrival. So all those things were all knew. And now this gives us, I was hopeful to give us a little bit more prep than what we’ve done. But it will allow us to get a road trip. And all this is in preparation for the regular season.

“So yes, this is an exhibition game, but also everybody’s got pride whenever you step out to compete. I think (Texas) Coach (Chris) Beard says it best, both teams are going to get better after this game. That’s one thing. There is one guarantee. One team’s going to win and one team’s not going to win. But the one guarantee is that both teams will somehow figure out a way to get better after this 40 minutes of basketball.

Musselman said he’s not been able to prepare his team for Texas in the manner he’d like.

“The prep started yesterday but we went pretty short on the preparation,” Musselman explained. “We had quite a few NBA executives, and I felt like them making the trip it was important that we did a little bit more live stuff than breakdown Texas. We have the same thing today. So, moving forward we will probably encourage NBA people to not come when we’re doing prep stuff because I respect their time and I know what they want to see. I can promise you it’s not preparation for another college team. It’s guys getting up and down and so on and so forth. Our preparation will probably be a little bit less than what I hoped for.”

Beard, the former head coach of the Little Rock Trojans and the Texas Tech Red Raiders, is entering his second season in Austin. In his final campaign at the helm at Texas Tech (’21-22), his and the Red Raiders’ season ended at the hands of Musselman and the Hogs in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 in March 2021.

His second Longhorns team has a mix of talented veterans and newcomers, headlined by senior Marcus Carr (6-3 guard), sophomore transfer Tyrese Hunter (6-0 guard), senior transfer Sir’Jabari Rice (6-4), senior Timmy Allen (6-6 small forward / wing forward), senior Christian Bishop (6-7 forward), senior Dylan Disu (6-9 forward, former Vandebilt Commodore), 5-star freshman Dillon Mitchell (6-8 combo forward), and 5-star freshman Arterio Morris (6-3 guard).

Allen led Texas in scoring a season ago at 12.1 points per game on 49.3% field goal shooting to go with 6.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.2 steals; Carr was next at 11.4 points and 3.4 assists. Bishop averaged 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds, while Disu battled injuries and finished averaging 3.7 points and 3.2 rebounds in 26 games.

As a freshman at Iowa State last season before transferring to Texas, Hunter averaged 11.0 points, 4.9 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game. In his fourth season at New Mexico State a year ago before transferring to Texas, Rice averaged 11.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. In NMSU’s NCAA Tournament loss to Arkansas last season in the Round of 32, Rice was held to 5 points (2-of-10 field goals, including 1-of-5 from 3) with no rebounds or assists.

Beard is known to put physical, in-your-face, stingy defensive units on the court, and his first ‘Horns team held opponents just below 61 points per game a season ago.

“His (Beard’s) teams are really well-coached,” Musselman said. “They’re really physical. They’re really hard to score on. I mean, the game at Texas Tech when I was at Nevada was as good a regular season game as I’ve ever been a part of. Hopefully we don’t encounter the same whistle that we did in overtime of that game. That was an experience on its own. That night, I still have vivid memories of the last couple of minutes of overtime. But it was a great atmosphere, great crowd. The student section was rocking.

“Look, I think Coach Beard is as good a coach as any coach in America. I love how physical they are. They make it really difficult to score the ball, based on physicality.”

Arkansas has been no slouch defensively under Musselman, ranking Top 10ish in Division 1 the last two seasons in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com analytics. Through five previous exhibiton games — four in Europe in August and Monday’s 83-49 home win over D2 Rogers State — Musselman has expressed concerns over inconsistencies on the defensive side of the ball, but only one team in Europe managed to score at least 60 points against the Hogs with RSU checking up short of hitting 50. The Razorbacks were stifling across the board in their two most-recent exhibition games (Bakken Bears in mid-August and Rogers State on Monday) in terms of low-30s in overall defensive field goal percentage, including sub-30s in three-point field goal percentage.

Offensively, Arkansas has struggled with three-point shooting and turnovers in the preseason, and should the game turn into an ugly, grinding battle the Hogs’ ability (or inability) to take care of the basketball might just factor more heavily into winning and losing than three-point shooting. The Hogs to this point have been far superior than their opponents collectively in both defensive and offensive rebounding.

Arkansas will bring a squad in with more collective size and length than Texas, but playing on the road could neutralize what otherwise might be an edge in getting favorable whistles when smaller teams attempt to defend in the paint and at the rim against bigger teams.

Looking at position groups, Arkansas’ starting one-two punch at point guard and shooting guard are both true freshman — Smith and Black — whereas the Longhorns are loaded with proven, veteran backcourt players not to mention their own 5-star freshman.

Musselman talked about the work the duo did in the win over RSU when they combined for 15 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block while making key plays early to put the Hogs into a comfortable lead.

“I thought both of them did a great job for us in a lot of different areas,” Musselman said. “They both, first of all, uniquely because they both play the point guard position, they both can play off the ball and score in transition. Both of them had big offensive rebounds. Nick got us off to a great start scoring the ball and was aggressive. I thought Anthony made some incredible plays.

“But every game is a new challenge. Obviously, No. 4 Hunter had a great freshman year at Iowa State, and Marcus Carr had a great college career at the University of Minnesota, and now at Texas. This is another challenge, and then you add in the fact that No. 10 Rice was a tough cover last year at New Mexico State. And so, you can expect Hunter, Carr and Rice to all take on the challenge of going against AB and Nick. And we’re going to have to take the challenge from our end, as well.”

Arkansas’ frontcourt may own a size advantage, but aside from Johnson no other Hog big has played in Musselman’s system until this summer. Only sophomore transfer Trevon Brazile has cemented a role in the top 7-8 rotation, so the Razorbacks come in with many frontline question marks

Obviously, Texas presents greater challenges across the board than anything the Hogs have seen to date, which makes the opportunity even more valuable to Musselman, his coaching staff, and his team.

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Arkansas adds two more preseason national Top 10 rankings: Already sporting a No. 6 preseason ranking by Blue Ribbon Yearbook and a No. 10 preseason ranking in the Associate Press Top 25, the Razorbacks were slotted at No. 10 in USA Today’s preseason Top 25 that was released on Tuesday and No. 5 in CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander’s preseason Top 100-and-1 rankings on Thursday.

Never too soon to peruse the portal: Filled up with all 13 scholarships accounted for in 2022-23, the Arkansas coaching staff apparently has reached out to recent transfer-portal entry and Manhattan senior Jose Perez (6-5 guard), according to multiple reports on Wednesday. Perez averaged 18.9 points, 4.5 assists, and 3.2 rebounds last season for the Jaspers. He has played at three different Division 1 schools in his college career — Gardner-Webb (’18-19 and ’19-20), Marquette (’20-21), and Manhattan (’21-22).

Head Hog making recruiting rounds, traveling back east and out west: Musselman has been busy this week, making at least three stops to see recruits across the country.

– Musselman and Hogs assistant coach Gus Argenal stopped in Denver, Colo., on Saturday, Oct. 22, to see 2023 priority targets Baye Fall (6-11 forward / center, Accelerated Schools in Denver, Rivals national No. 11 / 5-star prospect) and Assane Diop (6-10 combo forward, Accelerated Schools in Denver, ESPN national No. 56 / 4-star prospect). Fall and Diop have visited Arkansas twice since February. Fall is scheduled to take his second official visit to Auburn this weekend.

– Musselman was in to see 2024 Hog target & national Top 20 / 5-star Isaiah Evans (6-6 small forward / wing, North Mecklenburg, N.C.) on Tuesday, a source confirmed with Hogville. The source said Evans’ shooting ability is impressive.

– Musselman was at Combine Academy in North Carolina on Tuesday to see 2024 5-star target Trentyn Flowers, according to a source. Spanning the past three weeks, an Arkansas coach has been in to see Flowers (includes stops by Hog assistants Keith Smart and Gus Argenal). Flowers recently named Arkansas among his top 13 schools. The source told Hogville that Flowers is “really good.”

2025 in-state Hoop Hogs recruiting target impressive during practice. Hogville was in the house for Benton Panthers basketball practice on Wednesday to check out talented sophomore Terrion Burgess (6-9 wing, Arkansas Hawks, 247Sports national No. 17 / 4-star prospect), who was the first class of 2025 recruit to receive a scholarship offer from Arkansas. Burgess recently attended the Razorbacks’ annual Red/White game at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.

“The experience was good,” Burgess said following the Hogs’ intra-squad scrimmage. “I’ve seen a lot of good ball players that play the game the right way. I look forward to them playing during the season. You know Arkansas, it’s a big fanbase. The fans really support you out here. It’s a lot of schools that stay in touch (with Burgess in recruiting): You’ve got Ole Miss, Auburn, Arkansas, and a lot of other schools. My strengths are attacking the rim, working on my jump shot, just getting better.”

Linked below are video highlights from Benton’s practice on Wednesday that reveal Burgess possesses a combination of length, athleticism, skill as a triple-threat (shooting, slashing, and passing), and smooth long strides as moves easily from end to end.