By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Between a foreign exhibition tour planned for late summer and a scheduled appearance in the prestigious annual Maui Invitational in Hawaii in late November, the Arkansas Razorbacks will play multiple games outside the continental United States before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Already committed to the 8-team, 3-games-guaranteed Maui field set for Nov. 21-23 at the Lahaina Civic Center on the island of Maui, Hawaii, the Hoop Hogs are preparing — according to multiple sources — for an NCAA-sanctioned foreign exhibition tour in early August that would span 10 days and two countries (Italy and Spain) and offer roughly a handful of games against various international opponents.
The University of Arkansas men’s basketball program has not announced an overseas exhibition-games tour, and the team’s sports information department told Hogville.net on Thursday that “nothing has been set.”
Potential setbacks and unknowns (i.e. traveling abroad during the covid-19 pandemic) could affect destinations or even halt the tour altogether, and though not all details have been set in stone to date, sources said preparations including players obtaining passports and some tentative scheduling have been underway for some time with the program’s expressed intentions to make the trip.
The last time the Razorbacks men’s basketball program traveled overseas to play foreign exhibition games was during the summer prior to the 2016-17 season, a four-game tour in Spain that began in Madrid with former Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson set to embark on his sixth campaign as Head Hog.
The ’22-23 Razorbacks will converge on Fayetteville beginning Memorial Day weekend (Friday, May 27, through Monday, May 30) as freshmen and transfers join returning players just in time for the first of two sessions of summer school that in total will run through July.
Coming off back-to-back NCAA tournament Elite Eight runs and final national Top 10 rankings, the program is enjoying success it hasn’t seen since the mid-1990s. But with at least 10 newcomers (possibly 11) in the fold among the Hogs’ 13 scholarship players, extra games during a summer exhibition tour would offer the team a significant opportunity to bond and build chemistry, both on and off the court.
It also means with way-too-early-preseason projections as a national Top 5 squad and arguably the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class headlined by three 2022 5-star signees in Nick Smith, Jr., Jordan Walsh, and Anthony Black, the first time fans will likely get to see this Arkansas team in uniform in a game setting in person will be on European soil.
Fast-forward roughly three months from August to November, and fourth-year head coach Eric Musselman will have his program in line to play arguably its most challenging non-conference slate to date with the three guaranteed neutral-site games at the loaded Maui Invitational.
In addition to Arkansas, the Maui field includes Arizona, Texas Tech, Ohio State, Louisville, Creighton, Cincinnati, and San Diego State. The tournament format means quarterfinal first-round games followed by championship or consolation bracket play.
It will mark Arkansas’ fourth appearance in the Maui Invitational (1991, 2005, and 2013).
Combined with Arkansas’ near-certain inclusion in the 2022 SEC/Big 12 Challenge (played annually in late January) with what should be a road game as well as an expected neutral-site game in North Little Rock in December, the stage is set for the Razorbacks to play a minimum of five non-conference games away from their Bud Walton Arena home in Fayetteville in ’22-23.
Musselman’s Arkansas teams are 31-4 in regular-season non-conference games, including 6-4 away from home. Musselman has experience coaching on foreign soil having led staffs for Venezuela and Dominican Republic national teams during international competition from 2010-2013.