By Kevin McPherson

FAYETTEVILLE — The 10th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks may still be shorthanded but they nonetheless authored an impressive 74-48 home win over unranked Fordham at Bud Walton Arena in their second game of the season on Friday, and our post-game analysis brings us to a Hoop Hogs stock watch that continues to trend up as we gauge phases of the game in which the squad as a whole showed improvement, remained static, or possibly regressed relative to the work it did in the preseason.

Player rotations and on-court chemistry: Stock rising.

With the Hogs’ exhibition-season leading scorer and freshman guard Nick Smith, Jr. remaining out (right knee management, precautionary measure), Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman went with a new starting five of freshman guard Anthony Black, junior guard Devo Davis, junior wing Ricky Council IV, freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh, and senior forward / center Makhi Mitchell while working in two reserves, sophomore forward Trevon Brazile and senior forward Jalen Graham, off the bench for a top 7 rotation.

All but Graham (11 minutes) from that group played at least 21 minutes with Council (37 minutes), Brazile (32 minutes), and Davis (29 minutes) leading the way in playing time.

Council (game-high 15 points to go with a game-high 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals) has led the Hogs in scoring in back-to-back games to start the season. Walsh (12 points on 5-of-7 field goals and 2-of-3 free throws to go with 4 rebounds in 21 minutes) is as active as any Hog around the basket and defensively.

Black (10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, and 4 turnovers in 25 minutes) continues to stuff the stat sheet. Graham’s per-minute production in his first action of the season was impressive (10 points on 5-of-7 field goals, 4 rebounds, 1 assist).

Brazile contributed 8 points and 8 rebounds as he’s averaging a double-double through 2 games (14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds). Davis was once again a menace defensively while providing support on offense (7 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals). Mitchell produced across the board for a second consecutive game (8 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in 25 minutes).

Musselman’s top 7-8 rotation has fluctuated only slightly from game-to-game in the opening week with Smith on the shelf. So far it’s been Council, Brazile, Davis, Black, Mitchell, and Walsh getting most of the clock with Graham and senior forward Kamani Johnson in the mix, too.

From a team chemistry standpoint, the Hogs were once again solid at both ends of the floor (more statistical data later) as they attacked the rim and paint while defending ferociously in unison.

Frontline and point-guard-by-committee. Stock rising.

In Europe, the only consistent frontcourt performer was Johnson. But with Brazile’s early double-double average playing off the bench, Mitchell’s worthy production, and Graham putting things together of late, it seems Musselman’s plan to get bigger, longer, more athletic, and more versatile in the offseason via the transfer portal is already paying dividends.

Brazile and Mitchell have been complementary pieces playing together on the floor.

“He (Brazile) had four offensive rebounds,” Musselman said. “I thought he played well. I thought he challenged shots. I thought he got loose balls a little bit better tonight. Coming off the bench, he’s accepted that. He’s playing probably more minutes coming off the bench than he would if he starts. I hope he feels comfortable in that role that I can go to him really quickly in a game.

“Look at (Mitchell’s) steals. I’m sure he leads our team in steals at the center spot. He’s got incredible quickness with his feet. He’s a great runner of the floor. He’s got elite defensive lateral quickness for a guy his size. He’s earned the starting spot, he’s earned the minutes that he’s getting right now. It was not easy. I hardly played him overseas because you have a large learning curve about how our culture works, and he’s done … you’ve got to really, really compliment a young man who has changed habits and bought in with two feet. Been very, very impressed with what he’s done since we got back from Europe.”

Graham and Johnson each bring something different that teams have to account for as they try to match up.

“I thought Jalen did a phenomenal job scoring the basketball,” Musselman said. “He’s really worked hard this week, much harder than he has in prior weeks. I thought it was important for him to get some minutes tonight. I thought he did a good job on the offensive glass and scoring with his back to the basket with spin moves.”

Once Smith returns he’ll factor into what is currently a three-headed point-guard-by-committee of Black, Council, and Davis.

“Ricky, he had seven assists, I think,” Musselman said. “So, he did a great job of finding people, as well as being an offensive weapon. So, 15 and 7 for a guy that really hasn’t played any at the point guard position. I thought he did really well.”

Davis’ 5 dimes were crafty and timely as part of Arkansas’ 17 assists as a team.

“I thought he did a good job distributing the ball with five assists tonight,” Musselman said. “If you look at Ricky and Devo’s assist totals, they were pretty good.”

Council and Davis combined for only 3 turnovers, giving them a collective 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio on the night.

Although Black did not record an assist while suffering 4 turnovers, he was aggressive in looking to score as Fordham’s defense sagged off him to prevent him from making plays for others. He was the first Hog to reach double figures scoring in the game.

Freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh Stock rising. One of the very few bright spots in the 30-point exhibition-game loss against Texas, Walsh has seen a carryover in efficient production and impact through the first two regular-season games.

Walsh (6-7 combo forward) made his first career start on Friday against Fordham and had 12 points (second most on the team) on 5-of-7 field goals and 2-of-3 free throws to go with 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 drawn charge, and only 1 turnover in 21 minutes.

Through two games, he’s averaging 8.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists while shooting 75% from the field and 80% from the foul line.

Walsh has been an intriguing part of the 7-8 player rotation as he’s neither a backcourt piece nor a frontliner. He’s mostly a slasher on offense who seems to thrive the closer he gets to the basket.

Defensively, he’s versatile and capable of guarding multiple positions, although his eager aggressiveness has led to early fouling issues.

But as he continues to learn and better grasp how to use his instincts and athletic talents he projects as a plus-defender.

“We don’t want to take away from Jordan’s aggressiveness,” Musselman said. “Before he got on campus, I said he was a violent defender because he blows up dribble handoffs. So now we just need for him to focus a little bit on… And he will. We’ve got so many guys that are going to keep growing as the season progresses as long as we continue to teach, and they continue to listen and are willing learners. I hope that we got better tonight than we were last game.” 

Blue-collar basketball and defense. Stock rising.

Arkansas’ plus-34 points-in-the-paint (54-20) against Fordham after a plus-20 outing (44-24) against North Dakota State speaks to the Hogs’ commitment to playing to their team strengths while being dominant in doing so.

The Hogs were plus-9 on the glass (38-29), including plus-7 on the offensive boards (16-9) for a plus-11 advantage in second-chance-points (13-2).

Arkansas wore both Fordham and NDSU down in the second half by minimizing three-point shot attempts while staying in relentless bully-ball attack mode getting to the rim. In each outing, the Razorbacks shot better than 55% from the field in the final 20 minutes.

Add in 13 steals as part of forcing a jaw-dropping 30 turnovers — this after poaching 11 steals as part of forcing 14 NDSU turnovers on Monday — and the Hogs checked boxes in both blue-collar and defensive facets of the game.

Nine of those Fordham turnovers were surrendered by the Rams primary ball-handler Antrell Charlton as the Hogs walled off drives, crashed passing lanes, dove for loose balls, and played pick-pocket throughout the contest.

The Razorbacks were once again stingy guarding shots as they limited the Rams to 17-of-45 on field goals (37.8%), including 4-of-17 from 3 (23.5%). On Monday, the results were similar as Arkansas held NDSU to 19-of-56 field goal shooting (33.9%), including 5-of-21 from 3 (23.8%).

Through its first two games, Arkansas has been physical and quick on both sides of the ball, and that goes for the action on the interior as well as on the perimeter. Those combinations have hand-cuffed opponents as they’ve struggled to score and protect the ball while failing to prevent the Hogs from getting to the basket and finishing.

“I thought that’s as good as we’ve played defensively,” fourth-year Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said as he also used “phenomenal” in describing his team’s defensive effort and execution against the Rams. “That’s an Atlantic 10 team. They’re a team that I think averaged close to 80 points last year … Our length is unique defensively. I still think we have to challenge some shots a little bit more than we did … We have to front the post probably a little better as well.

“The 54 points in the paint, that’s kind of who we are. The thing I think is really important tonight is they had the defense as packed in as it possibly could be. What it does is allow you to get a running start to the offensive glass, and that’s one of the things we talked about at halftime. If the defense is packed in like that, we are flying to the O-boards. Anybody that plays us like that, you’re going to have to box somebody out that you’re not really guarding. We’ll work on it and we’re going to exploit people that guard us like that. I thought it was a great game for us to see that, but good luck trying to block us out if you’re going to be 10-toes in the lane.”

Turnovers and transition offense. Stock rising.

Arkansas had 13 turnovers against Fordham and 11 against NDSU, both above the 9-giveaway threshold that Musselman prefers his teams not exceed.

But it’s a far cry from the Hogs’ average of 20-plus giveaways per game in the preseason.

Factor in the collective plus-24 in points-off-turnovers through two contests and all of a sudden the Razorbacks are the big winners in the valuing the basketball phase of the game.

As stated above, Council and Davis combined for only 3 turnovers while dishing out 12 assists against Fordham.

After going minus-1 in fastbreak scoring against NDSU on Monday (10-9), the Razorbacks were plus-9 against Fordham on Friday (11-2).

All the steals and live-ball turnovers against the Rams helped fuel Arkansas’ transition offense.

Free throw shooting. Stock falling. The Hogs made just 12-of-18 free throw attempts (66.7%), failing to reach 70% in efficiency for the second straight game to start the season.

The Hogs are also only a combined plus-1 in free throws attempted when compared to the collective attempts by Fordham and NDSU (41 total free throw attempts for Arkansas compared to 40 for the opponents).

As a reminder, the Razorbacks attempted more free throws last season than any other team in Division 1, and the 2022-23 roster appears to offer the kind of matchup advantages to give Musselman another heavy volume free-throws-attempted squad.