By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Week 5 of Arkansas Razorbacks training camp at the school’s basketball performance center in Fayetteville got off to an unsettling start with the Monday news that junior guard Isaiah Joe was U-turning back to the 2020 NBA Draft, but several positives have emerged since the start of camp and continued to do so over the course of the week that conveyed why second-year head coach Eric Musselman may still have the makings of an NCAA tournament team come March.
Let’s review …
* On Monday, Joe announced he was declaring for the draft a second time, a decision he made just 15 days after withdrawing from the draft. Joe’s departure meant the exit of the SEC’s top three-point shooter as well as one of the most productive, well-rounded players in the league and nation. Nonetheless, Musselman’s 2020 recruiting — a national top 5-ranked high school class and a national top 10-ranked college transfer class — has his Hogs positioned to offset much of the production and impact lost with Joe, Co-SEC Player of the Year Mason Jones, and graduated senior Jimmy Whitt, Jr. moving on from the program after 2019-20.
* Combo guard JD Notae, who we reported a week ago had not yet returned to practice, was at least back last week for limited drill work as he continues to recover from an injured left wrist injury that was initally projected to keep him out 2-3 weeks. Still no word when he will be released to return to full practice, but getting back on the court with teammates even in a scaled-down way was encouraging given the starter-value role expected of Notae as a fourth-year junior with talent as a scorer and playmaker.
* Third-year sophomore, Little Rock native, and Cal transfer Connor Vanover was seen in photos and video clips released by the basketball program throughout the week, and on Friday his video mashup of a blocked shot at the basket (on a quick second jump after leaving his feet too soon) followed by a baseline run to the left-corner three-point line for a spot-up catch-and-shoot triple was a reminder of just how unique and effective he is as a 7-foot-3 (tallest Hog ever) stretch-5 playing in an system that prefers face-up skill and hard-nosed defense (highlight reel via Twitter is linked here …
Vanover has always brought meaningful impact when looking at per-40-minute production, and his combination of size, length, and skill set will make him a matchup nightmare for teams in any number of scenarios at both ends of the floor.
* Mo at the rim! Every week it seems Arkansas freshman guard Moses Moody of Little Rock is making a point to get downhill and attack the basket, and this week we saw him crash the offensive glass from the right side of the rim for a putback dunk (highlight reel via Twitter is linked here …
Known more for his perimeter shooting, Moody certainly has good athleticism — not elite bounce — but his combination of arm length (7-foot-plus wingspan); broad shoulders on a 6-6, 200-pound frame to create space; and superb timing/instincts getting downhill allow him to make plays at the rim in ways that may be comparable to small forwards and wings known more for their hops. Moody is having an excellent camp and may be in line to become a day-one starter for Arkansas.
* No Joe, no Jones, still plenty of three-point flex! Joe and Jones accounted for 166 of the Hogs’ 243 made triples a season ago (that’s 68.3% of departed volume). However, junior guard and SEC veteran Desi Sills was 47-of-143 from 3 for 32.9% a season ago, and that includes 45-of-111 for 40.5% after a dreadful 2-of-32 start to the season. Plus Moody, Vanover, Notae, senior grad-transfer combo forward Vance Jackson, Jr., freshman guard KK Robinson, and freshman forward Jaylin Williams all have the ability and potential to provide efficient volume three-point shooting for the Hogs (highlight reel via Twitter is linked here …
* On Tuesday, I tweeted my not-way-too-early-but-still-early take on Musselman’s top 9 rotation if the ’20-21 season were starting now, so here it is (alphabetical order):
– Vance Jackson, Jr.
– Moses Moody
– JD Notae
– KK Robinson
– Desi Sills
– Justin Smith
– Jalen Tate
– Connor Vanover
– Jaylin Williams
I’m not ruling out junior forward Ethan Henderson or freshman guard Davonte Davisfrom cracking the rotation either before or during the season, and I’m certainly not ruling out Musselman squeezing his rotation down to 6-7 players getting the bulk of the minutes. And from this vantage point at this time, this looks like a team with the pieces to make the ’20-21 NCAA tournament despite the loss of Joe.