LITTLE ROCK — For the second consecutive week, Arkansas practiced on its home court of Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville as Razorbacks players and coaches continued preparation for the start of the 2020-21 season that is now just seven weeks away.
Here’s a look at what went down on Nolan Richardson Court in week 11 practices …
* In his first full week of live, full-contact competitive practice, fourth-year junior J.D. Notae (6-1 combo guard) was a bright spot for the Hogs, and the basketball program released a couple of highlight videos that revealed Notae’s offensive talents. In one, he quickly blew up the pick-and-roll defense (by the way, this was something we talked about in last week’s practice report: Musselman added that when Notae is playing on the ball as the primary handler to trigger the offense, he’ll be used in various pick-and-roll scenarios to maximize his playmaking ability). Using a left-to-right crossover dribble, Notae split the two P&R defenders as he pushed the ball into the paint before sneaking a well-timed pass between two converging help-defenders to a rim-running Ethan Henderson who crashed in from the weak-side baseline for an uncontested dunk (highlight linked here:
In the other video mash-up, Notae can be seen splashing four 3-point baskets — on the first one he dribbles behind a Connor Vanover screen going right (pick-and-roll play once again) before pulling up for the triple, and the other three were spot-up catch-and-shoot bombs from various spots behind the arc (highlight linked here:
But those highlights coming from the Hoop Hogs’ Twitter pages weren’t the only social-media praise that Notae drew during the week. Former Kentucky guard and All SEC Defensive Player of the Year Ashton Hagans — he’s currently preparing for the 2020 NBA Draft after leaving the Wildcats following his sophomore season — took to Twitter on Thursday to say this about Notae (both are Covington, Ga., natives): “Best GUARD IN THAT CONFERENCE! Nocap!!!”
Notae competed in full practice for the first time on Thursday, Sept. 24, after practicing on a limited basis and with restrictions for weeks while recovering from a left wrist injury. Notae drew positive reviews for his offensive ability that he consistently put on display during practices last season while redshirting following a transfer. In his final year (2018-19) at Jacksonville — an NCAA Division 1 school in Florida and member of the ASUN Conference — Notae started 23 of 32 games and averaged 15.5 points (nearly identical to his freshman season of 15.4 points per game) to go with 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.6 steals while shooting 42.7% field goals (including 62-of-194 from 3 for 32.0%) and 73.0% free throws in 29.1 minutes as a sophomore.
* Veteran Hogs and Moody shine. In addition to Notae, a source said that seniors Vance Jackson, Jr. (6-9 combo forward), Justin Smith (6-7 combo forward), and Jalen Tate (6-6 combo guard) all “were solid” throughout the week, with the same being true of freshman Moses Moody (6-6 shooting guard / wing). In one highlight video released by the basketball program during the week, Moody can be seen driving into the paint with big men Jaylin Williams (6-10) and Connor Vanover (7-3) closing on him while extending their arms, but to no avail as Moody dropped in a running, one-handed, high-arching floater that was nothing but net (highlight linked here:
Smith, the graduate-transfer from Indiana, has been described by sources as the Hogs’ most consistent player at both ends of the floor throughout the first 11 weeks of practice, and on Tuesday he was recognized by CBS Sports college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein as one of the 25 impact transfers in college basketball. Rothstein said of Smith: “Eric Musselman loves versatile pieces that can do different things on the floor and that’s what should make Smith such a great fit in Fayetteville. The 6-7 forward plays with great bounce and led Indiana in minutes played last season, averaging 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds.”
* Press-break O! Arkansas coaches used some of the eight hours of on-court practice time during the week to install four versions of their offensive press-breaks. Offense is often thought of in terms of halfcourt, transition (primary and secondary), out-of-bounds plays, etc., but press-breaks are becoming more and more nuanced in generating scoring opportunities that go beyond just advancing the ball safely past mid-court.
* Lights. Camera. Action. The basketball program’s use of social media is highly effective for many reasons: Out-of-the-box creativity, high volume of content and saturation on multiple platforms, smart sound and visual editing / mixing, relevant graphics and highlights to promote players, and a lot more. The latest offering was a slick mash-up of the team gathering for a photo shoot at the Greek Theatre on campus (linked here:
* Mile time trials. The Hogs went through their time-testing in running the mile with expectations for players to complete the distance within pre-determined time constraints based on their various position groups, and a source said freshman KK Robinson (6-0 guard), senior Jalen Tate (6-6 guard), and junior Desi Sills (6-1 guard) each “excelled” in the time trials (highlights linked here:
* Injury update. A source confirmed third-year sophomore Connor Vanover (7-3 stretch-5) missed practice on Thursday and Friday due to a minor injury that is not thought to be serious moving forward.
* Swine swatters needed. In yet another entertaining highlight video entitled “Block Party”, the basketball program released a blocked-shot montage that included erasers by uber-athletic senior combo forward Justin Smith (he has a recorded 48-inch vertical leap), the tallest Hoop Hog ever in 7-3 sophomore big man Connor Vanover, and pesky freshman point guard KK Robinson (who at 6-0 averaged nearly 2 blocks per game as a senior last season at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia). A season ago, Arkansas was a small team that flourished in perimeter defense and forcing turnovers while struggling with interior defense and rim-protection, but the much taller, longer, stronger Hogs of ’20-21 appear to have the makings of a unit that will be much better defending in the paint and at the rim (highlights linked here:
* Wag the Hog! With so much uncertainty surrounding college basketball scheduling due to the pandemic, at least one “Bracketology” format dares to project the 68-team field for the 2020-21 NCAA postseason tournament that is planned for March. Shelby Mast’s “Bracket W.A.G” NCAAT projections that were updated and published on Oct. 1 have the Arkansas Razorbacks slated as a No. 10 seed with 4 more SEC teams (Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, and LSU) included in the predicted Big Dance bracket.