Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Musselman-coached teams tough to beat after layoffs
Eric Musselman looks on during Arkansas' 75-73 win over Auburn in Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 in Fayetteville, Ark. (Photo by Gunnar Rathbun via SEC Pool)
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Eric Musselman was adamant about the Razorbacks playing last weekend despite their road game against Texas A&M being called off.
Shortly after the Southeastern Conference officially announced it had been postponed Friday afternoon, Musselman stated he and his staff were — with approval from the league office — in search of a nonconference game to replace the Aggies. Arkansas was unable to find an opponent on short notice, meaning it would go six-plus days without a game for the second time this month.
The Razorbacks being idle wasn’t all bad. Preparations for No. 6 Alabama got underway Saturday. Wednesday’s game against the Crimson Tide is set to be the first meeting between Associated Press Top 25 teams in Bud Walton Arena since 1998.
And Arkansas was afforded additional time to game plan. Throughout his college coaching career, longer-than-usual stretches between games have greatly benefitted Musselman’s teams.
Entering play on four-plus days of rest, they are 40-7 over his six seasons. The Razorbacks are 11-0, including 4-0 in 2020-21.
Eric Musselman-coached teams with 4+ days rest
Season, # of Games, Record
2015-16, 11, 7-4
2016-17, 8, 6-2
2017-18, 7, 7-0
2018-19, 10, 9-1
2019-20, 7, 7-0
2020-21, 4, 4-0
Last 4 seasons: 27-1
At home: 21-0 … 7-0 at Arkansas
On road: 11-5 … 3-0 at Arkansas
Neutral: 8-2 … 1-0 at Arkansas
Without season openers: 35-6
Vs. teams with winning record: 24-6
Musselman-coached teams are 27-1 in the last four seasons.
“If you try to design game plans around your opponent then I think the more time that you have the better,” Musselman said Monday. “Every coach studies other coaches in your own sport and in other sports. At UCLA when John Wooden was coaching, they just kind of did what they did. They didn't worry about their opponents.
“We do try to do what we can to try to find something every game that's got it's own theme, or try to find a weakness in a team, although we really haven't found any weaknesses in Alabama.”
Arkansas’ first extended layoff in February, which was also due to covid-19 issues with the Aggies’ program, was a plus in terms of getting key pieces healthy prior to traveling to Kentucky. Last Saturday’s postponement gave the Razorbacks a head start on one of the top teams in the country, and one they lost to by 31 points on Jan. 16.
Jalen Tate, who had 10 points, 3 assists and 6 turnovers in the first meeting with Alabama, said Arkansas typically treats every team on the schedule as a faceless opponent. But having added time to study the Crimson Tide and not traveling this time around is big.
“It’s definitely beneficial,” Tate added. “The season is a grind and you don’t always have these cancellations, so I’m looking at it from a positive standpoint as much as I can. Controlling the controllables. Get that rest. Get those extra days in the gym. Get back in better shape, even.
“Take those extra days to get your body right, watch extra film. It makes your prep that much better and I think it does prove beneficial a little bit.”
Arkansas is 7-0 in Fayetteville under Musselman after a four-plus day layoff. In his career, Musselman is 21-0 at home in those situations.
Notable wins the last two seasons with similar rest include several key games: at Indiana, Texas A&M (2019-20 SEC opener), at Auburn (2020-21 SEC opener) and at Kentucky. Musselman’s teams are 24-6 against teams with a winning record on the day of the game.
“I do think prep benefits us or helps us more than non-prep, and that might be the same case with everybody,” Musselman said. “I don't think it hurts us. I do think the players at this particular time of the year don't want long, extended practices.
“I do think they're really bought in to trying to pick up any little theme that we have on a particular game.”
Tate added that when the team found out Saturday’s game against the Aggies would not happen, attention quickly shifted to Alabama, which is 18-5 overall and in sole possession of first place in the SEC at 13-1.
“We knew the next day when we came back to practice Alabama would be the focus,” he said. “We got instantly into watching film and breaking down their personnel and stuff like that. And instantly, as a player, you move on straight to the next game and try to do some game planning of your own.
“The recovery time and mentally, it’s great to not have that game and be able to run straight into the Alabama game.”
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