Projecting Arkansas' 2022-23 basketball rotation post-foreign tour

By: Scottie Bordelon Scottie Bordelon's Twitter account
Published: Tuesday, August 23, 2022
Arkansas forward Trevon Brazile catches a pass for a dunk during the Razorbacks' exhibition against Valencia Seleccion on Aug. 9, 2022, in Valencia, Spain. (Photo courtesy of Rachael Harris, Arkansas Athletics)
Arkansas forward Trevon Brazile catches a pass for a dunk during the Razorbacks' exhibition against Valencia Seleccion on Aug. 9, 2022, in Valencia, Spain. (Photo courtesy of Rachael Harris, Arkansas Athletics)

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas' men's basketball team recently returned from a four-game, 11-day tour in Europe in which it played against outside competition for the first time.

The Razorbacks, who have 11 newcomers on the roster, went 4-0 on the trip behind consistent efforts from freshman Nick Smith, transfers Trevon Brazile and Ricky Council, and returnee Kamani Johnson.

Below is an analysis of where each scholarship player may stand role-wise following the four exhibitions, and here is version 1.0 from mid-June:

Star potential

A go-to player who could turn in an All-SEC type season.

• Nick Smith | Fr. | 6-5 | 185

Rationale: Roughly two months before Arkansas’ foreign tour, I considered Smith to be the lone player on the Razorbacks’ roster with true star potential, and that was before watching him play one second under Eric Musselman. After four exhibitions in Europe, I am more certain he will be a star. Smith is a special talent who provides the Razorbacks with a certain edge, toughness and energy when on the floor. Arkansas’ second-leading scorer on the trip, Smith was the primary source of perimeter shooting, but he didn’t rely on his jumper. I came away most impressed with his first-step quickness and burst to the rim. And that part of his game unlocks the pull-up jumper from around 15 feet out, which is pure and a bear to have to defend. If he improves in decision making as a passer and stays committed defensively, I don’t see how he isn’t an SEC player of the year candidate and/or an All-America selection.

• Trevon Brazile | So. | 6-9 | 215

Rationale: Brazile was a nice player on a bad Missouri team last season. It is pretty clear that Musselman and Arkansas’ staff have tapped into his potential, and Brazile can be as good as he wants to be. He was hyper-efficient in Europe, finishing 29 of 34 from the floor, including 13 of 15 for 28 points in the finale. One could argue that Brazile was the Razorbacks’ best player on the trip. On top of his offense, he blocked shots, contested others, utilized his length and athleticism on the glass after being challenged by Musselman, ran the floor and came up with a few steals as a result of great effort and hustle. Brazile can shoot, but he didn’t showcase his jumper often because he really didn’t have to. Slight concerns are strength when in a crowd and the time it takes him to get off a three-pointer from a fairly low shooting pocket. He will be one of Arkansas’ best on both ends of the floor.

Potential starter

These players could start and are expected to play an integral role in team success. They have a great chance to play significant, meaningful minutes.

• Anthony Black | Fr. | 6-7 | 185

Rationale: Similarly to his six-game run with Team USA at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship in Mexico earlier this summer, Black did not shoot the ball particularly well on Arkansas’ foreign tour. He was 10 of 28 overall and 1 of 6 from three-point range in Tijuana. In Spain and Italy, Black was 12 of 29 shooting and just 1 of 4 beyond the arc. Having watched him closely in a pair of summer workouts, there is a lot of potential in his jumper. The form looks improved over 4-5 months ago. But he may be a bit slow to showcase it because he can fairly effortlessly get into the lane and to the rim. Black can also play above the rim like few at his position at the college level. He is unique in that he is equally a threat to throw a lob and throw down a lob. Black can really rebound, too. Only Trevon Brazile, Kamani Johnson and Ricky Council out-performed him on the glass in Europe. And it should not come as a surprise that he led the team in assists at four per game. Black is a candidate to play big minutes because he is sure to impact games in some way, even if it doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score.

• Jordan Walsh | Fr. | 6-7 | 200

Rationale: In late March as Link Academy made its run at GEICO Nationals, I made a comment that I admired how Walsh attempted to dunk everything. He attacked the rim like a demon and challenged opposing forwards/guards/everyone at the rim in a way many wings can’t. In his unofficial debut for Arkansas he attacked as expected. Results were hit and miss, and it led to some frustration. Walsh was 8 of 21 inside the arc in addition to 1 of 8 from three-point range. He is a legitimate three-level scorer, but we didn’t see him at his best. I think he could benefit from going to pull-ups/runners/floaters more often in the 6-10 foot range. He was sound as the middle man against opponents’ zone defenses, decent on the glass and on the defensive end. By the time the season begins, I expect him to play more up to his ability and let the game come to him. Walsh’s place in the rotation is safe. He’s too talented to sit. Continuing to work on over-aggressiveness on the defensive end (4 fouls in 5 minutes in one exhibition, losing matchups away from the ball) is key the next couple of months.

• Ricky Council | Jr. | 6-6 | 204

Rationale: The word for Council’s play in Europe: Steady. He was third on the team in scoring at 10.8 points and second in rebounding at 5.5. He, too, added 2 assists and 1.3 steals per exhibition. And he shot 50% from the floor on the third-most field goal attempts. Perhaps the lone knock on Council was his nine turnovers. But to his credit he owned up to the mistakes and understands he has to be cleaner in decision making with the ball in his hands. What we saw from Council throughout the tour was essentially what we expected — highlight-reel moments in transition, good energy and activity on the glass and running the floor, and anticipation playing passing lanes defensively. He has individual spurtability on the offensive end, which Arkansas will need. The perimeter jumper is improving (he was the lone Razorback outside of Smith to make multiple threes) and that will open avenues for him to drive the lane, which is the best tool in his bag. Ball handling should be a focus moving forward. I see him as a player whose energy and effort is unlikely to fluctuate because those two things unlock the rest of his game.

• Kamani Johnson | Sr. | 6-7 | 230

Rationale: While Smith and Brazile were the stars of the tour, no player on Arkansas’ roster helped himself more over the four exhibitions than Johnson, a player who entered the summer months in a battle with several newcomers from the transfer portal for minutes and a place in the rotation. The Razorbacks fed off of Johnson’s toughness and energy throughout the trip. He keyed the team’s charge on the offensive glass and, at times, bullied opposing teams’ big men. All 20 of his field goal attempts came in the restricted area, and he cashed in at the line by hitting 11 of 13 free throws. As physical as he is and as well as he offensive rebounds, he has to be able to convert at the line to stick. He did overseas, and he stood out. Johnson said after one exhibition that he has worked all summer on his body and is able to play with great activity for longer stretches. Johnson has a valuable role on this team. The tour is proof. Some probably counted him out after this spring, but Johnson isn’t going anywhere. His play should serve as a wake-up call for other frontline players who have expectations of seeing the floor regularly.

Bench contributor

These players could start games this season, but I believe they will likely come off the bench.

• Davonte Davis | Jr. | 6-4 | 185

Rationale: Like Johnson, Davis’ role on this team is critical. Whenever play gets a bit helter skelter with the young guards, he can provide Arkansas a sense of calm and stability. Musselman is counting on it. Davis was largely great offensively on the trip outside of a seven-turnover showing in the finale. He made 15 of 22 attempts inside the arc and brought some flair and swagger to the floor. Davis averaged 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2.2 steals, as well. With so many other players capable of creating for teammates, I see Davis being a primary beneficiary and increasing his attempts in the midrange, where he has found solid success in his first two seasons.

• Barry Dunning | Fr. | 6-6 | 210

Rationale: If you listen closely during Musselman’s press conferences, he will at times drop a subtle line or two about a player into a response even if that particular player was not the subject of the question posed. When that happens, it is telling. Prior to Arkansas’ tour, Dunning, according to Musselman, was a newcomer who several former Razorbacks stated they enjoyed playing with in pick-up games. If you are easy to play with, you are often easy for coaches to play. Dunning’s motor, understanding of his role and willingness to do what is asked of him has pushed him into a position to play early. He helped himself a great deal in the exhibitions and gained the trust of teammates and the coaching staff. Dunning was 12 of 14 in the lane, knocked down a corner three and impressed me with his knowledge of shot selection. He misfired on three other jumpers, which is a small sample, but each was high quality. He attacked close-outs on a pair of pull-ups and looked comfortable stepping into midrange looks. I think comfortable is a fair assessment of Dunning’s run overseas.

Fighting for minutes

These players currently have ground to make up to crack the rotation.

• Makhi Mitchell | Sr. | 6-9 | 230

• Makhel Mitchell | Sr. | 6-10 | 245

Rationale: In the initial rotation projection earlier this summer, I stated a belief that at least one of the twins would make a consistent impact. I just wasn’t sure who. My impressions of them changed a bit for the better after taking in a couple of summer workouts. Both guys were physical, held their ground well defending post touches and could be deterrents at the rim. As a plus, they are both fluid runners of the floor. In Europe, Makhi and Makhel flashed a couple of times, but neither sustained a high level of play or imposed his will on the opposition. They combined to average 5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per exhibition. That’s not exactly promising, but it is only August. I don’t believe it to be fair to write off players well before the season begins, but they definitely need to show better in September and October practices to secure playing time. 

• Jalen Graham | Sr. | 6-9 | 220

Rationale: I was as high as anyone on Graham after he signed with the Razorbacks following a successful last season at Arizona State. I found him to be an intriguing pickup as a rangy forward with great versatility who could score in unique ways, according to those who covered him. Among the transfers, he had star potential, in my opinion. Plain and simple, to this point, we have not seen anything from Graham resembling the play that made him an All-Pac-12 selection last season. He is said to be a talented scorer on the block and in the mid-post, but I haven’t seen much comfortability from him in those areas. Graham is not a threat to consistently beat teams from the perimeter and, with the ball in his hands, physicality from opposing bigs seems to get him out of sync. He averaged 2 points per exhibition overseas and was 4 of 12 shooting, all inside the arc. Graham has some work to do in the coming months.

• Derrian Ford | Fr. | 6-3 | 210

• Joseph Pinion | Fr. | 6-6 | 185

Rationale: Ford may be slightly ahead of Pinion in the pecking order following the tour. I think both players need time to grow accustomed to the speed of the game at the college level. The nerves of that first action in college were evident in Europe through some turnovers and fumbling of passes. Ford and Pinion both have terrific long-term prospects. It is just difficult to envision many minutes for them this season with the abundance of talent at the guard spots.

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