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 was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs 'pretty hard to beat' with ample prep time
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman looks on, Wednesday, March 15, 2023 during a practice before the start of the NCAA Division I Basketball Championship First Round game at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Visit nwaonline.com/photos for today's photo gallery.
DES MOINES, Iowa — For eight seasons as a college head coach, Eric Musselman has floored highly competitive teams.
Entering his third NCAA Tournament at Arkansas, he holds a 73.3% winning percentage in four seasons apiece at Nevada and Arkansas. The 2022-23 season has been challenging for the Razorbacks, who go into Thursday’s first-round matchup against Illinois at Wells Fargo Arena with a 20-13 record.
But they have played some of their best basketball after having ample time to prepare for an opponent. It has been a theme with many of Musselman’s teams over the years.
From the 2015-16 season through this season, Musselman’s teams are 51-10 overall with 4 or more days of rest before a game, and the Razorbacks are 25-4. The Illini will face Arkansas six days after the Razorbacks lost 67-61 to Texas A&M at the SEC Tournament.
“Maybe I should have been a football coach,” Musselman joked Wednesday. “I think from a preparation standpoint there are a lot of things [that go into it]. One, players have to retain whatever you talk about. We have had some pretty decent success with time, but Illinois has had the same amount of time.”
More from WholeHogSports: Video from Arkansas' and Illinois' shootarounds in Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday
Arkansas this season is 7-1 in games in which it has had four or more days to prepare. The wins came against South Dakota State, Louisville, Troy, San Jose State, Bradley, Missouri and Auburn. The Razorbacks eliminated Auburn from the conference tournament with a 76-73 victory last Thursday in Nashville, Tenn.
A higher number of days between games allows Arkansas’ staff to get more intense with prep work.
“Sometimes when you have a quick one- or two-day window, it’s more concept and personnel,” Arkansas assistant coach Gus Argenal said. “This one, we can really take, honestly, everything they do and tool with how we want to play everything both offensively and defensively. It’s just at another level we can’t do on a quick turnaround.
“I also think, too, the players, it’s two more days they get to have a scouting report. For them, it’s so important, but I do think when you’re preparing like a football team, like a week in advance, I think we’re pretty hard to beat with really good prep time.”
Musselman-led college teams are a combined 13-3 in post-season play — 5-2 in NCAA Tournament games — when not facing a quick turnaround. Arkansas boasts a seven-game post-season win streak with four-plus days to prepare.
Four of those seven wins have come in the NCAA Tournament. In 2021, the Razorbacks defeated Colgate 85-68 in the first round and Oral Roberts 72-70 in the Sweet 16 in that scenario.
Last March they took down Vermont 75-71 in the first round and Gonzaga, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, in the Sweet 16.
Arkansas wing and Wichita State transfer Ricky Council said the team had an in-depth scouting report on Illinois roughly two hours after the matchup was announced Sunday evening.
“It’s a lot more [prep] than my past school, maybe because of resources. I don’t know,” Council said. “They break everything down in the simplest form, like what percentage [a player] goes this way and what percentage he goes that way.
“They break it all down to a 'T,' so if you’re not doing what they’re saying, it’s on you. … I think we’re well prepared. It’s just how we’re going to put it on the floor.”
Kamani Johnson, a forward transfer from Arkansas-Little Rock in his second season in uniform at Arkansas, said the team’s scouting reports for opponents are typically between 15-20 pages and look “like a book report,” complete with notes in the margins.
“I got my first scout and it’s North Dakota State. I’m thinking it’s going to be front and back maybe,” freshman guard Anthony Black said. “I got it and it was like 15 pages. I was like, ‘Wow.’
“I think we do a good job of prepping regardless of how many days. When the coaches get that much time to research and put together a game plan, that helps us a lot on the court.”
The Razorbacks have scored an average of 75.9 points and allowed 60.9 points in their 8 games this season after a 4-plus day layoff.
Defensively, they have forced opponents into turnovers on 21.6% of their possessions and held them to 46.6% on two-point field goal attempts and 28.9% from three-point range.
“My experience in March, when you’re going up head-to-head with different teams in different conferences, it’s tricky getting scouts and stuff, but we have a really good staff and we’re probably the most prepared team going into these types of March situations,” Johnson said. “I think that’s why we’ve had so much success.
“Nothing is different this year. We’re super-well prepared and we just have to follow the game plan.”
Musselman-led teams with four-plus prep days by season
#2015-16 – 6-4
#2016-17 – 6-1
#2017-18 – 6-0
#2018-19 – 8-1
*2019-20 – 6-0
*2020-21 – 7-0
*2021-22 – 5-3
*2022-23 – 7-1
# – at Nevada
* – at Arkansas
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