Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Musselman: Mid-majors provide big-time tests
Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (4) drives past Old Dominion center Leeroy Odiahi (21) to score during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
FAYETTEVILLE — In Eric Musselman’s five seasons as Arkansas’ basketball coach, his teams have avoided losing a non-conference game at Bud Walton Arena.
The No. 14 Razorbacks (3-0) have continued to take care of business at home this season, defeating Alcorn State 93-59, Gardner-Webb 86-68 and Old Dominion 86-77.
But in the first two weeks of the regular season, four ranked teams already have lost to unranked teams.
It started on Nov. 6, the opening night of games, when James Madison beat No. 4 Michigan State 79-76 in overtime. Later in the first week of the season, BYU defeated No. 17 San Diego State 74-66 and Weber State upset No. 23 Saint Mary’s 61-57.
This week, Pennsylvania beat No. 21 Villanova 76-72 and California-Irvine beat No. 16 Southern Cal 70-60.
Teams from Power 5 conferences to lose to mid-majors at home the first two weeks of the season include LSU to Nicholls State, Vanderbilt to Presbyterian, Oklahoma State to Abilene Christian, Maryland to Davidson, Stanford to Santa Clara, West Virginia to Monmouth and Rutgers to Princeton.
“I really, truly believe we’re going to see a changing of how we schedule,” Musselman said Tuesday night during his radio show. “I’m not saying just us.”
Musselman meant teams from conferences such as the SEC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12 and ACC will schedule fewer mid-major teams that play road games for hefty guarantee checks without requiring a return game.
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“There are so many mid-majors that are winning [against major teams] because of the transfer portal and changing rosters,” Musselman said. “I think you’re going to see a lot more Power 5-Power 5 games moving forward.
“How quickly that adjustment happens, I’m not really sure.”
Next season, the SEC will add Oklahoma and Texas, the Big Ten will add UCLA, USC, Oregon and Washington, the Big 12 will add Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah, and the ACC will add California, Stanford and SMU.
“I think eventually with the way the college landscape’s going [scheduling will change], whether it’s more conference games, whether it’s more Power 5-Power 5 games,” Musselman said. “I think that we have a lot of old-school thinking in the sport that we’re involved in, meaning college basketball, that, ‘Get to 20 wins.’ ”
Musselman was an NBA head coach with Golden State and Sacramento and was an assistant with Minnesota, Atlanta, Orlando and Memphis before getting into the college game as an assistant at Arizona State.
“In the NBA if you finish a couple games over .500, you’re a playoff team, and everybody respects teams that win 48 out of 82 games,” Musselman said. “I think eventually [in college] we’re going to get to a little more of that type of a look, and fans, media, everybody is going to have to adjust how they evaluate [teams’ records].
“But I really think it’s good for the fans if it ends up going that way.”
Musselman said colleges teams likely will determine “there’s probably just less risk” in scheduling more major conference teams rather than possibly suffer a loss to a mid-major team that could be seen as a negative at the end of the season when the NCAA Tournament selection committee is evaluating who makes the at-large field.
Musselman said the Razorbacks will play their best opponent of the season so far when they take on North Carolina-Greensboro (1-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Walton Arena.
The Spartans opened the season by beating North Carolina A&T 94-78 at home and lost at Vanderbilt 74-70 on Tuesday night.
UNC-Greensboro 6-1 senior guard Keyshaun Langley scored 26 points against the Commodores and 6-8 senior forward Mikeal Brown-Jones had 24 points. Kobe Langley — Keyshaun’s twin brother — had 7 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds.
Keyshaun Langley was a first-team All-Southern Conference pick last season and Kobe Langley was the Defensive Player in the Year.
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Keyshaun Langley and Brown-Jones were both voted by coaches to the preseason All-South Conference’s 10-man team.
Musselman said Arkansas assistant coach Anthony Ruta, who puts together the team’s nonconference schedule, does a good job of finding teams that will help the Razorbacks’ strength of schedule.
“We feel like they’re going to win their league,” Musselman said of the Spartans. “Coach Ruta studies these guys, and our guys have to step up to the challenge of playing a really good team that’s going to come in here with confidence.”
This is the second year in a row Arkansas is playing UNC-Greensboro at Walton Arena.
Last season the Razorbacks rallied to win 65-58 in a game in which forward Trevon Brazile suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Freshman guard Nick Smith, who is now an NBA rookie with the Charlotte Hornets, led the Razorbacks with 22 points.
Among returnees for the Razorbacks, senior forward Makhi Mitchell had 13 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, and senior guard Davonte Davis had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 3 steals.
Donovan Atwell, a 6-5 sophomore guard for UNC-Greensboro, led the Spartans against Arkansas last season with 12 points.
Kobe Langley had 10 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists, and Keyshaun Langley had 9 points, 3 assists and 3 steals.
Spartans 6-9 senior forward Tim Ceaser played at Marion High School and transferred to UNC-Greensboro this year from Utah Valley. He’s averaging 6.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
“He can stretch the defense out with his three-point shooting,” Musselman said.
The Spartans have hit 22 of 58 three-pointers (37.9%) led by Keyshaun Langley (5 of 16), Ceaser (4 of 6), Kobe Langley (4 of 9) and Atwell (4 of 13).
Musselman ripped the Razorbacks’ perimeter defense after Old Dominion hit 11 of 24 three-pointers.
“Playing UNCG, we’ve got to get back and locate guys,” Musselman said. “I think with some of our newer guys, transition defense has maybe not been as high a priority as it needs to be with us.”
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