Arkansas Razorback Basketball

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Sometimes Eric Musselman’s postgame praise for individuals doesn’t compute to increasing the individual’s playing time the next game.
The Arkansas Coach explained why during his Monday Zoom press conference regarding his 12-4, 4-4 in the SEC Razorbacks hosting the Ole Miss Rebels, 8-6, 3-4, in Wednesday night’s 7:30 p.m. SEC Network televised SEC game at Walton Arena.
The question sprang from Musselman’s praising 6-10 freshman center/forward Jaylin Williams’ 28 off the bench minutes in last Wednesday’s 75-73 victory over Auburn at Walton, especially Williams starting and and playing the entire 20 second half minutes.
That performance seemed to bode for a whole lot of Williams in last Saturday’s 92-71 victory at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.
Instead, Williams played but nine minutes against the Commodores.
Connor Vanover, the 7-3 center starting against Auburn but playing only nine minutes mostly relieved by Williams, played 18 minutes starting against Vanderbilt.
Especially foul trouble, but other factors, too, so many variables dictate different playing time and substitution patterns.
No Razorback seems more individually variable than Vanover. Vanover’s height, shot-blocking and surprising 3-point shooting touch can make him a matchup nightmare, but also his own coach’s nightmare vs. uptempo teams or teams with bulky centers outmuscling the slender 7-foot center whose weight gain regime was impaired by illness in September.
“Connor, I mean, he’s different,” Musselman said. “He’s 7-foot-3, and so when you have a player that’s so unique … I mean, how often are we playing against someone over 7-foot in league play? Not often. So it is going to be dictated a little bit on matchups and it’s going to be dictated on, ‘Are we getting an advantage with Connor on the floor?’ Whether it’s offensively or defensively.”
Williams has one solid advantage with 245 well distributed pounds.
“With Jaylin, he’s one of our most physical defenders and so when we play against physicality, we need him out on the floor,” Musselman said. “We didn’t feel against a Vandy team, where they had their four and five out on the floor a lot playing at the three-point line, that maybe he had to be in there banging in that particular game. And we needed Connor to play extended minutes, because he hadn’t in a while. So it was really important for him to get back out in the flow of things as well.”
The increased athleticism of the SEC schedule vs. Arkansas’ covid-19 altered November/December nonconference schedule mostly decreased Vanover’s time.
“I feel a little bit bad because he had such a great summer and then he had a setback losing weight trying to get back healthy,” Musselman said. “I think (under the circumstances) he’s played really well.”
He could play better, Musselman knows.
“Connor needs to continue at his size to go down on the block and create an advantage at 7-3 with some back to the basket stuff,” Musselman said. “That’s up to him to come to the coaches and ask for post-practice, post-work. We go to him a lot with it. He needs to go down there and utilize his jump hook a little bit and not just float on the perimeter at 7-3 for us. He does have a great size advantage and he does have great touch around the rim. I think he lost a little of that when he lost his weight, because it was so significant during this offseason around September.”
Meanwhile Williams progresses both patiently and accelerated.
“Jaylin’s been awesome,” Musselman said. “I would say yes, he’s ahead of schedule.”
Ahead physically in meeting his opportunities presented and ahead mentally understanding that for some games other teammates fit better.

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