FAYETTEVILLE – Other than Lindsey Hunter, the Mississippi Valley State University Coach and former 17-years NBA player, and his son, Caleb Hunter, MVSU’s leading scorer and star sophomore guard, it seems there’s little to know about the visiting Delta Devils other than they come off a dreadful 3-27 season opening Arkansas’ season tonight.
MVSU of the SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference) and Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks tip off the season opener for both teams at 6:30 tonight at Walton Arena.
No telecast tonight with just SEC+ on the internet for video and otherwise broadcasted on the Razorbacks Radio Network.
Whatever second-year Arkansas Coach Musselman doesn’t know about the Delta Devils, he says he frankly doesn’t know under game conditions about his Razorbacks returning only junior guard Desi Sills and junior forward Ethan Henderson from last season’s squad.
Last season’s Hogs went 20-12 before the coronavirus pandemic shut down college sports last March with Arkansas second round deep into the SEC Tournament.
Aside from Sills and Henderson, Musselman’s active scholarship roster includes four freshmen, three graduate transfers and two activated after redshirting as transfers last season.
“Look, we’ve got so many new faces,” Musselman said. “We haven’t played a game. We’ve got to figure out who we are. That’s a really, really important factor for us right now.”
Given the likely mismatch and the need to evaluate under game conditions, does Musselman approach tonight anticipating much substituting and expanding early off the bench opportunities?
“I don’t think so,” Musselman replied. “The object of the game is to try to win on Wednesday night. Then as the game’s progressing, I think you’ve just got to see who’s playing well. I’m certainly not going into any game thinking that we’re going to do anything other than who’s starting No. 1?”
During Monday’s Zoom press conference Musselman said even he wasn’t entirely sure who would start.
“I told them I’d like to tell them who’s starting by tomorrow by the end of practice,” Musselman said. “So when they come into shoot around on game day that they have it already in their head and they don’t find out when they come in the locker room on game night.”
Who starts out guarding Caleb Hunter, a 5-11 guard averaging 15.7 points last season and scoring 30 points in two of his final three games, likely will be even more compelling than Arkansas’ first-game starting five.
“Obviously Hunter had a great freshman year so he’s obviously been a focal point of our preparation,” Musselman said. “Usually a player makes his biggest jump from his freshman to his sophomore year. He’s a really good scorer and can shoot the three.”
Lindsey Hunter, a great college player at Jackson State for Andy Stoglin, the former Nolan Richardson era Arkansas assistant, has added junior college transfers trying to build the Delta Devils into a fast-paced operation.
“They play really, really fast,” Musselman said. “They try to get the ball up and score in the first 12 seconds. Fifty percent of their shots after a made basket are in the first 12 seconds. And like 80 percent after a missed shot and they secure a defensive rebound, 80 percent of their shots are within the first 12 seconds. So transition defense is going to have to be a must.”
For his starting five Musselman chooses among Sills and Henderson, graduate transfer seniors Jalen Tate, the point guard from Northern Kentucky University, and forwards Justin Smith via Indiana University and Vance Jackson via the University of New Mexico, sophomore center Connor Vanover, redshirted last season transferred from the University of California, and guard JD Notae, transferred from the University of Jacksonville, and instate freshmen Jaylin Williams, the forward from Fort Smith Northside, and guards Devo Davis of Jacksonville, KK Robinson of Bryant via Oak Hill (Va.) Academy and Moses Moody who played at North Little Rock High before attending Montverde (Fla.) Academy.
Vanover, 7-3 height with a surprising 3-point shot, might not be in condition to play as much tonight as would be anticipated.
“He’s playing catch-up, for sure,” Musselman said from Vanover being ill during the preseason. “He missed almost three weeks when we were grinding. But the good thing is, he’s got a really, really high basketball IQ and he’s got a really great skill set, so those two things have kind of saved him while he’s missed time. He still knows our offense as well as anybody.”