By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – As Eric Musselman predicted Sunday with Arkansas improved to 6-0 after beating the University of Pennsylvania, 76-60 at Walton Arena and starting the week winning the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City over Kansas State and Cincinnati, his Razorbacks are now a Top Ten team.
In Monday’s AP Top 25 men’s basketball poll the Razorbacks advanced from 13th to 10th going into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game at Walton against the University of Central Arkansas Bears.
The Razorbacks began the season ranked 16th off their 25-7 record and Elite Eight NCAA Tournament for 2020-2021.
Musselman was asked at his Monday Zoom press conference about his Top 10 prediction of Sunday fulfilled even as he spent much of Sunday’s postgame bemoaning the Hogs committing as many turnovers as Penn, 15 each, and getting “torched” for 25 points by Clark Slajchert, Penn’s freshman backup point guard.
“One of the phrases that I’ve talked to the team about and will continue is it’s all about backing up optimism with actual performance,” Musselman said. “We understand there’s been optimism since the offseason. How are we going to back it up? With how we produce. Any time you’re ranked, there’s also responsibility, there’s a target and you’ve got to understand that. When you’re a top-10 team and somebody beats a top-10 team, there’s celebration. So you’ve got to understand that feeling.”
He recalled “that feeling” from the most banner season in his tenure coaching the University of Nevada.
“I know that the 17 weeks at Nevada when we were in the top 10, there’s an added pressure that you play with,” Musselman said. “I mean, I can’t really describe it.”
Like sometimes feeling even winning isn’t enough?
“We still want to be able to celebrate victories, but when you’re top-10, top-15, sometimes you win a game and you’re not celebrating,” Musselman said. “I think you guys (media) could probably feel that last night with me.”
Media could. Danyelle Musselman doubly so. As wife, Danyelle knows her husband. and as a former sports reporter for ESPN she’s covered the sport her husband coaches.
“I came home and Danyelle quickly reminded me that we won,” Eric Musselman said. “She told me to stop talking about the turnovers and the sloppy play and stop talking about the missed 3s and please remember there’s two columns – a win and a loss. She basically told me I could bring that garbage attitude only after a loss. She put it in perspective and is right.”
Not that too many turnovers and too many missed threes (3 of 22 against Kansas State, and 3 of 17 against both Cincinnati and Penn) or a Penn freshman backup “torching” them can be ignored.
“We do have areas we have to get better at,” Musselman said. “But to be ranked in the top 10 is something that I think is a nice added incentive to get people to Bud Walton. It’s a top-10 team. Come and get rowdy, get there early.”
Musselman had hoped resurrecting the Harlem Globetrotter type warmup drills complete with juggling basketballs and a unicycle that his late father, Bill, used coaching Ashland College and the University of Minnesota and that Eric used at Nevada would have a more enthusiastic response than he’s perceived.
“Our players spent a lot of time on the warmup,” Musselman said. “And quite frankly, Wednesday might be the last time do it. We hope to generate a little more enthusiasm on Wednesday for the warmup and then leading into the game maybe than that what we’ve produced of late.”
One suggestion from this space, having the warmup end with the Hogwild Band playing Arkansas’ fight song seems more apt to inspire enthused appreciation than the canned, crowd-numbing somber reminder to “Be Brave,” lamely concluding what snappily starts with “Sweet Georgia Brown.”