FAYETTEVILLE – Eric Musselman says media and his fellow coaches voting on All-SEC teams cured any Arkansas overconfidence upon entering this week’s SEC Tournament as the SEC’s hottest team.
Musselman’s nationally eighth-ranked Razorbacks, 21-5 overall/ and 13-4 second in the concluded SEC regular season, as the No. 2 seed earn a double-bye until Friday night against Thursday’s Missouri vs. Georgia winner, enter the Wednesday through Sunday Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
Nationally No. 6 Alabama, 21-6, 16-2 is the SEC champion but Arkansas, including avenging an early SEC season loss to Alabama, sizzles SEC hottest with an 11-game SEC winning streak.
Hence the does Musselman fret overconfidence question during his Tuesday press conference.
Arkansas’ coach applauded Razorbacks freshman Moses Moody named first-team All-SEC by both the
Coaches and AP media teams, and as the coaches’ SEC Freshman of the Year, and AP Newcomer of the Year, and Razorbacks junior guard JD Notae voted SEC Sixth Man of the Year by the coaches.
But he was miffed with no Razorbacks mention on the Coaches All-Defensive team or any team mention of Razorbacks graduate transfer forward Justin Smith.
“Probably not going to be overconfident anyhow with the way the awards went today,” Musselman said. “Because we have some freshmen (Moody was the lone Arkansas freshman on the Coaches All-Freshman tea,) that I don’t know how they were overlooked, but they (starting guard Davonte “Devo” Davis and backup center Jaylin Williams) were.”
He was just getting warmed up mentioning Smith, whose early-season SEC ankle injury figured in Arkansas’ 2-4 SEC start and healthy return in the 11-0 finish.
“Justin Smith has been as important to our team as any player is to any team,” Musselman said. “ (Point guard) Jalen Tate defensively. (Center Connor) Vanover is one of the best shot-blockers. We were left off the all-defensive team. I think we’re a pretty good defensive team. I don’t see why we’d be overconfident, especially with how today went with some of the individual player awards.”
At least Moody, and Moody had a close vote running second to Alabama’s Herbert Jones for SEC Player of the Year, and Notae got their due.
Notae wasn’t getting much due from Musselman early season as a hot and cold scorer off the bench but lacking defense and assists as the combo guard playing the point when Tate needed a rest or was in foul trouble.
He came on like gangbusters in all phases during Arkansas’ 11-0 run.
“I don’t know if I can remember a player in such a short time frame growing his game like JD has,” Musselman said. “Because he started off with a lot of ceiling in a lot of areas like decision-making, shot selection, when to pass. All those type of things, and he’s done a great job of getting better on a daily basis.”
The sixth man role now counted upon as much for his defense as his offense was new to Notae from his previous two seasons at the University of Jacksonville before transferring as 2019-2020 Arkansas redshirt.
“It takes a special player to be willing to come off the bench,” Musselman said. “Never complain. Be able to come in and play the off guard or the the point guard. JD’s made great strides as a point guard and understanding shot selection and defending. He’s been incredible just sitting down and going through film with people on the coaching staff. He’s like a sponge. He wants to get better. He’s been a scorer his whole life. He’s now playing much more in a team system and a team environment. His future is going to grow and even more and more.”
Notae said speeding up his concentration crystalized his game.
“Just slowing down, letting the game come to me,” Notae said. “Seeing what the defense is giving me. Just making the right reads and doing it being simple.”
Though a true freshman, Moody, averaging a team high 17.5 points including 28 and 28 points his last two games, has consistently played at a high level in all phases.
“ It’s just not often that you have a freshman come in, start from day one and be a go-to player,” Musselman said. “Be a guy that you rely on to make baskets, be a guy that you rely on to get defensive stops. A player that you rely on to guard every night. He’s always been a great spot-up shooter, but I think he’s really improved in some other areas as well. So much, much deserved.”