Auburn’s got a big basketball game in 24 hours as the undefeated Arkansas Razorbacks make their way to Auburn Arena in the conference opener for both teams. While the Razorbacks are 8-0, this will be their biggest test so far this season. To learn more about Arkansas, I reached out to the Arkansas SB Nation site Arkansas Fight to get the scoop on the Razorbacks. My thanks to both Bailey Ward and Ben Brandon for taking the time to answer my questions. Bailey and Ben’s answers are in bold below.
1. The Muss Era in Fayetteville has been off to an impressive start, but things weren’t so bad under Mike Anderson. What is Muss doing (or what does he need to do more of) as he looks to elevate the program back into the top tier of the SEC?
BW: Eric Musselman has brought SO much spark to this program, truly. His social media presence is phenomenal and his coaching style seems like a perfect fit for us. As long as he keeps down the path he’s on, we will continue to grow and succeed.
BB: The biggest thing that jumps off the table is recruiting at a high level. The Razorbacks had a consensus Top 10 recruiting class in 2020. Musselman has also been able to recruit top talent through the transfer portal. The level of talent seems like it will consistently be on another level with Muss.
2. I’m excited to watch freshmen Moses Moody play for the first time on Wednesday. He’s been one of the best freshmen this year in the SEC and his numbers from 3 are really impressive (shooting about 42% from 3). Is Moody a kind of guy that could be a one-and-done prospect?
BW: You should be excited to watch him! Moses Moody is an absolute monster on the court. I think it’s too early to tell if he’s a one-and-done or not, especially with how unprecedented this season already is. I would hope he stays for a couple years! It will be fun to see what happens there. He’s truly a fantastic ball player.
BB: Absolutely. He was already projected to be a top 40 pick before the season even started, but the latest mock drafts have had him as high as 9th. At this point, I don’t think there is any doubt that this will be his only year in Fayetteville.
3. With Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones moving on to the NBA, (besides Moody), who has stepped up this season to replace some of the production lost from last season?
BW: Honestly, the whole team. We’re not really a team with a specific superstar right now. We just have a well-rounded team that’s ready to take on whatever we have to. If I HAD to pick one person, I’d go with Desi Sills. Desi is incredibly tough and plays like his life is on the line every game.
BB: It has been by committee. The Razorbacks have 5 players averaging double figures this year. Grad transfers Justin Smith and Jalen Tate have started every game. JD Notae is a huge scoring threat off the bench. The only returning starter, Desi Sills, has upped his game. This is a very versatile team.
4. In this game, we have the battle of Jaylin Williams, one for both sides. Auburn recruited your Jaylin Williams really hard but he ended up staying home and going to Arkansas. What kind of year and impact is he having so far?
BW: We’re still getting a feel for Jaylin Williams. But it’s clear he at least has good taste! He’s quick and efficient at the basket. I’m excited to see him get more floor time as the season progresses.
BB: Williams has been solid. He hasn’t seen a ton of court time, but has done well in his limited minutes. Eric Musselman is married to a 8-man rotation. As of now, Williams sits just outside of that rotation. I expect he will finish his Arkansas career high on the school rebound record lists.
5. Looking more at the roster, I can’t help but notice that your team features 7’3” Conor Vanover at center? How did Arkansas luck out and get this guy? How would you assess his post defense?
BW: Conor Vanover is a gem. Certainly one to watch out for. We definitely lucked out there! I’m going to guess Coach Musselman’s incredible recruiting skills, the gorgeous campus, and the intoxication of calling the Hogs is what got him, but that’s just my assumption. He’s a huge asset on both sides of the floor. Defensively, he’s a human tree. He’s hard to shoot over and I promise you, he will lock you down.
BB: Vanover is actually an Arkansas native. He grew up in Little Rock, but finished his high school career in Las Vegas. After a year at Cal, he transferred back home. Vanover is truly a unicorn. He does well defending the post against driving players, but his thin frame makes it difficult to defend post-ups. Just wait until you see the big man shoot it from beyond the arc!
6. You guys have played 8 games, but all of them in Bud Walton Arena. Wednesday will be a step up in competition and the team’s first road game. How do you see this game playing out? Do you have a score prediction?
BW: I’m excited for this one! Like you mentioned, it’s our first road game as well as our first SEC game of the season. I think it’ll be a good challenge for the guys and a chance for them to really compete. I think the game plays out with the Hogs winning by 100, but again, that’s just an assumption from me.
BB: It will be the first real test Arkansas has had all year. What will win or lose the game is how well Auburn shoots the 3. Arkansas finished 1st in the country last year in defending the 3. It has carried over to this year as opponents are shooting just 27.5%. Auburn is attempting 29.6 threes per game. I think Arkansas will continue the good defense beyond the arc making it difficult for Auburn offensively. Arkansas 75, Auburn 67.