You can forgive Arkansas fans for getting overly hyped last season when the Razorbacks won 12 of 13 games down the stretch, then reached the SEC Tournament semifinals and the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament before falling to eventual champion Baylor.
The Razorback faithful had waited a quarter-century to make a run that deep in the postseason. Now, third-year coach Eric Musselman is aiming to stack more accomplishments on top with a largely revamped roster and what are expected to be capacity crowds again at Bud Walton Arena.
A core group of four players returns in guards JD Notae and Davonte "Devo" Davis and forwards Jaylin Williams and Connor Vanover.
Musselman and his staff again worked the transfer portal and the grad transfer ranks and pieced together a roster that they believe should pick up where last year's club, led by standouts Moses Moody, Justin Smith and Jalen Tate, left off. Last year's group posted an impressive stretch of 12 consecutive conference wins between Jan. 20 and March 12.
The Razorbacks have focused on accumulating multifaceted players who can play different roles on both offense and defense.
"Versatility is the trademark of our group," Musselman tweeted during the summer. "We're going to have a lot of depth on this team because of that versatility."
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Eric Musselman
2020-21 RECORD (SEC): 25-7 (13-4)
2020-21 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Baylor 81-72 in the Elite Eight
G Moses Moody (16.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
G Desi Sills (7.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
F Justin Smith (13.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg)
G Jalen Tate (11.0 ppg, 3.8 apg)
Replacing Justin Smith — an offensive and defensive Mr. Fix-It with savvy court awareness — will be difficult, but an experienced group of sit-outs and transfers should help Williams and Vanover.
The 6'10" Williams saw his minutes increase during the team's stretch run, when he displayed strong rebounding and passing prowess. The 7'3" Vanover didn't fully tap into his good 3-point stroke, but Musselman thinks he'll be more effective with better conditioning to improve stamina.
Kamani Johnson, a 6'7", 235-pounder who sat out last season after transferring from Little Rock, could help absorb the Smith role. "Kamani adds just a little bit of a different dimension, because he is a back-to-the-basket guy who seeks contact, and he's also a good isolation guy who can draw free throws attempted," Musselman says.
The Razorbacks also envision 6'6" transfer guards Au'Diese Toney and Stanley Umude playing some at the 3 and 4 with their roster flexibility, along with Trey Wade.
Here is where Arkansas sports the best returning experience, with Notae, the SEC's Sixth Man of the Year, and Davis, whose late emergence coincided with the Hogs' strong finish.
Notae must improve his shot selection, his 38.2 percent field-goal shooting (33.5 percent on 3-pointers) and a 61-to-66 assist-to-turnover rate, but he's got a quick first step and is dangerous in late-clock situations. Davis, a quick-twitch lefthander with good defensive instincts, shot 47.6 percent, which is strong for a guard.
Transfer Chris Lykes is a 5'7" bundle of energy who scored 1,256 points at Miami (Fla.), before an ankle injury limited him to two games last season.
"When we were recruiting him, I'd tell the staff, 'I think he's going to be able to blow the roof off of Bud Walton some nights,' because he's a streaky player who can get really hot and score in bunches," Musselman says.
Toney and Umude should create potential matchup issues at 6'6".
Khalen "KK" Robinson is returning from a broken foot that limited him to 11 games. He had a tidy 11-to-6 assist-to-turnover count at the time of his injury.
Musselman has proved very adept at employing versatile talent, scouting and adjusting to opponents. All of that should apply to this team, though identifying lineups and establishing depth might require some time. The Razorbacks believe they have the type of roster that can contend in the improving SEC.
Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
SEC Prediction: 2