Make no mistake about it, Eric Musselman wasn’t taking Tuesday night’s game with South Carolina for granted.
The official line on the game in the sports books had dropped to 6 by game time, mainly when the news Jailyn Williams was going to miss the game for Arkansas.
Well, they aren’t always right.
“I was really concerned about this game,” Musselman said after the 101-73 win that truly wasn’t that close.
He called last week “emotional” in avenging two earlier losses against Alabama and LSU. The Razorbacks dominated both of them.
What he was really concerned with was a letdown. Quite frankly, that is something that was expected in a lot of corners.
And completely understandable.
The way this team plays with such a high level of maturity you have to stop and remember only one of the players that has any significant minutes and production played last year.
That was Desi Sills, who has stumbled through most of the conference schedule after injuring a shoulder, but bounced back with 15 points in 26 minutes against the Gamecocks (most notably going 5-of-7 from behind the three-point line).
“Our guys did a great job of being focused in practice the last two days and then in shoot-around this morning,” Musselman said.
He’ll give credit to the players, but that comes from the coaching staff starting with the guy at the top. Musselman has taken his years of coaching in the NGA, the G League and college to blend the X’s and O’s with the Jimmy’s and Joe’s and manage the mental part of the whole thing to produce a team that plays together.
And he’s done it in a year with an unprecedented global pandemic going on and having to wait months just to introduce the starting lineup to each other in person.
He’s winning at a 70 percent pace through two unusual seasons where some of the biggest names in the world of college basketball have struggled.
The only coach that’s gotten off to a faster start for the Hogs was Eddie Sutton in 1974-75 and 1975-76 (66 percent).
Musselman, as most coaches do, will credit the players.
“Our chemistry right now is phenomenal,” said Musselman. “The guys really, really, enjoy playing with each other. They understand their roles. They are playing really, really, unselfish.”
Maybe the most glaring proof of that is on offense. They pass the ball … a lot.
“We had over 300 passes tonight,” Musselman said. “I’ve never seen that in a college game. We had 305 passes for the game. We had 154 passes in the first half.”
That will wear a defense out that has the slightest drop in off-the-ball discipline and starts watching the ball too much.
This team has a star in Moses Moody (28 points against South Carolina), a couple of mature, experienced graduate transfer leaders in Justin Smith and Jalen Tate and a rising star in Davonte Davis.
Mix in wildcards Desi Sills and JD Notae (when they are on they are dynamic), plus Connor Vanover, who is 7-foot-3 and changes a lot of shots down low.
And you get the idea Musselman has put the win over the Gamecocks in the rear-view mirror by the time you read this and he’s only thinking about the next game.
“I’m just worried about how we beat Texas A&M,” he said at the end of his press conference.
Come to think of it, that’s probably not bad advice for the fans.