6 Observations From Arkansas Open Basketball Practice
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas men’s basketball team held its third of 10 NCAA-sanctioned practices Wednesday before an overseas tour.
The Razorbacks are scheduled to travel to Italy and Spain August 6-16 and play four exhibition games. Here are some notes and points to remember after observing an hour of practice:
• Nick Smith makes things happen effortlessly
There’s a reason Nick Smith is projected into the top three picks in next year’s NBA Draft. He has long been one of – if not – the best players on the pitch whenever he takes the pitch. The freshman stood out while coaching the Razorbacks in a number of ways.
Smith’s sweater from start to finish is smooth as silk, and his consistency beyond the arc has improved throughout the summer. In a bit of 5v5 work, he led his group to a 9-6 win after taking a 9-0 lead.
What impressed me the most, aside from his vocal leadership, was the way he pushed the ball in transition and went for easy scores. The highlight of the day was a half-court lob from Smith to Jordan Walsh.
Smith also hit the runaway Derrian Ford moments after receiving a pass out, and Ford completed an uncontested layup at the other end. The freshman also made high-level jump passes and cross passes to his teammates for the open three.
PICTURES: Arkansas go through free practice ahead of European tour
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman was asked if he saw any similarities between Smith and Moses Moody, another 5-star rookie the Razorbacks landed and the program’s first unique player, and Musselman replied. in the affirmative. So far, Smith has been punctual, leads his teammates, and understands the hard work it takes to thrive at the college level.
Smith also spoke to reporters in the Bud Walton Arena interview room for the first time on Wednesday. It’s no surprise that he’s as confident as he can be and can talk about the game in great detail.
• The Mitchell twins are making positive progress
Smith, first-year guard Anthony Black and Missouri transfer forward Trevon Brazile were asked who on the list talks the most on the court, whether it’s with his team members in scrimmage or other. The names of Makhi and Makhel Mitchell have been mentioned.
Brazile is a huge fan of the energy the pair bring. They were both active on Wednesday and impressed with their fluidity at their shoe size.
Musselman said both players grew in how they handled the pace, intensity and demands of training.
“I think from a growth standpoint of how we practice, how we want our culture to be, they’ve probably grown the most in a short period of time,” Musselman said. “But it’s demanding to play here. These two guys, like I said, Makhel is really physical and he won’t back down from anyone.
“Makhi is also very physical. He might feel a little more comfortable on the perimeter. Khel might feel a bit more comfortable around the rim. They are both good shot blockers. They both run very hard. They are also intense guys.
From the way they scoured the floor, bounced back and forth, held their ground defending post-ups and shots modified and blocked, their actions were those of players who can impact victory.
It was intriguing to hear Musselman rave about them, as they weren’t discussed much when we received our first summer update in mid-June.
• Team shot and speed as a whole
Shortly after members of the media were allowed into the practice gymnasium, Arkansas participated in a three-man shootout drill in which two players shot threes and one ran rim-to-rim. The Razorbacks finished within 130 points the first two times during the three-minute session.
By the third, they hit 168 and made perimeter jumps to a high clip.
Musselman hopes to see more of that effectiveness from this group. He said Wednesday that this team needed to be better beyond the arc than in 2021-22, when Arkansas finished 316th nationally in three-point percentage. Smith agreed.
“For me, one thing that I’ve tried to preach and something that Muss tries to preach with us all the time is just to hit the gym and get some extra punches,” Smith said. “After practice we have 10 minutes of shooting. We don’t have to do that; we can just go home. But we know shooting is going to be a big part of what we’re trying to do, in particular in our attack.
“As you can see we are playing open and free so knowing that we have to be able to shoot the ball is going to be important when it comes to March.”
The shooting drill was an interesting watch from the front rim racer perspective. Seeing the Mitchells, Grahams, Braziles and others show off their versatility as trail runners has been eye-opening at times. They all cover a lot of ground in a hurry.
Smith, Black and Walsh must like it. They want to pick up the pace and they also have a set of greats that will run.
• Heavy emphasis on open attack
In late June, Musselman told WholeHogSports how former South Dakota coach and new Arkansas director of scouting Todd Lee put his stamp on the program within months. One of them involved the Razorbacks’ open attack, which is displayed when an initial play call in a possession goes down.
Lee trained Musselman’s thoughts in these situations as rules, then backed up the work with a video. The fourth-year Arkansas coach stressed the importance of a functional open offense time and time again Wednesday.
Musselman urged players to move the ball to multiple sides of the floor, for 15-17 foot spacing and a 1-on-1 split from a defender in a game advantage.
According to CBB Analytics, the Razorbacks last season averaged 0.93 PPI on 340 possessions that lasted 24-30 seconds. This figure puts them in the 19th percentile nationally.
• Ricky Council’s rebound is amazing in person
The Wichita State transfer’s athletic and dunk performances since arriving on campus have won many over on social media. Until you see it take flight live, the videos don’t do the Council justice.
I was fascinated watching Council in the three-way weave drill when he was the rim runner. Because Arkansas was aiming for the highest possible point total in three minutes, the Board toned down the flair in the air to maximize the time. It was evident.
Then, in 5-on-5 action, came his biggest moment of the day. Catching a pass to the left corner in transition, Council attacked a closing, charged from the short corner and landed a huge dunk.
Once he was back on the ground, the rim was bent at a downward angle and had to be reset.
“Ricky is amazing. Ricky is crazy,” Smith said. without even trying.
“I thought I was athletic until I saw Ricky.”
• I enjoyed watching the Conseil/Walsh confrontations
One of the team’s best freshmen and the most explosive athlete among transfer additions clashed frequently in practice Wednesday.
For Walsh, who was described by Musselman as a violent defender, I found it to be a great test for him to regularly control a multi-year college player and an athlete of Council caliber.
Conseil, on the other hand, benefits in the long run from facing Walsh, who is long and a multi-faceted offensive play.
Both players were intense on both sides and had a number of high motor moments that stood out.