LITTLE ROCK — For the first time in the Eric Musselman era as Head Hog, and the first time in 28 years on the program, Arkansas men’s basketball will START an Associated Top 10-ranked season Press.
Musselman’s two previous Hoop Hogs teams finished their seasons ranked in the Top 10 in national human polls after back-to-back NCAA Elite Eight tournament runs (2020-21 and ’21-22), but those ’22-23 Razorbacks registered at No. 10 in the first AP Top 25 poll of the season which was released Monday.
It’s the seventh time in program history that the Hoop Hogs have entered an AP Top 10-ranked season. The previous six times break down like this: five under Naismith Hall of Fame coach Nolan Richardson (No. 1 in 1994-95, No. 2 in ’93-94, No. 2 in ’91-92, No. 2 in ’90-91, and No. 9 in ’89-90) and once under Naismith Hall of Fame trainer Eddie Sutton (No. 7 in ’77-78).
Also ranked in the first AP Top 25 poll of the season, Arkansas at least nine games 22-23 — vs. No. 4 Kentucky (SEC foe, two games, home and away) ; No. 5 Baylor (road game as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge); No. 9 Creighton OR No. 25 Texas Tech (one of the two will be Arkansas’ second-round opponent at the Maui Invitational in Hawaii in November); No. 11 Tennessee (SEC enemy, road game); No. 12 Texas (charity exhibition road game); No. 15 Auburn (SEC enemy, road game); and No. 20 Alabama (SEC foe, two games, home and away). It’s also possible the Hogs will face No. 17 Arizona or No. 19 San Diego State in their third and final game of the Maui Invitational.
Musselman is 73-28 overall over his three seasons at Arkansas, which includes a 36-22 record against SEC teams and a 6-2 mark spanning two NCAA tournaments.
Based on building arguably the best recruiting class in the nation — 11 newcomers, including three freshmen who were 5-star freshmen out of high school — coupled with the aforementioned proven track record over his past two seasons, Musselman reinstated the Arkansas Razorbacks as a national brand and Final Four contender.
“It really doesn’t mean anything,” Musselman said in his post-Red/White press conference on Sunday, when asked about his program standings. “It’s good for the fans and the media. We already have a target on our back. Whatever the poll says, make the Elite Eight back to back. It’s not something that we’ve talked to our team a lot about, but we’ll start to get closer and closer to the games because the teams, even though we only have two returning players, the simple fact of having Arkansas on the front of our jersey puts a little different dynamic right now when we’re playing people.
“I think our guys have to understand the responsibility that comes with that. When you’re on the other end of the line and lots of teams are overlooking certain people, you win on the sly. We won’t be able to do that at all. »
Two of the top performers in the Hoop Hogs’ intra-squad scrimmage — senior forward/transfer center Jalen Graham and first-year guard Anthony Black — answered rankings questions they were also asked on Sunday.
“To me, that means nothing,” Graham said. “We still have to come here and compete and show everyone that we are a Top 10 team.”
“I would say our goal is to be a Top 5 team,” Black said. “I think it’s fun and it’s a good start for us as we have a lot of new players. So I think that’s a good position and kind of keeps us neutral where we still have a lot to do. It’s not too high where we’re up or too low where we’re down.
Ahead of their regular season opener at home against North Dakota State on Nov. 7 — it’s the opening day for all of college basketball — the Razorbacks will host Division II Rogers State (7 p.m. CT, Monday Oct. 24) in the first of two exhibition games with Game 2 scheduled against the Texas Longhorns on Saturday, Oct. 29 in Austin, TX.