Like It Is

OPINION | WALLY HALL: Musselman has his team loose, ready to go

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Fog settled on this city, throwing air traffic behind an hour or so.

It didn't seem to faze the handful of fans on a 6 a.m. flight out of Little Rock -- including Mica Strother, a senior director of development for the Razorback Foundation -- who would be part of more than a handful of Razorback faithful making a connecting flight in Washington, D.C.

It won't be known until tonight's 8:20 game time how many Arkansas fans made the journey to a city known for chicken wings, a waterfall and the Buffalo Bills, not college basketball.

The guess is the crowd will be good, but it is hard to imagine TV viewers of an Eastern Time Zone game getting the curtain call on opening day of the NCAA Tournament.

Regardless, it appears the prime time interest in the Razorbacks continues to grow.

Who would have thought three years ago when Eric Musselman was hired away from mid-major Nevada after four years there, he would have the Razorbacks a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It proves his No. 3 seed in his second year and fight to the Elite Eight, where the Razorbacks lost to eventual national champion Baylor, was not a fluke.

The Razorbacks are a national team again.

Also consider from last year to this year, only one Arkansas starter in this NCAA Tournament started in last year's NCAA Tournament. It is Jaylin Williams, and he only started five games last season.

Granted, Devonte Davis started last year and is the sixth man this season, and last year's sixth man JD Notae is starting and is the leading scorer.

After three seasons, Musselman is 70-27 as the Razorbacks' coach and in seven seasons as a college head coach he's never won less than 20 games in a season.

He wins because he blends.

And any chemistry speed bumps get settled quickly.

At 3:30 Wednesday afternoon, Notae, Williams and Stanley Umude, who this time last year was playing for South Dakota State, met with the press.

NCAA Tournament news conferences can be pressure-packed as the media comes from all over the country.

Umude was the serious one, but not uptight, while Notae and Williams, who played in four NCAA games last season, were grinning, laughing and kidding each other.

Our man Bob Holt, as he always does, asked the majority of the questions, which had Notae and Williams sharing chuckles. When asked about it, they said it made them feel a little like they were at home.

Any demons from last Saturday's 82-64 loss to Texas A&M appear to have been exorcised.

They are loose and ready, and the main reason is Musselman.

They are a team, his team.

"Coach Muss is fun to be around," Williams said.

No one but a player or staff member might have guessed the Muss bus is joy ride.

Watching Musselman in games, he seems to be driven to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. But when you see him on his TV show in the locker room, you see a teacher.

A guy who leads by example and by serving.

He can be funny and demanding. Entertaining and intense. Motivating and laid back.

Listening to Umude, Notae and Williams on Wednesday, you knew there was a strong competitive chemistry on this team.

When Williams said Notae was the best 2K (a NBA video game) player on the team, Umude quickly said, "Says who? You haven't seen me play."

Then all three laughed.

In their 15 minutes at the news conference, they revealed they had watched a ton of film on Vermont, tonight's opponent, and that the Catamounts are dangerous in their half court, long distance shooting offense.

The final analysis was they were prepared and ready because they trust their coach.

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