Ask Mike: Devo’s Big Moment, Get Off NSJ’s Case & Should Muss Leave His Shirt on?

By Mike Irwin
on 2023-03-20 19:01 PM

Q. Our first question this week is from Eddy Lynn who asks: What was the CBS courtside reporter referring to when she said to Devo after the game that Musselman had challenged him and put him out of his comfort zone? Clearly it triggered some deep emotions. Why?

A. Musselman realized early on that the new and young talent on this team was not going to be be enough without some experienced leadership. Devo was the guy he had in mind. Back in December I think they clashed over this at times. That may have been the reason why Devo took a game off after the Maui Classic, to think about the challenge Musselman had given him. He came back and while he displayed some leadership off and on it wasn’t until the second half of the Kansas game that it all kicked in for him. I don’t think Devo was waiting for that moment to happen. That moment was waiting for him. Like it was fate.

At the 16 minute mark he hit a layup. Arkansas went from nine down to seven down. Over the next 14 minutes he took the game over, scoring 19 of his 25 points. More importantly his teammates followed his lead. They started stepping up too. Arkansas caught up with Kansas, took the lead and lost it when Devo fouled out with under two minutes those go. His teammates got that lead back and the game was won.

Why was he so emotional talking about the challenge his head coach had issued? Because he knew Muss was right. The man he’d questioned at the time told him right there on national TV that he considered him to be like a son, that he loved him. That’s when Devo lost it. Because of that future generations will remember the name of Devo Davis. What the fans saw from him was the essence of what Razorback athletics is all about. A home grown kid who listened to his coach and led Arkansas to victory in one of the biggest wins in the history of the school. A unlikely win courtesy of an unlikely hero.

Q. Mousetown says: I get why Devo was crying after the Kansas game but what was going on with Nick Smith? He was crying too but why do I have the feeling that those weren’t tears of joy?

A. Some of it was being happy with his teammates that they had pulled off a big upset. He said so. But clearly there was more going on there. He mentioned that nobody understood what he has been going through. To me it was the emotion of sitting out with that knee issue, of reading all the social media complaints that he wasn’t coming back. That it was all about NBA money to him.

It bothered him to the point that he went on the radio to promise that he’d be back. He kept that promise but Arkansas had won five of six by that time, including a close road loss to Baylor and a blowout win over Kentucky. So what happened? He scored five points in his first game back and Arkansas lost to Mississippi State at home. All over social media some fans were complaining that he’d messed up the chemistry of the team. That he needed to go back to California and get ready for the NBA. Arkansas did not need him.

I don’t think some of Arkansas’ fans realize what a gut punch it is to read stuff like that for a kid who grew up in this state wanting to be a Hog. When he didn’t score and played less than 4 minutes in Arkansas’ road loss to A&M, the complaints got louder.

But he sucked it up and scored 10 at home against Florida, 26 at home against Georgia, 24 in a road loss at Bama, 12 in the loss at Tennessee and 25 in the home loss to Kentucky.

In the SEC tournament he had 14 in the win over Auburn and 16 in a loss to A&M.

To me he was fine. He’d averaged 19 and a half points a game in a six-game stretch. But Arkansas had gone 2-4 in those games those same fans were still saying the losses were his fault.

What’s it like to average almost 20 points a game but read on social media that the losses were on you?

So what happened next? Smith Jr. said in a pre NCAA Tournament interview that he was going to use that opportunity to play like he was capable of. Lots of positive energy in that interview. But it has all come apart in the two NCAA Tournament games. He’s scored a total of four points in them.

So what happened? I’m gonna guess that he put so much pressure on himself that he started pressing. Over reaching.

Also that knee injury may have resurfaced. It hasn’t been addressed other than the Kansas game announcers referring to it and implying that it caused him to miss a workout before the Kansas game.

What do I read after that game? Some fan on Twitter claimed that Smith Jr. refused to practice. How would he know that? The answer is he didn’t. He was passing along rumors.

What’s it like to read that if you’re Nick Smith Jr. That is what he was referring to when he said that people don’t understand what he’s been going through. It’s very likely why he took down his social media accounts.

That’s the best thing he could have done.

Q: RazorAlex88 says: Oh my goodness!!! Sweet 16 bound! To answer a question I had a couple weeks back when I had SHAMEFULLY pressed the panic button. (Shame on me!) Hopefully next season I will learn not to hit the panic button and just put faith in Muss and his guys!

A. I love these kind of responses. It’s okay to worry. It’s okay to push the panic button. It’s okay to be wrong. Just admit it and promise that you won’t do it again when of course you will because that’s what fans do. They worry. They panic and they’re glad when they turn out to be wrong.

Q. Pigsfeat says: There seems to be some other fan bases on social media that take exception to Coach Musselman’s exuberance and taking off his shirt….

….One even saying that he tries to make it all about himself. It doesn’t seem to bother the players, our AD, or most Hog fans (including me). What do you think?

A. Razorback fans love it. I think it’s unique. It fits his personality. It plays well with recruits. The network TV people love it. Who cares what fans of other team think? Its none of their business.

Q. Marty Byrde’s proxy says: Coach Muss is “reaching out” to multiple players in the portal, per the new norm. Can you give some insight about how the process works? Does it differ at all from the HS recruiting regarding official and unofficial visits etc.

A. There are some minor differences between recruiting high school players and recruiting players out of the portal. The signing dates are different. Portal recruits can take visits even during a dead period for high school seniors. There’s one official visit allowed for both groups and both can make unofficial visits whenever they chose with the exception of high school seniors who cannot visit during dead periods.

The biggest difference is in the initial contact. There are no restrictions on reaching out to high school kids. You can only contact a portal athlete after the athlete has entered the portal. Prior contact is an NCAA violation. It’s a rule that is often ignored. Coaches rarely turn each other in for that so it’s hard for the NCAA to track it.

Q. Lanny says: I haven’t seen much coverage of the football team this spring. Some in the media are telling me that Pittman become more restrictive the longer he has the job. As a Hot Springs horse racing fan, Pitt is my guy. Is the media mad at him? I hope not.

A. Not mad. Most probably don’t like the restrictions but it’s a part of the job. Any time a new coach comes in he does things his way. For Pittman it’s the Nick Saban, Kirby Smart connection. Very tight media controls. With him it’s also a little odd because he was so open with the media when he was the offensive line coach. But he’s a head coach now. I assumed he would be different.

Here’s the thing about tight restrictions, and I’m not necessarily referring to Pittman, when a coach takes that approach he’d better win because if the fans get restless he’s not going to get much sympathy from the media that covers him.

I think about Jack Crowe. He was so open and so cooperative with us I think we went out of our way to stay off his back when his team’s struggled. You may say, that’s not doing your job and you would be right about that. But it’s life. I don’t think what we did was intentional. It just happened because we had such a good working relationship with him.

The same thing with both Danny Ford and Bret Bielema but there was a difference. Both were easy to work with but they had both been very successful at other schools. I kept thinking that each of them was eventually going to get it going here and it never happened.

As for Pittman, I think he’s on the right track even if he is he’s too restrictive. He’s made some moves in the offseason that look like they’re really gonna pay off.

Q. Hogdogger wants to know: Have you ever seen a season like we have had where injuries for key players in football basketball and baseball happen right as the season starts? Is there a curse on Hog sports?

A. Some fans call it the curse of Nolan. Supposedly it’s a jinx as a result of the school firing him. No, there’s no curse but I’m not sure I can remember this many injuries to key players in all three sports. Football recovered in the secondary and KJ Jefferson was healthy in the bowl game which allowed Arkansas to end the season with a win.

The end of basketball is still to determined but clearly Muss and his guys have adjusted to two huge injuries.

SEC play is just getting started and baseball has recovered nicely from a rash of injuries to key pitchers. They opened with a sweep of Auburn and gave up a total of just five runs in three games. The team ERA which was over six not that long ago, continues to drop. It’s now at 4.27.

So yes, a lot of injuries, but all three programs have adjusted.

Q. Hawgredneck says: I saw where Yurachek announced some proposed renovations for Bud Walton Arena with illustrations of what they might look like. So much for the rumor that you kept shooting down….

…..The one where Yurachek was supposed to be going for an entirely new arena at the fairgrounds. How did you know?

A. It was a guess and not a difficult guess. That rumor made no sense.

The drawings were interesting. I don’t like the idea of reducing total seating to add luxury seats but it’s not as bad as I feared. Maybe 17,000 instead of 15,000. Muss will like the idea of expanding student seating at courtside and around the lower bowl. So a change would give Arkansas an even better home court advantage. However, those who currently sit in those seats are asking themselves where they are supposed to move to. None of this has been officially decided so it may not happen but if it does Hunter Yurachek might make a lot of longtime Bud Walton season ticket holders mad like he did with baseball season ticket changes last year.

I’m also hearing that a name change is likely. For those who don’t like that, I don’t
think Bud Walton would care if he were still with us. He told Frank Broyles at the time that his name didn’t have to be on the building even if he paid for at least half of it.

A lot of fans are cringing at the possibility of naming it Walmart Arena but actually, I have no clue as to possible corporate sponsors.

(Last updated: 2023-03-20 19:01 PM)