After a brief recruiting period, former Indiana forward Justin Smith announced on Twitter that he would play his final season at Arkansas.
New Beginnings pic.twitter.com/79PWNjuzqf
— Justin Smith (@justinsmith3_) June 8, 2020
Smith had a strong junior season at Indiana, starting all 32 games and finishing with career highs of 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He was a consistent force at both ends of the floor and his return would have cemented Indiana as a top 15 team next season.
Instead, Smith becomes the latest grad transfer to venture over to Eric Musselman’s program. The Razorbacks will welcome in three for the 2020-21 season: Smith, former Northern Kentucky guard Jalen Tate, and former New Mexico forward Vance Jackson. With four top 100 recruits in tow, Musselman has overseen a massive roster overhaul and has Arkansas poised to challenge the powers that be in the SEC.
This seems like a perfect match between player and program. Last season, Arkansas frequently played without a player taller than 6-6 in the lineup–and Musselman loves nothing more than playing at a frenetic pace. Smith is just a shade taller than that at 6-7–it would not surprise me to see him as a small-ball center in some lineups, especially whenever Jackson needs a break. With Smith as the tallest player on the floor, Arkansas would be able to run at will without sacrificing anything at the defensive end. Smith’s freak athleticism will be a boon for the transition game, and his ability to score in the paint is something that the Razorbacks desperately lacked a season ago. His ability to rebound over taller players and essentially play much bigger than his size is exactly what Musselman needs in his frontcourt players. While Smith lacks a reliable three point shot, he has a solid mid-range game and has shown no trouble getting to the basket off the dribble. Since he’ll likely have four deadeye shooters around him in most lineups, Smith should have plenty of room to operate and be effective.
The big question for Arkansas at this point is whether or not Isaiah Joe comes back. The Razorbacks were 19-7 last year with Joe in the lineup and just 1-5 without him. If Joe does return and all the new pieces mesh quickly, Arkansas will be a mainstay in the Top 25 and get Musselman back to the NCAA Tournament.