The three days of basketball from the Maui Invitational were filled with a March-like tournament electricity and intensity.
Passionate fans lambasting officials on social media, upset coaches yelling at opposing players and scuffles in the postgame handshake lines all stem from the intensity exhibited on the court over those three days last week. There's arguably no better environment for a young, inexperienced Razorback team to grow and get better this early in the season.
Yes, Arkansas is still very young, inexperienced and have yet to play with one of their best players in Nick Smith, but they showcased that they're deserving of some of the preseason hype and ready for primetime, heavyweight fights nonetheless.
In the two games against No. 10 Creighton and No. 17 San Diego State, the Hogs were up against teams whose rosters were filled with fifth and sixth-year seniors. Both teams play extremely good defense while moving the ball selflessly on the offensive end, which is a good recipe for beating this Arkansas team this early in the year.
Early on in each of those games Arkansas struggled offensively and faced a double-digit deficit. But to the credit of this young team they showed an incredible amount of resiliency to chip away and stay within striking distance until the end.
A lot of times you'll see young teams shut down and check out, allowing a 10 or 11 point deficit double to 20+ in a matter of minutes. That's what happened in Arkansas' 90-60 preseason exhibition loss to Texas in October.
That never happened in Maui.
In their loss to Creighton on Tuesday, Arkansas trailed by 12 with 1:43 left in the first half. Over that final span, the Hogs used a flurry of quick layups, and one beautiful alley-oop from Anthony Black to Trevon Brazile, to cut the lead in half and head into the second half only down 40-34. Creighton never led by double digits again.
In the win over San Diego State on Wednesday, Arkansas trailed by double digits most of the game, but never let the Aztecs extend it more than 13 points. Despite being noticeably fatigued, the Hogs clawed back to erase an eight-point deficit with 5:32 to go in the game to force overtime and eventually win 78-74.
The ability to overcome fatigue and inexperience in an intense and competitive environment can't be understated. Maui was the ideal learning experience for this Arkansas team, and Eric Musselman understands the value it holds.
"Sometimes even when you lose there are great learning lessons. Creighton, San Diego State, both teams are really well coached," said Musselman. "So, certainly a huge challenge for us, and I thought our young team grew up over those three games. I think as we get into conference play, those games we will be able to reflect back on and use them as learning lessons."
If we've learned anything from Eric Musselman's tenure in Fayetteville, it's that this team's best basketball has yet to be played. Arkansas still has a lot of room for improvement, but after Maui it's clear that the early season hype is warranted.
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Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire