The Razorbacks' Next Challenge

Less than one-third of the nation's Division I basketball teams will be practicing and playing a game this week - something Arkansas third-year head coach Mike Anderson believes is a reward for a step forward for his program, who will be playing its first postseason game since 2008 when Indiana State visits Tuesday night.

Although no Arkansas player or coach is trying to hide the fact that they would rather be in the NCAA Tournament instead of the NIT one, they are also looking at it another way.

That is there are 260 teams – including traditional heavyweight Indiana who would like to be in the "Little Dance" and have the Razorbacks' spot of hosting Indiana State Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

It may not be the Big Dance, but at least Arkansas is in the post-season for the first time since 2008.

"You're absolutely right in terms of the disappointment, not having an opportunity to play in the big dance so to speak," Anderson said. ".. .We didn't finish like we wanted or we thought we should... But at the same time our guys get a chance to play. A lot of teams are going home now. They've already put their uniforms up. So we've got an opportunity to continue to play basketball in a tournament, so that's got to be the mind set.

"We've got five seniors and hopefully want to send those guys out the right way," Anderson added. "That means that the leadership will hopefully step up, with the understanding that we've got a chance to play more basketball."

The Razorbacks (21-11) will battle the Sycamores (23-10) – who finished second to No. 2 Wichita State (34-0) in the Missouri Valley Conference – for the right to play later this week against the winner of Wednesday's game between California and Utah Valley.

"We're looking forward to the challenge against an Indiana State team that is very, very balanced," Anderson said. "Won 23 games out of the MVC. Knowing that they're a team that can shoot the basketball, has a veteran squad, so it should be an entertaining game to say the least."

Arkansas wonsix straight games and eight of nine before getting blown out in its regular season finale at Alabama.

The Raorbacks then let a 69-66 lead slip away late to South Carolina in what turned into a 71-69 loss in the opening round of the SEC Tournament last Sunday.

"We were in a position, we controlled our own destiny," Anderson said of an NCAA berth. "And so last year I couldn't sit there and say we were in position to do that. now, experience is going to be your greatest teacher. We learned. Sometimes you can pull the cart before the horse. So the lesson learned is, hey, you've got to finish what you started... And we didn't do it. That's the bottom line."

Anderson thinks his team didn't handle its success the right way.

I just think they had some success and some teams don't know how to handle success," Anderson said. "That is where experience comes in. You have got to stay hungry and you have got to stay humble.

"A coach can preach it and say it, but it has to take place in that huddle," Anderson added. "That is where it has got to take place and that's the next step is it taking place out there on the floor."

Getting to play in the postseason for the first time since 2008 is a step forward according to Anderson, who is in his third year at the helm of the Razorbacks.

"I just think that you look at the foundation is laid," Anderson said. "To me, the foundation has been set. And so all we've got to do now is just go forward."

Anderson did admit that it has been a tougher job than he expected.

"Well, getting in and seeing what has taken place, once I got in and saw all the things that have taken place, it makes sense why you don't," Anderson said. "That's why I said the foundation's been laid. I think with everything else here, you're going to see us, hopefully, playing for championships each and every year. That's the bottom line.

"That starts between the culture, between the personnel, not only that, there's also got to be a charge from the head coach, in terms of what we're going to be about," Anderson added. "You've got to have that vision … I'm used to playing in postseason play. That's how I alway say it. I'm used to playing in postseason play. And so I've got to have guys that have that same mindset coming in."

Arkansas actually was practicing during the NCAA Tournament selection show according to senior Kikko Haydar and at a speech by former Boston Celtic player Chris Herren – who lost his NBA career to substance abuse - during the NIT announcements.

"We were kind of holding on to some last hope," Haydar said of getting into the NCAA. "Honestly, we didn't watch the show. We were practicing in the middle of the show and then we didn't even find out about the NIT on time, either because we had a speaker for all athletes yesterday. So that was kind of how the day went. We found out late last night.

" Always disappointed about the NCAA Tournament, but we kind of found out about both at the same time so it was kind of like - oh, we didn't get in but oh, were in this one," Haydar added.

This one will be against a Sycamores team that is senior-laden and that has won nine true road games and 12 away from home this season.

"I definitely think they're an impressive team," senior guard Fred Gulley said. "Their resume speaks for itself. We've just got to focus on us, and we're hungry. We still have stuff we have to prove. We still don't think that we've played our best basketball yet. So we've got to come out and do what we're capable of doing and win games."

Arkansas senior guard Kikko Haydar gets to the basket against Kentucky's Archie Goodwin during the 2012-2013 season.

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