Arkansas’ basketball team will face its toughest test of the young season on Thursday night against a team and in a place that Razorback head coach Mike Anderson has had a lot of success.
No. 18 Arkansas - off to its best start in 17 years - will travel face No. 20 Iowa State (3-1) Thursday night at 8 p.m. in Ames, Iowa, in a SEC/Big 12 Challenge game that will be televised by ESPN 2.
Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla will handle the announcing duties from Hilton Coliseum, where the home team has a 23-game winning streak versus non-conference foes heading into Tuesday night's game with Lamar.
“It probably will be a sold-out crowd,” Anderson said. “They're into basketball. They love basketball. I mean, it's cold up there and basketball's an indoor sport, so I think they enjoy being indoors. But they support their team. They've always had some tremendous tradition up here.
“They call it Hilton Magic,” Anderson said. “They had (legendary coach) Johnny Orr when you go back to those days … It's just a good atmosphere. When you talk about Ames, it's a college town, and they embrace their basketball.”
Anderson is 8-2 against Iowa State all-time and won his last four times there as head coach at Missouri.
“Well, it’s a different year, different team,” Anderson said. “I was at Missouri at that time. I’m at Arkansas now. So this is going to be some unchartered water for our guys. I get to tell them through my experiences what takes place there.
“…It’s a great atmosphere,” Anderson said. “If you’re a basketball player you want to play in those kind of venues. But at the same time, they’ve got experience themselves. So those things that have taken place in the past don’t have anything to do with what’s taking place in this game here.”
Arkansas sophomore guard Manuale Watkins noted that he loves to go on the road into hostile territory as the Razorbacks did while downing SMU 78-72 last week in Dallas.
“It really just shows the real teams if you can go into a hostile environment like Iowa State, because I hear it's pretty crazy up there,” Watkins said. “You can go in and just stay together and get out and get a win.
“I like going on the road,” Watkins said. “Then when you get the win, you just look up in the stands and see the disappointment. That's just the best feeling going into the locker room. I think it's fun. I mean I love playing at Bud Walton. There's nothing like that, but going on the road, especially to Iowa State, it'll be fun.”
Arkansas sophomore forward Bobby Portis is certain the Razorbacks are excited about trying to end Iowa State’s aforementioned win streak.
“Yes sir, I think it will, just because we have a ton of confidence right now in ourselves and I think like just going up there, all the guys will come out confident and ready to play,” Portis said.
Iowa State - considered a legitimate Final Four contender this season - did indeed make it to the Sweet 16 last season despite having it’s best player Georges Niang not being able to play the last season.
Sycamores head coach Fred Hoiberg was in Bentonville Saturday night with Anderson and Kentucky head coach John Calipari to see Bentonville junior star Malik Monk.
“ A very good basketball team,” Anderson said. “Fred Hoiberg has done a tremendous job the time he’s been there. “… It’s a team that’s really balanced led by Niang, who’s a guy that’s a double-double waiting to happen. Very good basketball player. Inside-outside, just a really good basketball IQ."
The 6-8, 230-pound junior forward Niang (19.5, 7.8) joins 6-6, 210-pound senior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones (14.8, 7.3), 6-4, 210-pound junior guard Naz Long (12.8), 6-6, 220-pound senior forward Dustin Hogue (12.5) and 6-2 senior guard Monte’ Morris (10.0) in the starting line up.
“Like I said, they’ve got balanced scoring and do a good job defensively and they play awful well at home,” Anderson said. “So it’s a tremendous opportunity, but it’s a tremendous challenge for our basketball team. But we look forward to it. It’s a matchup of two teams that hopefully are trying to be some of the better teams in the country.”
Portis is pumped about the Razorbacks’ first match-up that features two Top 25 teams in seven years.
“ I think it will be great for TV just because I think Iowa State plays fast too, just like we do,” Portis said. “So I think it'll boost TV rankings for sure.
“Other than that,” Portis added, “I think it's great for our state just to have a team that's ranked, just for us to go up there, just to play as hard as we can for our state and for us, I think it'll be a good matchup.”
Razorbacks Take Shot At Hilton Magic
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