The next opponent on Arkansas’ schedule doesn’t have a flashy name, but has been one of the most consistent programs in the country.
Akron is one of five teams with 10 straight seasons of at least 21 wins – along with Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas and Ohio State – and has four returning starters from last year’s squad that went 21-14.
“We know they’re a veteran team,” junior guard Manuale Watkins said. “In college basketball nowadays, you can’t look at the name on the jersey. It’ll be a dogfight.”
The Zips are expected to be good again in the 2015-16 season, as they’re picked to win the MAC Eastern Division.
Senior center Pat Forsythe (6-11, 245) led Akron with 10 points per game last season, while also contributing 4.9 rebounds per game.
It will be Moses Kingsley’s first big test as the Razorbacks’ main big man after replacing Bobby Portis.
“Forsythe is one of the top players in their league,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “One of the things we can’t afford to do is to get into foul trouble. He’s a big guy that’s pretty skilled on the block, so Moses is going to have to have some help.
“It’s not going to be one guy stopping him.”
Foul trouble seemed to be the only area Kingsley struggled in during the Razorbacks’ 86-68 season-opening win over Southern on Friday.
He had 22 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and three steals despite playing just 24 minutes because he was in foul trouble most of the night.
Forsythe will command Arkansas’ attention down low, but the Razorbacks can’t fall asleep on the outside.
Senior Reggie McAdams shot 41.5 percent from three-point range last season and made all three of his attempts in Akron’s 65-53 season-opening win over Cleveland State.
Senior Jake Kretzer and sophomore Noah Robotham each shot over 36 percent from beyond the arc last year, too.
“They can play inside-out,” Anderson said. “If you try to double-up on them, you have to find those shooters because they have three perimeter guys that can really knock down shots.”
Defense is already something Anderson preaches to his team, but it will have added emphasis during practice leading up to the Akron game.
Arkansas held Southern to 25 first-half points on 26.7 percent shooting, but struggled to stop the Jaguars in the second half. Southern scored 43 points and shot 60.9 percent after halftime.
“Defensively, I feel we have to be a whole lot better,” Anderson said. “We allowed too much dribble penetration, especially in the second half. Our defense was not on point.”
The Razorbacks also head into the Akron game with a pair of newly minted team captains, as voted on by the team and approved by the coaching staff: Watkins and Kingsley.
While Watkins admitted it was cool to be named a captain after joining the team as a walk-on a couple years ago, but he doesn’t believe his role is any different than that of his teammates.
The opinion of a freshman, such as Jimmy Whitt, is valued the same as one of a senior, such as Anthlon Bell.
“The beauty of this team is we have five or six captains,” Watkins said. “It doesn’t matter what class you are, all these guys are willing to listen and just want to win.
“Me and Moses were named captains, but we have six or seven of them in the locker room.”
Arkansas will not be able to play him, but sophomore guard Anton Beard was reinstated to the team Monday. He can practice with the team, but will remain suspended from games for the rest of the fall semester, which ends Dec. 18.
However, Colorado transfer Dustin Thomas is still not with the team.
“There are still legal matters that are taking place with him,” Anderson said. “Each guy has legal representation, so that is separate, but he’s still in school.”
Without Beard, the Razorbacks are still a relatively young team, but they will have their second opportunity to move further into the post-Bobby Portis, post-Michael Qualls era Wednesday when they host Akron at 7 p.m.
“It’s going to be a heck of a ballgame,” Anderson said. “It’s a big-time challenge for our basketball team, especially with the inexperience we have.
“It could be their experience versus our inexperience, but it should be a good game.”