BROOKLYN, N.Y. - The Barclays Center - built for an NBA team - has been a bastion of college basketball this week with at least two games a day since Monday.
It has featured LSU, Marquette, Arizona State, North Carolina State and top players such as LSU freshman Ben Simmons, who many think will be the top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
It will also feature Louisville, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Tennessee, Nebraska and George Washington before week’s end.
Arkansas (2-1) will take center stage here on Thursday at 1 p.m. CST when it has a Preseason NIT Tip-Off Thanksgiving Day match-up with Georgia Tech (3-1) followed by No. 8 Villanova battling Stanford.
"It's the first time that a lot of people will get to see them (the Razorbacks) play so I am sure they want to put on a good show," Razorback head coach Mike Anderson said. "I'm sure they are ready to play and find out more about themselves. They are watching teams play on TV every day so why not them?”
Arkansas junior guard Manuale Watkins and senior forward Keaton Miles see the game as an opportunity to show that the team is underrated.
Watkins noted that the Razorbacks have more than a chip on their shoulder.
“We have a big log on our shoulders and this is the first chance in a nationally-televised game to show what we are made of,” Watkins said.
“That’s definitely on our mind. People count us out, I think probably people even around here count us out so that is definitely on our mind.”
Miles has a simple answer to that.
“My thoughts are let’s wake them up, let’s wake them up,” Miles said. “If you are asleep and not really paying attention to us, this is the stage to really wake people up. It is an opportunity and we have to seize the opportunity to wake people up.”
Arkansas will face a Georgia Tech team that is averaging 90 points, 26 more than it did last season under head coach Brian Gregory, and is hitting 50 percent of its field goal attempts.
The Yellowjackets downed Cornell 116-81, topped visiting Tennessee 69-67 and then hammered Green Bay 107-77 before losing to East Tennessee State 69-68 on a buzzer beater Sunday afternoon.
“We need to respond in a positive way,” Gregory said. “We didn’t play our best game the last game out without some core things that we just need to do well no matter who we are playing, where we are playing or when we are playing.”
Gregory had praise for Arkansas junior center Moses Kingsley and the Razorbacks, who have sandwiched wins over Southern and Charleston Southern around a home loss to Akron.
Dusty Hannahs leads Arkansas in scoring with a 19.3 average while Kingsley is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game.
“They are still Arkansas with unbelievable pressure full court and half court,” Gregory said. “They have a bonafide first-round draft pick in Kingsley and good pieces that are starting to play well.
“They lost to a very good Akron team, but in their two other games they forced the tempo, turned the ball over and they are starting to find the pieces scoring in terms of perimeter shooting and really in their last game played extremely well.”
Gregory also likes what he sees from Arkansas senior guard Anthlon Bell (16.3), who has combined with Hannahs to hit 20 3-pointers so far this season.
“He (Bell) is a dynamic scorer and Arkansas runs a lot of screening action for him, but he can put the ball on the floor as well,” Gregory said. “It is a pretty good early combination with Bell and Kingsley outside and inside.
“You have to make sure you are there on the catch all the time with him. You can’t give him anything easy, no open shots and no open drives.
“We have challenge our guards a little bit because the last game we did not defend the perimeter the way we are capable of.
“Hannahs is a deep, long range very good shooter and is crafty with the ball so he can figure out ways to get shots off.”
Arkansas has another double-figure scorer in 6-4 freshman guard Jimmy Whitt (10.7). Watkins (9.0) and senior guard Jabril Durham (6.0) provide scoring, too, and Durham is averaging 8 assists per game.
Georgia Tech has four players remaining on its roster from the team that played in the Barclays Center Classic in 2013 while losing to St. John’s and Ole Miss.
Arkansas has two players - Hannahs and Miles - that have already played at the Barlcays Center, the home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.
Hannahs played two games there in the Legends Classic as a sophomore two years ago for Texas Tech as the Red Raiders lost to Pittsburgh (76-53) and beat Houston (76-64).
“It is really fun,” Hannahs said. “I played at Barclays when I was at Texas Tech and it is just a cool thing to go play at a venue that you see on TV all the time.
“Just how the lights are when you are on it, it’s pretty cool. It is almost like a stage when you are playing.
“But we are not going up there to see Times Square, we are going there to try and win two games and try to win this tournament.”
Miles played in the arena when he was a freshman at West Virginia.
“I have played in Barclays before and it is a nice arena, but that is not the focus,” Miles said. “The focus is Georgia Tech.”
Georgia Tech is using a starting lineup that includes four players that didn’t start their college careers as Yellowjackets.
That opening five includes junior point guard and Virginia Tech transfer Josh Heath (6-2, 179), senior guard Marcus Georges-Hunt (6-5, 216), Virginia Tech transfer and senior guard Adam Smith (6-1, 165), senior forward and former Alabama player Nick Jacobs (6-8, 262) and senior forward and Maryland transfer Charles Mitchell (6-8, 256).
Mitchell leads the way with 16 points and 11.7 rebounds per game while Jacobs (15.7, 7.3), Georges-Hunt (15.7) and Smith (12.0) give the Yellowjackets four players scoring in double figures.
Watkins stressed that this was not a sight-seeing trip.
“We’re focused,” Watkins said. “Yes, it is New York and that’s all fun, but we are going to take care of business and win basketball games.
“We are not going down here to sight see or do all that stuff. We are going to play basketball. I think that is the mindset of all of our guys.”
Durham echoed that sentiment as the Razorbacks prepare to play their first game away from home.
“It’s going to be a good time, but we are really going up there as a business trip,” Durham said. “We are trying to get some wins up there.
“…It’s going to be a different venue for us, but it will be good to get away from the house, get to a neutral site and we are going to have those games in the SEC so it is going to be a good test for us, playing some really good teams.”