The way it turns out, the most talented team Arkansas will face in its remaining six nonconference opponents is likely the team the Razorbacks will face first.
Tennessee State (4-4) will play Arkansas (6-1) in Bud Walton Arena at 7:05 p.m. Thursday and bring a starting group of four transfers from major programs along with the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year.
Tennessee State played Alabama A&M on Tuesday night.
Senior forward Rod Flowers (Cincinnati), junior guard Wayne Arnold (Georgia), junior forward Eric King (St. John's) and junior guard Kareem Grant (Massachusetts) all either played or signed with name-brand teams.
The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Flowers, who has posted four straight double-doubles and is averaging 16.5 points and 9.9 rebounds, is enrolled in graduate school at Tennessee State after three years at Cincinnati.
Arnold (6-4, 190) is a former Georgia "Mr. Basketball" and played a year in Athens before transferring to Los Angeles City College where he played with Grant (6-6, 190), who signed with UMass out of high school.
King, 6-7, 230, is averaging 7.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
The four newcomers join sophomore point guard Bruce Price, the OVC Freshman of the Year, who is one of four Tigers averaging double figures in scoring this season with 14.5 per game.
Flowers and King have blocked 13 and 12 shots, respectively, and Arnold and Price rank 1-2 in steals with 15 and 14.
Coached by second-year coach Cy Alexander, who took South Carolina State to four NCAA Tournaments in his final five years, the Tigers are a multiple-look offensive and defensive team.
Heath said Tennessee State likes to go inside first but won't hesitate to shoot 3-pointers and picks its spots to run in transition.
On defense, the Tigers will throw a 2-2-1 fullcourt press, man-to-man, zone or box-and-one schemes on defense.
The pressure will be on Arkansas' guards to recognize what the Tigers are doing and react accordingly.
Tennessee State is scoring 78.1 points per game while allowing 82. The Tigers are also committing more than 20 turnovers per game.
"They're going to show a lot of things, so we're going to have to make adjustments during the game," Heath said. "It's going to be real important for our guards to have feel for what they're in and attack things the right way."
Tennessee State has played a competitive nonconference schedule against Western Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Southern Illinois and Cal State-Northridge.
The Tigers lost 76-73 to Western Kentucky in overtime and 96-94 to Middle Tennessee State on Saturday.
Vanderbilt and Southern Illinois knocked off the Tigers by more than 20 points each and Northridge represents the Tigers' best win at the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Tournament.
"We've been pleased with how they've bought into the team concept," Alexander said. "We're sharing the basketball, and the guys are pretty much taking good shots.
"But when you score 94, you're supposed to win. I'm disappointed from a defensive standpoint. But Western Kentucky and MTSU are good barometers for us."
Still, the Tigers have 4 wins, more than half of their total from their 7-21 record in Alexander's first season.
Alexander took over during a tumultuous period at Tennessee State following the 2003 firing of former Arkansas assistant Nolan "Notes" Richardson III, who left the program with an NCAA investigation that resulted in three years of probation among other sanctions.
Richardson III is the son of former Razorback coach Nolan Richardson, who Heath replaced at Arkansas a year earlier.
Richardson III was asked to resign two weeks after a bizarre conflict with assistant coach Hosea Lewis involving a chain wielded by Lewis and an unloaded pistol by Richardson III over Christmas break in 2002.
Lewis took over after Richardson resigned on Jan. 8, 2003, but Tennessee State made headlines again when a brawl between the Tigers and Eastern Kentucky led to the game ending with just seven players on the floor after 19 ejections.
Tennessee State athletic director Teresa Phillips suspended Lewis and an assistant for one game and became the first female to coach a men's Division I game between TSU and Austin Peay in February, 2003.
Alexander, like Heath, brings no such baggage to the game.
He turned around a do-nothing program at South Carolina State and is just 12 wins shy of the 300 mark after 18 years as a head coach.
"I've heard nothing but great things about him," Heath said. "Everybody I've talked to said he's a great guy and I'm looking forward to meeting him.
"I know he's been around a long time and I always like to talk to guys like him. His teams did exceptionally well at South Carolina State and I know he'll do a great job at Tennessee State."
Arkansas and Tennessee State have played twice before with the Razorbacks' most recent win coming in 2001 at the John Thompson Foundation Classic in Fayetteville during Richardson III's first season.
This game was scheduled last summer with Alexander at the helm.
The names on the Tiger roster are enough to get Arkansas' attention and the Razorbacks' memories are long enough to remember losing to Western Carolina in overtime last season.
"We really don't want any letdowns," said Arkansas sophomore Ronnie Brewer. "We don't want to take anyone lightly. We did that last year and they came into our home and bit us. If we treat everyone like a top SEC team, we'll come out with a win."
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