MAUI - The University of Arkansas has a unique chance tonight to jump right back onto college basketball's main stage instead of continuing to play on the outer courts so to speak.
The Razorbacks (1-0) can do so with a win over No. 3 UConn (1-0) at the loaded Maui Invitational in a 10:30 p.m. game that will be televised by ESPN2 and is the the fourth and final opening round game of the day.
"We're going to find out very early on how far we have come and how far we have left to go," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "Connecticut is one of the teams that is good enough to win it all and it will certainly be a measuring stick for us."
The field features six former national champions in Arkansas, UConn, Michigan State, Arizona, Kansas and Maryland in addition to high-powered Gonzaga and host Chaminade.
Tournament organizers have dubbed it the "Field of Dreams."
"You have to bring it every night and every minute," Heath said.
UConn, Michigan State, Arizona and Gonzaga are all in the AP's top 10 while Kansas, Maryland and Arkansas are in somebody's Top 25 with the Razorbacks being picked 25th in Sports Illustrated's preseason magazine.
The three-day event held at the 2,400-seat Lahaina Civic Center with all 12 games being televised by ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU will leave some very good teams wondering what happened according to UConn head coach Jim Calhoun.
"You can't - in my opinion you can't lose all three games, and someone will," Calhoun said. " But you're going to find out and your kids are going to find out that beating all those small schools by 50 is really nothing like what big-time college basketball is about."
In other first-round matchups on Monday Chaminade and Michigan State open the tournament at 1:30 (CST) on ESPN2 followed by Gonzaga vs. Maryland at 4 p.m. on the same channel and Arizona and Kansas tangling at 8 on ESPN.
All are unbeaten with the exception of Michigan State, which got hammered 84-62 by the University of Hawaii on Saturday night.
"This is a field that you look at and say it's like an Elite Eight type of one," Heath said. "I would love to be in the NCAA Tournament with all a lot of these teams down the line."
The winer of the Arkansas-UConn game will get the winner of Arizona-Kansas game at 8 p.m.. Tuesday night on ESPN while the two losers play at 3 p.m. on ESPNU.
Arkansas comes in off a sensational season opener in which the Razorbacks pummeled Portland State 107-69 Friday night at Bud Walton Arena.
Ronnie Brewer had a career-high 24 points, Charles Thomas career highs of 20 points and 7 rebounds, Jonathon Modica added 16 points and Darian Townes 14 points, 8 rebounds and 7 blocks.
But perhaps the most eye-opening stat was senior point guard Dontell Jefferson putting up a school-record tying 15 assists.
"It was just the kind of way you want to get started when you have such a formidable task ahead of you like we do in Maui," Heath said. "We go in with a lot of confidence."
The Razorbacks won big despite not having sophomore forward Vincent Hunter (injury) - who is doubtful for the tournament - and senior guard Eric Ferguson (suspended).
Heath said Sunday night that Ferguson - who has a broken nose - would play against UConn.
"This is really the first game we have had everyone in our lineup," Brewer said. "We are going to have everyone in Maui and we are just trying to get better. We are definitely not scared (of Connecticut). We have respect for them but they are like any other opponent. You can't fear any other team."
UConn will be without suspended starting point guard Marcus Williams - who will be replaced by a pair of true freshmen - and comes in off a 75-56 win at Pepperdine on Friday night.
"This will be a test," Calhoun said. " I mean in all honesty to go against Stan's team who's done a great job and is one of the few teams in the country I think is as athletic as we are. I think they (his freshman guards) going to find out what college basketball at the highest level is right off the bat. And they're going to be able to handle that."
UConn - which has two of the country's better players in 6-7 forward Rudy Gay and 6-10 Josh Boone - know its good.
Boone had 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Huskies in their season opener with 6-6 wing Denham Brown adding 16 points and Gay 15 points and 10 rebounds.
UConn did have 19 turnovers and led by just five late before putting away the Waves.
"We're good enough to win it (all)," notes Calhoun. "...My point being simply is that I think that we have a chance because of our frontcourt and/or experience. We have six kids who wear National Championship rings. If we develop and - without Marcus and then with Marcus, I think clearly we have a chance to make a run for it in Indianapolis."
Arkansas hopes to put a speed bump in the Road to Indy tonight.
"It's not about coming over to just play well," Heath said."We are coming over to win games."
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