ORLANDO, Fla. - The University of Arkansas will enter today's inaugural Old Spice Classic game with Southern Illinois as a two-point underdog, but Razorback head basketball coach Stan Heath is not buying that role.
Instead he plans on his team going into the 11 a.m. CST Thanksgiving Day game at Walt Disney World's Milk House arena with confidence.
""This is our first trip on the road and I want to make sure we have the right attitude," Heath said. "We need to be business-like. With the team we're facing, we can't look ahead. But we're not going in thinking we are the underdog. We are going down there to win the tournament."
The Razorbacks (2-0) certainly didn't catch any scheduling breaks in the eight-team tournament by getting matched up with the Salukis (2-0) in a game that will be televised by ESPN2.
"Southern Illinois is highly regarded nationally," Heath said. " They return all five starters and they won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship last year. They've had tremendous success over the years."
That matchup leads off a day which also includes Marist battling Minnesota at 1 p.m., Virginia Tech battling Western Michigan at 6:30 and West Virginia topping Montana at 8:30 p.m.
ESPN announcer and former Razorback player Jimmy Dykes – who is here as one of the broadcasters - thinks the Arkansas-Southern Illinois game may be the game of the tournament.
"I think you will see the winner of the
Arkansas-Southern Illinois coming out of one side of
the bracket and coming out of the other side I have
got to say Virginia Tech," Dykes said. "But there are
some great teams without some big names in this
tournament, but they are teams that are always in the
postseason in March."
Southern Illinois went 22-11 that made its fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Salukis have downed Washington (Mo.) 59-28 and Murray State 62-46 in its first two outings.
"We did what we do - we guard," SI head coach Chris Lowery said after the opener. "They scored 28 points. That's a football score."
Indeed Arkansas will not be facing a team that wants to get up and down the court or get off quick shots.
"They play a very deliberate style," Heath said. " They run a ball control offense. It will not be a pretty game, but my concern is winning. For us, we can't get concerned with the way they play. We may have to guard them through the shot clock."
Heath notes that his team has averaged about 62 or 63 posessions a game, but will be hardpressed to get anywhere near that today.
"In SIU's last game against Murray State they allowed just 36 possessions," Heath said. " The number of possessions goes down. They wind down the clock and play for the shot in the last four or five seconds. "We will make adjustments, but we have to be good enough to guard in the half court."
Dykes is very impressed with the Salukis' three guards.
That would be the trio of senior Jamaal Tatum (6-2,
195), senior Tony Young (6-0, 190) and sophomore Bryan Mullins (6-1, 185).
"Jamal Tatum is the league-leading scorer and leading
assist kid, Tony Young is a great shooter and Byran
Mullins was the league's freshman of the year at point
guard," Dykes said. "Those three guys right there,
they make it tough on anybody, especially early in the
"It is a team that has always been an excellent
man-to-man defensive squad and defense is always ahead
of offense early in the year," Dykes continued.
Dykes is also a big fan of Lowery.
"Chris Lowry comes out of that system where Bruce
Weber was at and Matt Painter and he played there and
it is defensive oriented and it is ingrained in him,"
Dykes said. "It would be like one of Nolan's guys
coming back and coaching here or one of Eddie Sutton's
guys. They would know that style like the back of
their hand. It is very good and very sharp, not flashy
and is just kind of like his team. They work their
tails off and it is very, very difficult to beat that
Dykes thinks that Arkansas has a lot of potential.
"I think the strength of this team early is obvious –
it's their front line," Dykes said. "Their size is the
one area that they have an advantage over Southern
Illinois when it comes to that first round match-up.
The question is going to be can their guard play stand
"I think the pieces are there this year for Stan to
have a really good year," Dykes added. "When I was
talking on the air last night about teams that could
possibly go to the Final Four and have the pieces to
have a chance to make it down that path, Arkansas has
those pieces to be one of the top two teams in the SEC
West – a true point guard, a kid that can shoot it in
Beverley, size inside. They are not a finished product
certainly, but I like what I see."
Arkansas will play at 9:30 a.m. on Friday morning regardless of whether they win or lose on Thursday. The Razorbacks will be matched up with either Minnesota or Marist in that contest.
There are no games Saturday with the tournament then concluding on Sunday with the championship game slated for 6:30 p.m.
Thanksgiving Day Hoops at The Milk House
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
TCU vs Iowa State primerAfter falling in double-overtime to Arkansas, TCU looks to get back to their winning ways against Iowa State.
Horned Frog Insider09/15/2016
The Ultimate Midlands TeamThere is a lot of talent in the Midlands region, with a vast majority of the highest rated recruits playing high school football in the Lone Star State. Which prospects made the…
These rival helmet color swaps are revoltingSwapping rival teams' helmet colors? It shouldn't have been done, but someone did it anyway.
Post-July 2017 Top 100 Player RankingsWith the July evaluation periods, Nike Skills Academy, adidas Nations and Under Armour's Elite 24 over, Scout's basketball recruiting team has updated the 2017 top 100. DeAndre…
2017 South Region Top 150The stars are lined up in the 2017 South Top 150 and you can see the full pre-season list here...