COLUMBIA, Mo. – On a night where the weather outside is projected to be frightful, it's likely that the competition inside the Mizzou Arena is going to be delightful.
That's where a pair of college basketball unbeatens in the University of Arkansas (5-0) and Missouri (7-0) will meet tonight in a 8 p.m. game that will be televised nationally by ESPN2 with announcers Dave Barnett and Jimmy Dykes.
It will be the Razorbacks' fourth straight game on ESPN2 after downing Southern Illinois, Marist and West Virginia on that network while winning the inaugural Old Spice Classic last weekend in Orlando and their first trip into hostile territory.
"It is really important for our team to understand that we are going on the road, it is our first test, we are going to have to play good basketball, we are going to have to deal with the crowd, we are going to have to deal with runs," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "Runs are the probably the most important thing – stopping long runs and also manufacturing long runs for ourselves."
??Heath expressed confidence in how his team – shooting 50 percent from the field and 73 percent from the free throw line - will fare tonight and on the road this season.
That due in large part to a defense that has kept any foe from scoring over 64 points this season and kept three teams in the 50s.
"Our team is going to be a very good road team this season," Heath said. "I want to make sure when we go on the road for that game Thursday night that we are well-prepared, we are intense, we make sure we bring our defense with us because it is something that has been very consistent for us and we go out there and play team basketball."
??Missouri has averaged just over 5,000 fans this season and the weather – expected to include a measure of ice and snow during the day on Thursday – is likely to keep many away in what likely would have been a season-high crowd for the Tigers.
But Heath knows that no matter how many are in the building, Anderson's full-court pressurized style – honed at Arkansas under Nolan Richardson and then taken to Alabama-Birmingham - would make for a tough game.
"This game when I looked at it – even back during the summer – it was a potential trap kind of game," Heath said, "where if we weren't careful it would be a team playing good basketball, playing a unique style where they pressure and force you into turnovers.
The underlying storyline is the fact that the teams will be guided by Heath and Anderson, but both have tried to downplay that.
Anderson served as the Razorbacks interim head coach for two games after Arkansas fired Richardson - who is expected to be at the game - but was passed over for the permanent job that eventually went to Heath.
"I look at this game as Missouri against Arkansas," Heath said. That's what it is. With Mike (Anderson) there, it fuels some other things.
"…But neither one of the coaches will be on the floor," Heath added. " None of the kids for either team have played for the other coach. I know Missouri will be sky high, but that's because Arkansas is coming to town. Both teams will play hard."
Anderson, who is joined on his Missouri staff by former Arkansas player T.J. Cleveland and Razorback manager Matt Zimmerman, tried to steer the game in the same direction.
"I guess you could say it is the story within the story," Anderson said. "…But to me the real story is that this is the next big game on our schedule and it just happens to be Arkansas."
Heath notes that he and Anderson have talked several times on the phone and on the recruiting trail and have great respect for each other.
"Mike is a great guy," Heath said. "He's done an outstanding job. Outside of this game, I'm very supportive of him."
Anderson, who would become the first Missouri coach to open his career 8-0 since Craig Ruby back in 1920-21 with a win, expects his team will find out something about itself while playing the best team so far on its schedule.
"It's going to be a tremendous challenge for our basketball team," Anderson said. "It's going to be one of the major tests, especially when you talk about a new team. This is still a new team. So, we'll find out a little bit more about ourselves."
Missouri will start a smallish lineup that features 6-6 sophomore guard Matt Lawrence (14.0), 6-1 junior college transfer Stefhon Hannah (13.3), 6-9, 250-junior pound center Kalen Grimes (13.1, 7.0), 6-6 junior forward Marshall Brown (9.6) and 6-2 junior point guard Jason Horton (5.4).
"Grimes might be the most improved player that I have seen all year long," Heath said. "They have done a great job of Grimes losing some weight and be more aggressive and being more active. He is a totally different player."
Arkansas will counter with a starting lineup that includes 6-6 junior college transfer Sonny Weems (14.8, 6.0), 6-1 freshman guard Patrick Beverley (13.6), 6-8 junior forward Charles Thomas (9.2), 6-0 junior point guard Gary Ervin (10.6) and 7-0 junior center Steven Hill (6.0).
While there has been a lot of talk about the defensive pressure Missouri will bring, Heath said his squad will be bringing plenty of its own.
"We have tough guys that play with a lot of heart and intensity," Heath said. "There will be pressure from Arkansas, too. There's a building respect factor for our defense going on. We've talked about that since Day one. Defense needs to be our identity, and it needs to be consistent at home, at neutral sites and on the road."
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