FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson’s nonconference schedule had something missing during the 2013-14 season: true road games.
Sure, Arkansas traveled to Hawaii to play three games in the Maui Invitational. They had a few quality opponents like Clemson and Southern Methodist in Bud Walton Arena, too. But the Razorbacks weren’t tested on the road until conference play.
Anderson has made sure it won’t be an issue next season.
“We have the opportunity now to take the show on the road and we want to take it even more and have more success on the road,” Anderson said.
Anderson addressed his team’s schedule, among other topics, during a golf outing honoring former Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles last Friday. The nonconference schedule has not yet been finalized, but the Razorbacks have announced road games at Clemson, SMU and Iowa State.
Arkansas also has a home game scheduled with Dayton, which reached the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight last season. So there will be no shortage of tests before the 18-game SEC schedule, but Anderson said the challenge is welcomed as he tries to lead Arkansas into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his tenure.
“We’ve got a core coming back and we had a good year last year,” Anderson said. “Having that core coming back is something to build on. We think we have added some pieces that are going to help our basketball team and will help us climb that next level. That is what we want to be as a team – one that comes out the gate from the start, in the middle and finishes. Our schedule is going to be such that it demands that. We’ve got to come out strong.”
Arkansas does bring a wealth of experience back from a team that went 22-12 and reached the second round of the National Invitational Tournament.
The Razorbacks went 4-10 outside the state last season, which was an improvement from the 2-22 mark in Anderson’s first two seasons. Arkansas must replace outgoing seniors Mardracus Wade, Coty Clarke, Fred Gulley, Kikko Haydar and Rickey Scott, but six of the top seven scorers return.
The list includes sophomore Bobby Portis and junior Michael Qualls, who played key roles in Arkansas’ success last season. Anderson said both players are scheduled to participate in high profile camps for college players later this summer.
The Razorbacks also have welcomed signees Anton Beard, Trey Thompson and Jabril Durham to campus. Texas Tech transfer Dusty Hannahs also has arrived, although he won’t be eligible to play until 2015-16. The only signee who hasn’t arrived is Nick Babb, but the guard is expected to arrive soon.
“I think people are going to like this team,” Anderson said. “I really, really do. I just think we are getting the right kind of guys in to push one another, really get after one another and challenge each other off the floor as well.”
Anderson said the offseason work is critical for the group considering the challenges they’ll face throughout the nonconference schedule. So far the Razorbacks are handling it. But Anderson said consistency is going to be key for the Razorbacks as they take aim at an improved nonconference schedule and NCAA Tournament berth.
“The thing that I am proud of right now is that our guys are all here on campus right now, working, hitting the weight room and going through the individual workouts that we perform and they play their pick-up games,” Anderson said.
“They all are just getting into tune with one another. I think that is so big. I thought it was big last year and it will be even bigger this year.”