By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - Mike Anderson’s wardrobe reflects both the long term and immediate SEC Tournament goals he has for his Arkansas Razorbacks starting tonight at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
To win the SEC Tournament, the Razorbacks (21-10) starting tonight must win four games in four days yet in this league absolutely can’t afford to look beyond any game than the one they play, Anderson said.
“I’ve got four suits and hopefully I’ll get to use all four suits,” Anderson said.
“The way you do that is you take it one game at a time. And the beauty of that is that’s been our narrative all year long.”
As the sixth seed in the league’s 14-team tournament, Arkansas earned a first-round bye before the tournament started Wednesday night.
On the SEC Network, at approximately 8:30 p.m. tonight, Arkansas will play Wednesday’s South Carolina vs. Ole Miss winner 30 minutes after the 6 p.m. LSU vs. Mississippi State game.
Coach Frank Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks were 16-15 and the Rebels of interim coach Tony Madlock, temporarily promoted upon the recent resignation of longtime Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, were 12-19, before their game Wednesday.
Tonight’s Arkansas vs. either South Carolina or Ole Miss winner is bracketed to play third-seeded Florida in Friday’s late night game.
SEC co-champions Tennessee and Auburn, Florida and fourth-seeded Kentucky all earned byes into Friday’s quarterfinals.
Given that Arkansas will be rested and its opponent coming off a late night game the previous eve, and that Arkansas vanquished South Carolina 81-65 on Feb. 6 at Walton and swept Ole Miss, 97-93 on Jan. 20 at Walton and 75-64 on Feb. 13 in Oxford, Miss., Anderson’s one-game at a mantra may seem like so much coachspeak.
A look around this currently strong as any league rebuts otherwise.
“At this time of the season, our league is so balanced that on any given night anybody can beat anybody,” Anderson said.
“Since we played South Carolina they’ve had some big, big wins. And obviously with Frank (Martin) and the experience that team had playing in the Final Four last year … those guys get after it. They are a very physical basketball team.’
Among others, South Carolina has beaten SEC co-champ Auburn and also beat those Kentucky Wildcats that thumped Arkansas 87-72 at Walton.
Ole Miss also can surprise. Those same Missouri Tigers that beat Arkansas by 10 last Saturday in Columbia, Mo., were upset by Ole Miss last month in Columbia.
“Ole Miss is one of those teams that went into Missouri and did something we didn’t do, they went in there and beat them,” Anderson said.
“Tony Madlock has those kids where they are playing free.”
While being more rested obviously should be in Arkansas’ favor tonight, there is something to be said for establishing tournament momentum before your opponent.
“The one thing they are getting is the chance to play a game in this tournament before we do,” Anderson said. “You talk about any tournament, the first game is the most important game.”
Martin counters he’d rather be in Arkansas’ fresh shoes than playing Arkansas and “dynamic” All-SEC senior Arkansas guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon the night after playing somebody else.
“Arkansas has got all those seniors and those two dynamic guards that are just as hard a matchup as there is to go with some great complementary players,” Martin said.
“And they have a center (El Dorado’s Daniel Gafford named to the SEC All-Freshman team) that’s playing at a high, high level.”
Ole Miss also surprised Florida in addition to Mizzou and will play with the urgency knowing that only winning the SEC Tournament and the accompanying automatic NCAA Tournament bid that goes with it will be its ticket to the Big Dance.
“I think every coach in the league is saying the same thing to his guys, it's a new season,” Madlock said.
“All the things that happened against this team all year, we can kind of right it by going out and having a good showing and playing tough basketball.”
For most games, though last Saturday’s 77-67 loss at Missouri was an exception, as was the home loss to Kentucky, depth has been in Arkansas’ favor.
However, the Razorbacks are a man down for this season’s duration with senior Dustin Thomas, usually the starter in a cluster of power forwards used, permanently dismissed from the team, Anderson announced Monday.
Anderson seems most apt to start Arlando Cook, a 6-8 senior and St. Louis native coming home, along with Gafford and senior guards Anton Beard, Barford and Macon, with 6-9 senior and Forrest City High grad Trey Thompson, 6-8 freshman Gabe Osabuohien and 6-7 sophomore Adrio Bailey as alternates up front and sophomore shooter C.J. Jones and freshman swingman Darious Hall off the bench in the backcourt.