Published January 09, 2013
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Mike Anderson would rather forget his first go-around through the Southeastern Conference.
The Arkansas coach hopes the second time's a charm, beginning Wednesday night when the Razorbacks open SEC play at league newcomer Texas A&M.
Arkansas (9-4) lost its first six conference road games last season on its way to a 1-7 mark away from home in Anderson's first season as coach. The Razorbacks haven't fared much better so far this season, posting an 0-3 record away from home — including losses at No. 2 Michigan and neutral-court losses to Arizona State and Wisconsin.
Despite last season's struggles and the early woes this season, Arkansas is coming off a recent five-game winning streak heading into the game against the Aggies (10-3).
"I hope the carry-over is that we're playing good basketball," Anderson said. "We're getting more guys involved with our basketball team; we're finding out a little bit more about who we are. The lessons we learned earlier in the year, hopefully that will pay off in an environment like Texas A&M."
Anderson is familiar with playing in College Station, both from his time as an assistant at Arkansas while both schools were in the Southwest Conference and his most recent stint as coach of Missouri in the Big 12.
The former Nolan Richardson assistant is 0-6 against Texas A&M in his career. To end that skid, the Razorbacks — who are last in the SEC in points allowed at 70.2 per game — must improve defensively.
Arkansas has overcome its defensive shortcomings so far thanks to a league-best turnover margin. The Razorbacks have forced an average of 17.5 turnovers this season, a product of the pressing style for which Anderson is known.
"We have to take care of the ball," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "We can't give them baskets off of turnovers and let them get their press going and playing as up-tempo as they like to play."
Arkansas, meanwhile, wants to push the tempo as much as possible — a task that Anderson said is more difficult on the road. The Razorbacks are averaging 82.9 points per game this season, a stark contrast to the 65.2 points the more-controlled Aggies average.
"When you talk about pressing, you don't have the luxury of what takes place at home on the road," Anderson said.
Last season, Arkansas started quickly in its fresh start under Anderson — opening the season 15-5 and building hopes of the school's first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008. However, the Razorbacks' road woes in SEC play proved too much to overcome, and they lost nine of their final 12 games overall to miss the tournament for the fourth straight season.
Their only road conference win last season came at Auburn. That was with a 16-game schedule, a number that's been raised to 18 this season with the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri — adding yet another road obstacle for a team that has struggled mightily away from home.
"Last year, I felt like we hit a wall," Arkansas' leading scorer BJ Young said. "But this year, I think we've got a lot more pieces to our team, a lot more talent.
"So, we're going to be ready to keep going throughout the season and stay strong as a team."
Texas A&M missed out on the NCAA tournament last year for the first time since 2005, and it enters Wednesday with only eight scholarship players. With school still out for the holiday break, the Aggies are offering tickets as low as $5 in an attempt to spark the Reed Arena atmosphere.
Kennedy, for one, is counting on just that.
"Hopefully we will have a good environment," Kennedy said. "Our students are here yet, but this rivalry goes back to the old Southwest Conference days. ... We will need every ounce of effort from our fans and players to win this game."