FAYETTEVILLE — The preliminary tests for the Arkansas basketball team are over.
Now, things will get difficult.
The Razorbacks, who improved to 3-0 after an 89-60 win against Florida A&M on Tuesday night, tip off a rugged five-game stretch that will stress and test them over the next two weeks. It begins at the Las Vegas Invitational at 6 p.m. today, when they play Arizona State (3-0) in the first part of a two-game trip.
Arkansas will follow by playing either Wisconsin or No. 14 Creighton on Saturday.
The stretch also includes games home games against No. 6 Syracuse (Nov. 30) and Oklahoma (Dec. 4), then a road trip to play at No. 4 Michigan (Dec. 8).
“We are going to be tested often,” said Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, who can’t remember a stretch more challenging in his coaching experiences. “The important thing for our guys is to stay focused one day at a time and one practice at a time.
“Obviously we will find out more about ourselves in these particular games.”
Arkansas is looking forward to the challenges after opening the season with wins against Sam Houston State, Longwood and Florida A&M. The Razorbacks were rugged in the opener against the Bearkats, but have cruised since sophomore BJ Young returned to the lineup after serving a suspension for violating team rules.
Arkansas has leaned on its depth and athleticism to overwhelm opponents. It will be needed once again during its run of five quality games in 16 days.
“That’s a tough stretch,” said Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell, who tallied 21 points and 10 rebounds against Florida A&M. “Those are good teams. But we just have to go to every game as we go to another game. Do what we do.”
Arizona State, which is led by freshman point guard Jahii Carson (18.7 points a game), enters tonight’s game with three straight wins to open the season. It includes a 97-70 win against Florida A&M in Tempe, Ariz., on Sunday.
Creighton (4-0) enters the four-team field in Las Vegas fresh off a 105-57 win against Longwood on Tuesday. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is 3-1 with its only blemish coming in a 74-56 loss to No. 10 Florida earlier this month.
“I think playing tough teams like this is going to help us further on in the SEC,” Arkansas guard Rickey Scott said. “I think this is going to build our confidence as well and playing away. It’s going to help us in the SEC road games as well.”
Las Vegas Invitational
Arkansas vs. Arizona State
Arkansas (3-0) vs. Arizona State (3-0)
TIPOFF: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas.
RADIO: Razorback Sports Network.
RECORDS: Arkansas Razorbacks, 3-0; Arizona State Sun Devils, 3-0.
SERIES: Arkansas leads 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Arkansas won, 97-90, on March 17, 1991, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
COACHES: Arkansas, Mike Anderson (21-14, second season); Arizona State, Herb Sendek (101-96, seventh season).
Projected Lineups: Arkansas — F Hunter Mickelson (6-10, So., 7.0 ppg), F Marshawn Powell (6-7, Jr., 17.0 ppg), G Rickey Scott (6-3, Jr., 8.3 ppg), G Mardracus Wade (6-3, Jr., 8.0 ppg), G BJ Young (6-3, So., 17.5 ppg); Arizona State — C Jordan Bachynski (7-2, Jr., 13.0 ppg) F Jonathan Gilling (6-7, So., 11.0 ppg), F Carrick Felix (6-6, Sr., 10.0 ppg), G Evan Gordon (6-1, Jr., 9.0 ppg), G Jahii Carson (5-10, Fr., 18.7 ppg).
LINE: Arkansas by 4 1/2.