FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson doesn’t want his team thinking about the big picture.
There’s too much to take care of right now.
Guard Mardracus Wade said it’s impossible to ignore the importance of the Razorbacks’ first road trip of the 2013-14 season, though. It may be November, but there are plenty of postseason ramifications staring at the Razorbacks as they step on an airplane headed to Hawaii for the 2013 Maui Invitational.
“I don’t want to too much think about it. But at the same time, it really is,” Wade said about the trip’s potential importance to Arkansas’ NCAA Tournament hopes. “When they’re making those selections at the end of the season, they look at games like this. They look at what you did on the road. What you did against top teams.
“This is our opportunity to showcase what we can do.”
Arkansas, which has won three straight at home to open the season, now faces its biggest tests during one of college basketball’s premier early-season events.
The Razorbacks open play in the eight-team tournament next Monday, facing California (4-0) at 2 p.m. Arkansas will play either Syracuse (4-0) or Minnesota (4-0) the next day. The Razorbacks will play a third game on Wednesday.
It will serve as Arkansas’ first — and only — trip outside the state during its 14-game nonconference schedule. There’s no doubt it comes against the toughest competition, too, giving the Hogs the best chance to make an impression before opening Southeastern Conference play on the road at Texas A&M on Jan. 8.
“This is a big stage,” Arkansas guard Michael Qualls said Wednesday. “If we can do what we can do and come out and play the way we can play, then I know that it will really put us on the map. … We want to show what we can do and show what we are as a team, as a unit. I feel like this is going to be big for us.”
Arkansas had opportunities in previous seasons under Anderson, but struggled with every challenge away from its familiar surroundings.
The Razorbacks are 35-5 in home games under Anderson, enjoying big wins against ranked teams like Michigan, Florida and Kentucky. But they’re 2-22 everywhere else with the only victories coming in wins at Auburn in 2012 and 2013.
Arkansas knows the formula doesn’t produce postseason invitations.
“I feel like we get comfortable here at home, and when we’ve gone on the road before, sometimes we’ve panicked and we haven’t executed as well,” Wade said. “We need to do a better job of that. By us going to Maui, that’s going to be a test to see where we’re at and see what we need to work on to help better our season.”
Anderson believes his new team is much more equipped for success now.
“We’ve got more players,” Anderson said. “When you’ve got players, it makes a big difference. And we’ve got some guys that have been through it. … From a leadership standpoint, I think we’re in a better position. And that’s how you win on the road.
“You’ve got to have a settling force. The coach can only do so much on the bench. It’s got to take place on that floor with those players that are out there.”
Arkansas hasn’t been flawless, but did show some of that potential in wins against SIU-Edwardsville, Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Methodist.
Alandise Harris has played a critical role in the past two wins and is averaging a team-high 18.3 points. Qualls has been equally important, averaging 16.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3 assists. The Razorbacks have shown an improved ability to knock down 3-point shots and believe they have more depth than the past two years.
All will be critical to winning games at the Maui Invitational.
“If you’re going to be relevant in basketball around the country, then you’ve got to win on the road,” Anderson said. “Win games on the road, neutral site, whatever. … That’s all about toughness and having guys carry their practice to the game, and just being familiar with one another. The better teams tend to do better on the road.”
Arkansas will arrive in Maui later today and plan to spend the next three days getting acclimated to the island, enjoying some of their new surroundings, practicing and preparing for their opener against California.
Anderson may not want his team to think about it, but they know there’s a lot at stake as the Razorbacks try to make an impression in nonconference play.
“We know it’s Hawaii,” Wade said. “Obviously, we want to get there and enjoy the experience, and the view, but at the same time, this is a business trip. We’re trying to go there and win. We’re not trying to go there and make friends.”