FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks have known since May when the brackets came out for the Phil Knight Invitational that they're in position to have a rematch with North Carolina.
The Tar Heels beat the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville 72-65 in last season's NCAA Tournament en route to winning the national championship, and the Razorbacks would like nothing better than to get another shot at North Carolina.
But if the Razorbacks want to play North Carolina, they likely will have to first beat Oklahoma.
The Razorbacks (3-0) play the Sooners (2-0) at 4 p.m. today at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., in the first round of the Phil Knight Invitational Victory Bracket.
"Our focus is on Oklahoma," Arkansas senior guard Daryl Macon said. "Not North Carolina."
The Arkansas-Oklahoma winner plays the North Carolina-Portland winner Friday, and presumably the No. 9-ranked Tar Heels won't be upset by the Pilots.
"We saw that," Razorbacks senior forward Trey Thompson said of the potential second-round game against North Carolina. "But we know OU is a good basketball club.
"The coaches want to take it one game at a time and not let North Carolina beat us against Oklahoma. So we're taking it one game at a time, but the matchup will be fun if we get there."
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said his team will not be caught looking ahead to the Tar Heels.
"Our mindset is going to be, 'Hey, the first game is the most important game,' " Anderson said. "So Oklahoma is the only team on our mind right now."
Sooners Coach Lon Kruger is 6-0 in the first round of regular-season tournament games in his previous six seasons at Oklahoma, so he knows how to get his team prepared for a matchup like today's against Arkansas.
"It's just the routine," Kruger told the Norman Transcript. "The only team we focus on is Arkansas. Players don't watch any other film on anyone else with us, but they're fans.
"They know who's playing, and they watch other teams on TV of course, but as far as our preparation, it's for Arkansas."
Oklahoma freshman guard Trae Young said Kruger's approach isn't just coach-speak.
"When the players are talking about not looking ahead and focusing on this game, you know it's serious," Young told the Transcript. "Sometimes, a lot of it is just the coaches, but it's not necessarily the same with the team and how they're feeling.
"This team, we're dialed in on Arkansas. It's coming from us and him."
Today's game will be the first away from home for both the Razorbacks and Sooners.
Arkansas beat Samford 95-56, Bucknell 101-73 and Fresno State 83-75 in Walton Arena. Oklahoma beat Nebraska-Omaha 108-89 and Ball State 108-67 at Lloyd Noble Center.
"It's a great test for us, because I want to see how our guys are going to respond as the competition level goes up," Anderson said. "We talk about being dialed in for that next level.
"You're not in the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena. You don't have the fanfare going on. It's a neutral site. Very much like what takes place in postseason play."
Playing on Thanksgiving in a game nationally televised by ESPN2 should be a good showcase for the Razorbacks after their games against Samford and Fresno State were available only on the internet on SEC Network-plus and their Bucknell game was on the SEC Network.
Today's game also could prove to be a national coming-out party for Daniel Gafford, the Razorbacks' 6-11 freshman who is averaging 16.7 points and 5.0 rebounds.
"It's going to give us a little chip on our shoulder," Gafford said of playing for a larger audience.
Young, a McDonald's All-America who averaged 42.6 points as a senior at Norman North High School, stayed home to play for the Sooners. He's averaging 18.5 points and has a national-leading 11.5 assists.
"I tried to recruit him a little bit," Anderson said. "He's an outstanding player. Great vision, handles the basketball. He has the range of Daryl Macon, can put it on the floor.
"Just real crafty with the ball. Just real heady. But they have more than just him."
Oklahoma has eight players averaging at least 7.5 points, including senior forward Khadeem Lattin (14.0), junior guard James Christian (13.5) and junior forward Brady Manek (13.5).
"They're averaging 108 points a game," Anderson said. "So you know they can shoot the basketball."
Also in the Victory Bracket with Arkansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Portland are No. 4 Michigan State, Oregon, Connecticut and DePaul.
The Motion Bracket includes No. 1 Duke, No. 7 Florida, No. 17 Gonzaga, Texas, Butler, Stanford, Ohio State and Portland State.
Each team will play three games but stay in its own bracket with no crossover matchups. That ensures teams from the same conference won't play each other.
"It's what people dream of. This is what we work hard for," Macon said of playing in such a prestigious tournament. "Not just to play in Bud Walton, but to play on a big stage like this."
A good showing in Portland could vault Arkansas into the top 25 polls.
"The competition continues to go up another level, but we always talk about that's the level we want to play at," Anderson said. "We feel like we're one of the better teams in the country, so we get a chance to find out a little bit more about ourselves."
Arkansas men vs. Oklahoma
WHEN 4 p.m. today WHERE Moda Center, Portland, Ore. RECORDS Arkansas 3-0, Oklahoma 2-0 SERIES Arkansas leads 15-12 RADIO Razorback Sports Network TELEVISION ESPN2
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
OKLAHOMA POS. NAME, HT., YR. PPG RPG G Trae Young 6-2, Fr. 18.5 4.5 G James Christian, 6-4, Jr. 13.5 2.0 G Rashard Odomes, 6-6, Jr. 8.0 2.5 F Khadeem Lattin 6-9, Sr. 14.0 7.5 C Brady Manek 6-9, Fr. 13.5 5.0 COACH Lon Kruger (124-77 in seven seasons at Okl homa, 603-381 overall in 32 seasons) ARKANSAS POS. NAME, HT., YR. PPG RPG G Daryl Macon, 6-3, Sr. 16.0 2.3 G Jaylen Barford, 6-3, Sr. 20.3 5.3 G Anton Beard, 6-0, Sr. 13.3 2.3 F Trey Thompson, 6-9, Sr. 4.3 6.7 F Adrio Bailey, 6-6, So. 9.0 5.0 COACH Mike Anderson (131-74 in seven seasons at Arkansas, 331-172 overall in 16 seasons)
Oklahoma Arkansas 108.0 Points for 93.0 79.0 Points against 68.0 +10.5 Rebound margin +4.0 -0.5 Turnover margin +6.0 56.3 FG pct. 53.2 42.6 3-PT pct. 37.3 72.1 FT pct. 68.2 CHALK TALK The Arkansas-Oklahoma winner and loser will play the North Carolina-Portland winner and loser Friday … Razorbacks 6-11 freshman Daniel Gafford is averaging 16.7 points and 5.0 rebounds off the bench … Arkansas guard Daryl Macon has hit 15 consecutive free throws going back to last season. He’s 8 of 8 this season … Oklahoma guard Trae Young is averaging 11.5 assists to lead the nation … The Razorbacks have 23 dunks, led by Gafford’s 10 … Arkansas and Oklahoma last met on Dec. 4, 2012, when the Razorbacks beat the Sooners 81-78 in Walton Arena … The Phil Knight Invitational is being held to honor the Nike co-founder’s 80th birthday.
— Bob Holt
Sports on 11/23/2017
Print Headline: Sooners, not later: Hogs focus on first task instead of Tar Heels