Billy Kennedy is trying to emphasize to his Texas A&M team that its upcoming SEC matchup with a sub-.500 opponent isn't a game to overlook, despite a nonconference showdown with a fellow highly ranked foe looming next.
He'll try to keep the No. 5 Aggies focused on winning at struggling Arkansas for the first time since joining the SEC on Wednesday night, with A&M seeking its longest conference winning streak in 36 years.
The buzz surrounding Saturday's visit from No. 14 Iowa State - which has knocked off No. 1 and No. 4 ranked teams in two of its last three games - in the Big 12/SEC Challenge has been unavoidable. The one-day event in the middle of the conference season has some coaches, including Kennedy, publicly expressing their annoyance with the made-for-TV showcase.
That hype has been fed by the Aggies (17-2, 7-0) surging to their highest-ever ranking. It's also made Kennedy's job of preparing his team for Arkansas (9-10, 3-4) - which A&M routed 92-69 on Jan. 2 - all the more difficult.
The Aggies have lost in both visits to Bud Walton Arena since joining the SEC.
"Going into Fayetteville - in my mind the toughest place to play - is the most important game for us this week," Kennedy said. "Not that the Iowa State (game) isn't a big deal, but conference games are big with us right now and we'll put a lot of emphasis on trying to beat a good Arkansas team."
Texas A&M's 10-game winning streak is its longest since taking 13 straight Nov. 26, 2010-Jan. 15, 2011. It's off to its best 19-game start since 1919-20 and can win eight consecutive league games for the first time since the 1979-80 team won nine in a row in the Southwest Conference.
Jalen Jones is a major reason for those runs. He sparked the Aggies' 66-53 comeback victory over Missouri on Saturday with 20 points, the fourth time in five games he's scored at least that many.
The senior, in his second season with A&M after transferring from SMU, is averaging a team-high 17.5.
''He finishes at the rim,'' Kennedy said. "He's so quick and attacks the basket. I can't say enough about him. He's playing really well right now.''
Jones scored a career-high 28 in the first meeting with Arkansas as the Aggies shot 49.2 percent. Danuel House tied his career high with 28 points in the Aggies' last trip to Fayetteville, an 81-75 loss Feb. 24.
Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson praised the depth of A&M, which expects to have freshman center Tyler Davis back after he sat out against Missouri with discomfort in his foot.
Arkansas won three straight following the loss to the Aggies but is coming off a third consecutive defeat, 76-73 in overtime at Georgia on Saturday. Dusty Hannahs scored 24 points for the Razorbacks, who shot 39.3 percent from the field.
Anderson is hoping for a better performance at Bud Walton, where Arkansas has won 25 of its last 30 SEC games. Texas A&M, though, is allowing the fewest points per game in the conference at 63.7.
"We've got a tremendous chore in front of us, but it's an opportunity," Anderson said. "We played (the Aggies) earlier and they haven't missed a beat since then. They're playing as good as anyone in the country."