All things considered, the Arkansas Razorbacks have worked their way into a pretty good position with three regular-season basketball games left to play.
By virtue of their four-game winning streak including Wednesday’ 86-77 victory over Texas A&M and South Carolina’s three-game losing streak, the Razorbacks (21-7, 10-5) are tied with the Gamecocks for third in the league.
However, the Hogs hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over South Carolina for seeding in the SEC Tournament, held March 8-12 at Nashville.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects the Razorbacks to be a 10th seed in the NCAA Tournament as things stand today. Some feel a 10th seed is a marginally better dancing position than an eighth or a ninth.
The winner of the eight-nine game faces a No. 1 seed in the tournament’s second round, while the winner of the seven-10 game meets a No. 2 seed. It’s a tough path to the Sweet 16 either way, but if the NCAA Selection Committee does its job right, then No. 2 seeds shouldn’t be quite as tough as the No. 1s.
However, talking about the Big Dance is putting the cart before the horse. Though the Razorbacks are playing better, more confident, and more consistent basketball, the Hogs can take nothing for granted going into their final three games.
There is no way for the Razorbacks to win the SEC, but in the highly unlikely event Florida, winner of nine-consecutive games, loses its final three and the Hogs won all of theirs, the Gators would tumble into a second-place tie with Arkansas.
However, Florida would still get the second-place seed in the SEC Tournament by virtue of their victory over Kentucky earlier this season. But there is a much greater chance that the Gators win all three than lose all three.
The Gators’ 1 p.m. Saturday game with Kentucky on CBS stacks up to be the game of the season in the league, with the winner having the inside track to the SEC title.
Should Kentucky win, its path to the title would be a bit easier than Florida’s. Kentucky hosts Vanderbilt next week before ending the season at Texas A&M. After visiting Rupp Arena Saturday, the Gators host the Razorbacks on Wednesday before going to Vanderbilt on Saturday.
How would you like to be Commodores coach Bryce Drew, closing out the regular season with a game at Kentucky and then hosting Florida next Saturday?
The worst mistake Arkansas can make is to take Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game at Auburn (17-11, 6-9) for granted and get caught looking forward to next Wednesday’s game at Florida (23-5, 13-2).
Tennessee likely played their way out of an opportunity for a NCAA Tournament bid Wednesday with a 67-56 loss to Vanderbilt. A loss to the Tigers on Saturday would similarly jeopardize the Razorbacks’ standing with the NCAA Selection Committee.
Auburn in the type of squad that enjoys playing at the Razorbacks’ tempo, and if the Razorbacks are sluggish, a Tiger victory is certainly not out of the question. Auburn defeated LSU, 98-75, Tuesday, and Bruce Pearl and his squad are looking to close out this season strong.
The Razorbacks played so poorly on the road under Stan Heath and John Pelphrey that Arkansas fans seem conditioned to expect the Hogs to lose on the road. However this squad has proven to be a salty road team in SEC play. Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks are 5-4 overall in road games this season and 5-2 in SEC road games.
If the Razorbacks play well Saturday, they will have a chance to win, but they do have to play well. While the Hogs have looked very good in their last four games with key players filling their roles, it is still hard to fully trust this team just yet.
The Hogs still rely too much on the jump shot for me to feel totally comfortable with them. While improved, the Razorbacks still aren’t strong enough defensively to survive a mediocre to poor shooting night against most teams in the SEC.
Following the Texas A&M victory while discussing the game on “SEC Now,” Anderson congratulated Moses Kingsley for a solid second half after the senior scored 10 points, but he added that Arkansas needs him to get 10 in each half.
That really is the key if the Razorbacks are to make a truly meaningful surge at the end of this season. I don’t just mean squeaking into the NCAA Tournament; I mean actually making a splash in the postseason.
With Arkansas’ guard rotation now working very smoothly, Trey Thompson evening out the offense with his high-post passing, and Thompson and Dustin Thomas helping Kingsley on the boards, the only thing left is for Kingsley to truly play up to his potential offensively while not letting his defense slip.
If Anderson didn’t think Kingsley could do it, he wouldn’t have said it in a TV interview. The only question is can Kingsley follow through?
If Kingsley could or would start stringing together two halves like his second half against the Aggies, Arkansas might just be a very dangerous team in the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
But for now, hopefully the Hogs can extend their winning streak to five against the Tigers on Saturday.
SEC Standings and Games Remaining
Florida (23-5, 13-2) — at Kentucky, Arkansas, at Vanderbilt
Kentucky (23-5, 13-2) — Florida, Vanderbilt, at Texas A&M
Arkansas (21-7, 10-5) — at Auburn, at Florida, at Georgia
South Carolina (20-8, 10-5) — Tennessee, Mississippi State, at Ole Miss
Alabama (16-11, 9-6) — Georgia, at Texas A&M, Ole Miss
Ole Miss (17-11, 8-7) — Missouri, at Alabama, South Carolina
Vanderbilt (15-13, 8-7) — Mississippi State, at Kentucky, Florida
Georgia (16-12, 7-8) — at Alabama, LSU, Auburn, at Arkansas
Tennessee (15-13, 7-8) — at South Carolina, at LSU, Alabama
Texas A&M (14-13, 6-9) — Alabama, at Missouri, Kentucky
Auburn (17-11, 6-9) — Arkansas, at Georgia, Missouri
Mississippi State (14-13, 5-10) — at Vanderbilt, at South Carolina, LSU
Missouri (7-20, 2-13) — at Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Auburn
LSU (9-18, 1-14) — at Georgia, Tennessee, at Mississippi State
Diamond Hogs host Bryant for weekend series
Dave Van Horn’s Arkansas baseball got off to a quick start with a three-game sweep of Miami of Ohio in its opening weekend of the season, but the pace is about to pick up.
The Razorbacks play five games in the next six days with only Monday off. The 3-0 Hogs host Bryant (2-2) in a weekend series, starting at 3 p.m. Friday at Baum Stadium. Saturday’s first pitch is at 2 p.m., and Sunday’s at 1 p.m.
The Razorbacks then take their first road trip of the season to Ruston, La., to play Louisiana Tech at 6 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Van Horn plans to start Blaine Knight (1-0, 2.25 ERA) Friday, Trevor Stephan on Saturday and Kevin Kopps on Sunday. While it’s just one series, the Razorbacks have 0.67 ERA going into the series. The Hogs are working without projected starter Isaiah Campbell for a second weekend because of a sore arm.
Eric Cole is leading the Hogs in hitting with a .455 batting average and a .727 slugging percentage with one home run and 3 RBI. Dominic Fletcher, Grant Koch, and Chad Spanberger follow Cole with .333 batting averages and a home run apiece. Luke Bonfield is hitting .300 and has 4 RBI. Koch leads the club with 5 RBI.