Do the Hogs have something to prove in the SEC Tournament?

The Arkansas Razorbacks fell four spots to No. 9 in Baseball America’s Top 25 Poll after losing two of three games last weekend to the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, Ga.

However Dave Van Horn’s Hogs (37-17, 18-12 SEC) are holding steady in the NCAA RPI ratings at No. 4, right behind the Bulldogs at No. 3. Stanford’s is No. 2 in those rankings while Florida is No. 1. Ole Miss gives the SEC four teams with top-10 RPI at No. 9 at the conclusion of the regular season.

The Razorbacks won the opening game of the series against Georgia, 8-6, last Thursday, but followed a familiar pattern for them in SEC road series games by losing the other two matchups 8-7 in 10 innings on Friday, and 3-2 on Saturday. Arkansas also won the first games of their road series at Florida, Ole Miss, and LSU. Mississippi State swept the Razorbacks in their other SEC road series.

The Hogs went 4-11 in SEC road games this season and 6-12 overall on the road. Among SEC teams, only LSU (4-14) and Alabama (5-15) had worse road records than the Razorbacks.

That said, three of the Razorbacks’ five SEC road series were at the No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Ole Miss, and No. 8 Georgia. Arkansas won the opening game of each of those series. Alex Box Stadium, home of the LSU Tigers, has long been one of the most imposing home sites in collegiate baseball. Mississippi State also has a proud tradition in Starkville, Miss., and the Bulldogs have been one of the hottest teams in the nation in the last half of the regular season. Few teams in the nation faced as daunting of a conference road schedule as the Razorbacks.

Arkansas’ road record is what it is, but six of their 11 SEC road losses where one-run games. Three other losses were by just 2 runs.

Game by game, it’s hard to categorize that as playing poorly, but when totaled up, it’s a red flag for a team that otherwise would seem to have a lock on one of the NCAA’s eight National Seeds.

Van Horn said his squad has played average baseball on the road this season. He added that the Hogs failed to come up a few key plays in games that likely could have made a difference. That’s disappointing for a team that’s as talented and as deep as the Razorbacks.

On the flip side, the Razorbacks have had an outstanding season in the best league in the nation, while playing one of the toughest schedules. Arkansas has been ranked in the Top 10 all season, has a top-five RPI, will no doubt host an NCAA Regional and possibly a Super Regional, and they tied Ole Miss for the Western Division title. It’s Arkansas’ sixth division title and fifth under Van Horn.

It has been a fantastic season so far, and their is more to come, hopefully much more.

With a first-round bye in the SEC Baseball Tournament which begins with a single-elimination round on Tuesday at Hoover, Ala., the Razorbacks will not open play until the final game Wednesday at approximately 8:30 p.m. The Razorbacks will play the winner of Tuesday’s South Carolina-Missouri game.

The second round of the SEC Tournament is double elimination; however, the two teams that advance will play a single game at 2 p.m. Sunday for the tournament title. The opening two rounds of the SEC Tournament will be televised by the SEC Network. Sunday’s title game will be televised by ESPN2.

The NCAA Baseball Tournament brackets will be announced at 11 a.m. Monday on ESPNU.

There are different thoughts on conference tournament play. Some believe it’s better to just play and see what happens, while others want to go all out in an attempt to win it. A lot of one’s opinion depends on your team’s standing in terms of the NCAA Tournament.

It’s hard to know if the Razorbacks can actually help their cause or not this week in the tournament.

Should the Hogs win the SEC Tournament, it would be hard to deny that they are a National Seed, but they may have already earned that honor in the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s minds.

Knowing Van Horn’s competitive nature, I’d expect him to have his Hogs stoked for the tournament. As fine a season as the Razorback have had, I’d expect they still feel they have something to prove after being edged out in so many road games.

Don’t expect Van Horn to work his pitchers in a dangerous manner in the tournament, but don’t expect Arkansas to hold back either.

Winning an SEC Tournament title would be the perfect catapult into NCAA Regional play.