Vandy gives Hogs chance for third win a row

Arkansas’ Layden Blocker in action during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

If there is one lesson observers have learned from the Arkansas Razorbacks this season it’s that nothing can be taken for granted.

The Hogs (14-13, 5-9 SEC) started the season ranked in the Associated Press’ preseason top 10, but the team has struggled to stay above .500 the last few weeks in SEC play.

Postseason play beyond the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament March 13-18 in Nashville is in serious doubt. The Razorbacks would likely have to win the SEC Tournament to earn the SEC’s automatic bid to have their NCAA dance card punched.

Arkansas has only won the SEC Tournament once since joining the league in 1992, and that was back in 2000 when Joe Johnson, Brandon Dean et all won four games in four days to catapult the Hogs into the postseason picture.

Making that type of run isn’t impossible, but it is highly improbable for a Razorbacks team whose biggest winning streak in SEC play is just two games.

The Hogs are currently on that streak, if you can call two games a streak?

Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks are coming off their best week of the SEC season after upsetting Texas A&M, 78-71, a week ago at Bryan-College Station and then defeating Missouri, 88-73, last Saturday at Bud Walton Arena.

The Hogs have the opportunity to extend that winning streak to three at 8 p.m. Tuesday when the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-20, 2-12) visit Walton Arena.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Vanderbilt
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network

Upcoming games

March 2 – at Kentucky, 12:30 p.m. (CBS)
March 6 – LSU, 6 p.m. (SEC)
March 9 – at Alabama, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
March 13 – SEC Tournament in Nashville

The Commodores are in 13th place in the league, right ahead of the Hogs, who are tied with Georgia (15-12, 5-9). The Bulldogs and Hogs split their two games this season.

LSU (14-13, 6-8), Texas A&M (15-12, 6-8), and Ole Miss (19-8, 6-8) are one game ahead of the Hogs and Bulldogs in the league race, but currently Ole Miss and LSU hold the tiebreaker over the Hogs by virtue of their wins over Arkansas.

The Hogs have a chance to even their series with LSU, when the Tigers visit Walton Arena on March 6.

Arkansas owns the tiebreaker over Texas A&M with its two wins over the Aggies, if the two should tie at the end of the season.

The SEC is guaranteed that at least its top two NET rated squads will be extended bids to the NIT. Arkansas is ranked No. 122 right now with LSU at 91 and Ole Miss at 75. That’s a lot of ground to make up at this point in the season.

Which SEC teams would be available to play in the NIT will be determined by how many bids to the NCAA Tournament the league receives. Recently as many as nine NCAA bids were being projected for the SEC, but seven or eight bids seem more likely.

It’s unknown whether the Razorbacks would accept an NIT bid if they earned one. With so many seniors on this squad, who knows if Musselman or the team would even want to play in the NIT?

Of course, the SEC could force a member institution to take a bid if it is extended. Seniors would then have to decide whether they wanted to play or not.

In recent years, it’s become routine for some senior football players to bypass playing in inconsequential bowl games. The last time Arkansas played in the NIT was in 2019 when Daniel Gafford opted not to play to begin preparation for the NBA Draft.

However with four games left in SEC play, it will be hard for Arkansas to gain much ground in the SEC standings with trips to No. 16 Kentucky on March 2 and No. 14 Alabama on March 9 remaining on the docket.

Anything can happen, but the best it seems the Razorbacks could finish over the last four league games is 2-2, and banking on this squad to defeat Vandy tonight and LSU on March 6 is risky business.

The Razorbacks have shown improved play since being pounded by league leader Tennessee, 92-63, on Feb. 14. Arkansas lost at Mississippi State, 71-67, on Feb. 17, but they had a legitimate shot at winning that game going into the last minute.

The Hogs, perhaps, played their best game of the year a week ago when they upset the Aggies at College Station.

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The Razorbacks then defeated Missouri thanks to an explosive 42-point performance by Khalif Battle, which is the second most points ever scored by a Razorback in SEC play. Todd Day went for 43 points against LSU in his senior season of 1992, the Hogs’ first year in the SEC.

Battle’s 42 was the seventh most scored by a Razorback in school history. He also scored 15 in last week’s victory over A&M. Battle was named SEC Player of the Week for his efforts on Monday.

The Razorbacks have lost their last two games to Vandy, and with this Razorback squad, fans have learned to not count on anything.

While it might be too late to totally right the Razorbacks’ ship, the Hogs have been playing better basketball since that Valentine’s Day massacre against Tennessee.

A victory over Vanderbilt tonight would at least show some consistency for a program that has enjoyed very little of that quality this season.