Hoop Hogs close out regular season at No. 16 Alabama

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman, middle, instructs his team during a stoppage in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

After enjoying a Senior Night victory of their own Wednesday with a 94-83 win over the LSU Tigers in Bud Walton Arena, the Arkansas Razorbacks head to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to be the No. 16 Alabama Crimson Tide’s Senior Day guests on Saturday.

The only good thing about the trip is that the game tips early at 11 a.m., so the Hogs should be home early Saturday evening. ESPN has the broadcast.

As good as the Razorbacks have been the past three seasons with two Elite Eight and a Sweet 16 finish, Coleman Coliseum has been an inhospitable venue for Eric Musselman’s Hogs, and while one could argue Arkansas is playing their best basketball of the SEC season, it will be a chore for Arkansas to post back-to-back victories to close out the regular-season schedule.

What will be interesting to see is if Razorback guard Khalif Battle can continue his hot streak that has seen him turn into a scoring machine for the Hogs during the last four games. Battle scored 29 against LSU on Wednesday, went for 34 at Kentucky last Saturday, scored 36 on Vanderbilt, and tallied a career-high 42 against Missouri. Battle’s 141 points over the last four games is the most scored by an SEC player in two decades.

Makhi Mitchell, the Hogs’ 6-10 center, also played well against LSU with 19 points, 8 rebounds and 3 swatted shots. He has become a serious threat for the Razorbacks with the pick and roll, despite playing off the bench.

With its blowout of South Carolina on Tuesday, Tennessee captured the regular-season title with a 14-3 record and the top seed in next week’s SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Nashville.

Don’t expect a letdown from Alabama on Saturday, though. The game is big for them. They are knotted in a four-way tie for second in the league with South Carolina, Auburn and Kentucky. All have 12-5 records.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Alabama
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, March 9
Where: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
TV: ESPN

Upcoming games

March 13 – SEC Tournament in Nashville

I doubt Alabama coach Nate Oats really cares where his Crimson Tide finishes in the SEC race since it won’t be first. There’s not a lot of difference between second and fifth this year, but a loss to the Hogs on Saturday would without a doubt hurt Alabama in the Net rankings and could be a blow to the Crimson Tide’s seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

An upset of the Crimson Tide (20-10, 12-5 SEC) would allow the Hogs (15-15, 6-11 SEC) to have a winning record in the regular season.

However, even with a victory, the Hogs will be playing on the first day of the SEC Tournament this coming Wednesday.

A win by the Razorbacks coupled with a home loss by Ole Miss to Texas A&M would leave both squads 7-11, but the Rebels would hold the tiebreaker thanks to their 77-51 blowout of the Razorbacks at Oxford earlier in the season.

While the exact seedings for next week’s tournament are up in the air based on the outcomes of this weekend’s games, it looks like the Hogs are headed for another meeting with Vanderbilt at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the first round of the SEC Tournament.

Playing Vandy in Nashville is a tough draw, especially considering the Commodores beat Arkansas, 85-82, in Walton Arena on Feb. 27.

Maybe the Razorbacks can return the favor to advance to the second round of the SEC Tourney?

However, a tough trip to Tuscaloosa must be survived first.