State teams can see crack in NCAA door

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Arkansas' Coty Clarke (4) celebrates during the second half of the Razorbacks' 80-69 win over Florida in Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. A few more quality victories may be all Arkansas needs to make the NCAA Tournament.
Photo by The Associated Press
Arkansas' Coty Clarke (4) celebrates during the second half of the Razorbacks' 80-69 win over Florida in Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. A few more quality victories may be all Arkansas needs to make the NCAA Tournament.

— Arkansas has four Division I men’s basketball teams that are eligible to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and as of today, three seem to have a decent shot at making March Madness.

It would have been one more but UAPB is banned from postseason play because of a low Academic Progress Rate score and is spending almost $50,000 for a firm to conduct an audit requested by the NCAA, which could lead to other penalties.

Arkansas is 14-9, and it seems the Razorbacks’ magic number is about 21 victories. The Razorbacks have a quality victory over Florida, and still have a chance to earn at least three more quality victories as they face Missouri twice, Florida and Kentucky.

Of course, the Hogs’ No. 1concern is tonight when they play at Auburn.

Auburn isn’t very good, but neither is Vanderbilt and South Carolina, and both the Commodores and Gamecocks beat the Razorbacks in their gyms.

Vandy’s only other conference victories came against Auburn and South Carolina; the Gamecocks’ only other SEC victory was against LSU.

Auburn, which lost at Arkansas 88-80 in two overtimes, has beaten LSU, South Carolina and Alabama.

Whether it’s a lack of leadership, a lack of confidence or a combination of both that have hurt the Hogs on the road, they have to get over it today if they want to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament.

Meanwhile, Thursday night in Jonesboro will be a classic between UALR and Arkansas State.

This game has developed into a great rivalry, and it will be even more heated in the Convocation Center with the teams battling for the Sun Belt Conference West Division title.

The Trojans are 9-5 (15-10) and the Red Wolves are 9-6 (15-9).

UALR’s Steve Shields and ASU’s John Brady are friendly, until the ball is tipped off, andthen they match Xs and Os until the final buzzer.

Through the infinite wisdom of the Sun Belt schedulemaker, ASU and UALR turn around and play again two weeks from Saturday at Little Rock’s Jack Stephens Center in the regular-season finale.

One hopes to have a top seed in the Sun Belt Tournament in its last tour in Hot Springs, and either is capable of getting on a run.

Thursday night’s game will be a great one.

Obviously, UCA could go on a run in the Southland Conference Tournament and grab that league’s lone bid, but the Bears are 4-8 in conference play and 9-13 overall. They lost to conference leader Stephen F. Austin 72-36 last week. They are at home Thursday and Saturday, and a good crowd couldboost their confidence.

Sadly, Arkansas-Pine Bluff has quietly moved into a tie for first in the Southwestern Athletic Conference with Southern University, which fell to the Golden Lions 55-52 last week, but it is not eligible for the SWAC or NCAA Tournament.

One of the reasons for UAPB’s low APR rating could be directly related to scheduling.

Once again, UAPB came into conference play 1-11 overall after a brutal road schedule that saw it playing in Hawaii (didn’t say it wasn’t beautiful, just tough travel), San Diego, Wisconsin, Arizona, Oregon, Michigan, Colorado, Ohio, Texas and back in Michigan.

That was from Nov. 11 to Dec. 23. The Golden Lions didn’t play one home gameduring that period. There has to be a lot classroom time missed when you are the road that much.

The Golden Lions are 11-2 in SWAC play, with both losses coming on the road.

Three years ago, UAPB won the SWAC Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, beat Winthrop in the play-in game at Dayton, Ohio, but was beaten badly by Duke in the next game.

Two years ago, UAPB was put on public notice to improve its APR, and this year, it has been declared ineligible for postseason play because of academic woes.

Sports, Pages 23 on 02/13/2013