Razorbacks still have shot at NCAA bid

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
BJ Young reacts during the second half of Arkansas' win over Florida on Feb. 5.
Photo by Michael Woods
BJ Young reacts during the second half of Arkansas' win over Florida on Feb. 5.

— It seems the experts at picking the NCAA Tournament men’s bracket give the Arkansas Razorbacks little chance at March Madness even if they win their final six games.

Winning those regular season games would include quality victories over Florida and Missouri, meaning Arkansas would have swept two teams that are in everyone’s NCAA Tournament bracket. In fact, some have the Gators as a No. 1 seed.

However, because the SEC is so down this season, the Hogs haven’t been able to accumulate many quality victories.

Oklahoma, Florida and Missouri are all the quality victories they have, and that’s why the Hogs’ RPI is 77.

What also haunts the Hogs are some bad losses, like theones to South Carolina (RPI: 207), Vanderbilt (140) and Texas A&M (75).

Most of the experts who predict the NCAA Tournament field of 68 have only three SEC teams - Florida, Ole Miss and Missouri - making it to March Madness, while giving six spots to the Atlantic 10, whose RPI is eighth compared to the SEC’s No. 9 rating.

Put another way, of all the Bowl Championship Series Conferences - the supposed elite leagues - theSEC would get the fewest invites and the Big East, which is shaky at best, would get the most with eight.

How the SEC has become the most powerful football conference and at the same time slipped so badly in basketball is anyone’s guess.

Maybe some schools in basketball conferences are asking recruits if they want to play in a football league or a basketball league.

Anyway, if Kentucky can stop the bleeding caused by the loss of Nerlens Noel for the season, it will be back in the hunt. If John Calipari doesn’t find some team unity in a hurry, the Wildcats are toast.

That means if the SEC has any hope of getting a fourth team - outside of running the table during the conference tournament - Arkansas or Alabama needs to go on abig run.

What no team wants to have to do is win its conference tournament - which is next to impossible for the last four finishers in the regular season - to make the NCAA Tournament. Those four are pitted No. 12 vs. No. 13 at 6:30 p.m. and No. 11 vs. 14 at 9 p.m. on the first night of the tournament. The winners turn around and play at 2:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. the next day.

Unless the Hogs collapse, which doesn’t seem likely, their first game would be Thursday, possibly even Friday, if Kentucky goes in the tank and the Hogs can break the tie for fifth with Missouri and move up.

Alabama has a 59 RPI, due in large part to losses to Mercer and Tulane, but the selection committee gives consideration to how a team finishesand the Crimson Tide are 7-3 in their past 10 games.

The Tide have a chance to finish strong as they go to LSU, Florida and Ole Miss while hosting Mississippi State, Auburn and Georgia.

Alabama, 9-3 in SEC play and 17-8 overall, looks like a lock to get a bye until Friday of the SEC Tournament.

Another concern the SEC has is that Ole Miss has lost four of its past six games and its RPI is 51, which definitely makes the Rebs a bubble team. Yet, four of the Rebels’ final games are against teams in or near the basement of the SEC standings.

It appears Andy Kennedy is on the verge of taking the Rebels to their first NCAA Tournament since 2002. Ole Miss plays hard for 40 minutes, which is something the Razorbacks have done theirpast two games and it has paid some dividends.

Arkansas controls its chances of making the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks need to win - starting Thursday night at home against Georgia - and their rating will go up, more so because they have a chance to finish the season strong and the NCAA selection committee looks at the final 10 games pretty closely.

Bottom line is the Hogs may look like a long shot to all the experts, but it is really up to them.

If they continue to play as a team for 40 minutes, they can make up a lot of ground.

Sports, Pages 20 on 02/20/2013