UA hitting its stride heading into stretch

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson talks with player Mardracus Wade during the second half of the game between Arkansas and LSU on Saturday February 15, 2014 in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson talks with player Mardracus Wade during the second half of the game between Arkansas and LSU on Saturday February 15, 2014 in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Six regular-season games remain, and the Arkansas Razorbacks are in a dogfight for seeding in the SEC Tournament.

Arkansas is tied with Texas A&M for ninth place heading into tonight’s game with South Carolina, one of two SEC teams with a losing record overall (Alabama is the other).

Ninth place would give Arkansas a noon game on the tournament’s second day against the eighth-place team, with the winner playing Florida the next day at noon.

That’s not a good draw. Avoiding Florida until the final is a good draw.

The Gators are starting to look like a Final Four team and are easily the best in the SEC. They are 12-0 in conference play, with Kentucky ( 9-3) the next in line.

Arkansas (16-9, 5-7 SEC) is actually in a good spot.

Here’s a look at the Razorbacks’ final five, after tonight’s game with South Carolina:

At Mississippi State, which is tied for last with South Carolina. The closest thing the Bulldogs have to a quality victory came against Ole Miss on Jan. 11. But the Bulldogs, who are at LSU tonight, have lost seven in a row.

At Kentucky, and yes the Wildcats are wildly talented with all those McDonald’s All-Americans. But Arkansas, LSU and Florida, which won at Lexington, have found ways to beat all those future NBA players.

At home against Georgia, a team Arkansas should have defeated earlier this season at Athens. Georgia is hurting the SEC’s chances of getting a fourth NCAA Tournament team. The Bulldogs have won four in row to go to 8-4, good for third place in the conference, but they are 14-10 overall and have nonconference losses to Temple (7-17) and Nebraska (14-10).

At home against Ole Miss, which seems to be only as good as Marshall Henderson, who can shoot you out of a game as fast as he can shoot you into one. Erratic comes to mind watching him. The Rebels are coming off back to-back losses to Alabama and Georgia.

At Alabama, which lost at South Carolina on Saturday and is 4-8 in the SEC, 10-15 overall.

All of those games are winnable. It won’t be easy, but the Hogs shed the 800-pound gorilla of not winning on the road at Vanderbilt and should have won last week at Missouri.

Arkansas would be a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament if it wins out and finishes 11-7 in SEC play, 22-9 overall. Win a game in the SEC Tournament, which has been Arkansas’ March Madness the past few years, and it should be a decent seed in the Big Dance.

Win four of six and Arkansas can do the NIT two step unless it wins the SEC Tournament, which is hard enough without having to win four games in four days. Yes, it can be done, but not very often, and probably not with Florida standing in the way.

Florida hasn’t lost since Dec. 2, when it traveled to UConn and fell 65-64.

The Gators are making a statement about experience in this age of one-and-dones. They have four senior starters, balanced scoring and their defense seems to get better by the week.

Florida is so talented that Chris Walker, a McDonald’s All-American, became eligible four games ago and has averaged 4.5 minutes and 2.0 points per game.

This is a Florida team that needed overtime to beat the Razorbacks 84-82 in Fayetteville. The Hogs bounced back with the home victory over Kentucky and then went into that same old road funk before winning at Vandy.

Arkansas has won three of its past four, and if it keeps building it can finish this season strong enough to be mentioned for the NCAA Tournament.

It is up to the Razorbacks, of course, and you have to believe they have their eyes on the prize.

Sports, Pages 18 on 02/19/2014