LIKE IT IS:

Beating Kentucky would do wonders for UA

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Arkansas' Rashad Madden dribbles the ball during the game between Arkansas and LSU on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas' Rashad Madden dribbles the ball during the game between Arkansas and LSU on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

The Arkansas Razorbacks are playing their best basketball of the season, maybe some of the best since Nolan Richardson left in 2002, and there has been some talk of them making the NCAA Tournament.

They are 5-1 in their past six games and could finish 8-2 over the final 10 regular-season games, and the NCAA Tournament selection-committee members look at how a team finishes the season.

Unfortunately, that is not all they look at.

They also consider a team’s record against opponents in the top 25, top 50 and top 100.

They consider the road record, too.

There is a lot they consider, and most of it doesn’t bode well for the Razorbacks.

The road games they let get away - Texas A&M,Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri - can’t be ignored.

Tennessee, ranked No. 60 in the CBSsports.com NCAA power ratings, is a big problem, but Missouri, ranked No. 45, is a mountain that has to be climbed because Missouri swept Arkansas. Yes, Arkansas could have won both of those games, but it didn’t.

The Razorbacks need to avenge those losses if they meet the Tigers in the SEC Tournament.

The biggest obstacle in the Razorbacks’ March Madness path is that they have only one quality opponent left on the regular-season schedule, Kentucky.

No disrespect to Georgia (ranked No. 89 in the NCAA power ratings), Ole Miss (No. 80) or Alabama (No. 117), but the Hogs, who are ranked No. 69, are supposed to win those games.

That means to really help themselves they need to go into Rupp Arena and find a way to beat the wildly talented Wildcats, who are ranked No. 10 in the power ratings.

That would be an eye-catching quality victory.

The Razorbacks need something to catch the eye of the selection committee. As of Tuesday, they are 1-1 against top 25 teams, 2-5 against those in the top 50 and 5-8 against teams in the top 100.

For the Razorbacks to win Thursday against Kentucky in Lexington, they truly will have to play the fastest 40 minutes of basketball in the country. They will have to play the best defense they have played this season and not let the Wildcats penetrate for points in the paint.

Kentucky loves the paint.

Arkansas does have a few quality victories on its resume.

The Razorbacks beat Minnesota in Maui - neutral site victories help a little, too - and picked up victories at home against Clemson and SMU, but that conference-opening loss to Texas A&M is a bitter pill. The Aggies are 6-7 since, and their power rating has fallen to No. 116.

That’s another problem for Arkansas, as well as any SEC teams other than Florida and Kentucky that hope to have a shot at the Big Dance.

After the Gators and the Wildcats, the league just isn’t very good. According to CBSsports.com, the SEC is the seventh-best league in the nation.

Yes, the powerhouse football conference is behind, in order, the Big 12, Big Ten, Pacific-12, Big East (which is no longer the beast of basketball), Atlantic Coast Conference and Atlantic 10.

The Big East is looking at getting only Creighton and Villanova in the tournament, while the A-10 may get four.

What helps the SEC is the demise of the Big East, which used to get eight bids, and that the ACC isn’t as strong top to bottom as it has been.

With 68 berths it looks like the SEC might be in line for four teams, which means the Razorbacks are fighting Georgia, Missouri, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt for one of the final two invites.

Arkansas split with LSU and beat Vanderbilt. It lost to the other teams, though it gets a second shot at Ole Miss and Georgia at home.

Right now, the Hogs need to find a way to beat Kentucky for a second time. That would put them a length in front coming down the stretch.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame banquet scheduled for Friday night is sold out. There is no more room in the Statehouse Convention Center.

Sports, Pages 19 on 02/26/2014

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