Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in journalism.
Lunardi: Hogs need road wins
Arkansas guard Rashad Madden (00) drives to the basket against Kentucky guards Aaron Harrison (2) and James Young (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas' NCAA Tournament chances improved with Tuesday's overtime win against No. 13 Kentucky, but the Razorbacks would still be on the outside looking in if the season were to end now, according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi.
Lunardi, an NCAA Tournament selection analyst, told Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly on Wednesday that Arkansas will likely need to finish in the top third of the Southeastern Conference to make the tournament. The Razorbacks notched their first SEC win against the Wildcats after losing to Texas A&M and Florida to open conference play.
"I still have the Razorbacks as one of the first four out based primarily on a weak nonconference schedule," Lunardi said. "They have 12 wins, but half of them were essentially bye games. Had they swept this home stand it would have absolutely put them in, but the tournament committee over the last 10 years has almost always put a bang on teams with a sub-200 nonconference schedule if they're on the bubble, and that's where Arkansas is now.
"I think they're good enough to be in the tournament, good enough to win games in the tournament and I think they'll get enough quality wins to get into the tournament, but I don't think they're there quite yet."
Lunardi said Arkansas' out of conference wins against Clemson and SMU look good at this point in the season, but lose some appeal because both were at home.
"If either of those came on the road, I'd have Arkansas in the field right now," Lunardi said.
Those wins, coupled with a win over Minnesota at the Maui Invitational, were Arkansas' best prior to SEC play. The Razorbacks' schedule was particularly weak from Dec. 12 to Jan. 4, playing five teams with current RPIs between 260 and 313 nationally at home.
Arkansas' current RPI is 66, according to RealTimeRPI, and the Razorbacks' strength of schedule is ranked 110th.
"Give me a reason and demonstrate to me you've tested yourself at the highest levels prior to league play," Lunardi said when asked what criteria he looks for from bubble teams, "or at least competed at the level of other NCAA Tournament teams."
Lunardi said the tournament selection committee will be watching closely to see how Arkansas (12-4) plays on the road. The Razorbacks lost 69-53 in their first true road game of the season last week at Texas A&M and are 2-19 in road games the last three years.
Arkansas once again has a chance to reverse the trend with an upcoming two-game road swing at Georgia and Tennessee.
"You have to show you can win games away from home because I don't think the tournament is coming to Bud Walton Arena any time soon," Lunardi said.