ESPN bracket man still slots Hogs, for now

By: Wally Hall
Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Arkansas guard Rickey Scott Jr. and Ole Miss guard Martavious Newby dive after the ball during the first half of Wednesday night's game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas guard Rickey Scott Jr. and Ole Miss guard Martavious Newby dive after the ball during the first half of Wednesday night's game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Joe Lunardi is ESPN’s guru of bracketology.

A graduate of St. Joe’s and a native of Philly, Lunardi has earned the right to be considered one of the best at predicting the NCAA Tournament field.

In 2008, he correctly predicted the entire field of 65. In 2009, he got 63 out of 65 right (he had Creighton and St. Mary’s in, and they didn’t make it). In 2010, he got 64 of 65 right (he left out Illinois).

In 2011 and 2012, he made some mistakes, but last year he nailed the entire field that had grown to 68 teams.

He should buy a lottery ticket every week or at least enter Warren Buffett’s $1 billion bracket challenge.

Why is Lunardi important in Arkansas right now?

Well, the guru updated his bracket Monday, and while the Razorbacks dropped from a No. 11 seed after Wednesday’s victory over Ole Miss to a No. 12 seed with a play-in game against Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, he still has them in the tournament. The Razorbacks are the last of the at-large berths.

Who would want to argue with Lunardi’s record?

Not me, although there are some things that need to be considered after Arkansas was romped and stomped by lowly Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

First and foremost, if you are Missouri you have to wonder why you are not at least on the bubble.

Granted, the Tigers lost three of their last five games, all on the road, and have looked bad in their past two games, including an ugly victory over Texas A&M, but they are 21-10 and beat the Razorbacks twice.

The Tigers’ RPI is No. 52, which is 10 spots better than the Hogs’ No. 62. The Razorbacks dropped six spots after losing to the Tide. The Tigers’ hopes of improving themselves in the SEC Tournament are a long shot at best. They open with Texas A&M and then would play Florida, and the Gators might be the best team in the country.

Lunardi also doesn’t have a bracket spot for California, which finished in a five-way tie for third in the Pacific-12. The other four teams are in.

Cal’s RPI is No. 55 and it beat the Razorbacks 85-77 in Maui on Nov. 25. On Feb. 1, it beat No. 1 Arizona, a No. 1 seed, according to Lunardi, and before that went to Oregon and beat the No. 17 ranked Ducks.

Lunardi also doesn’t have St. John’s or Providence from the Big East in, and they were in a three-way tie for third. Xavier made it with a 48RPI, while Providence’s No. 54 and St. John’s No. 57 were not good enough.

From my seat, it looks like a Tennessee-Arkansas game Friday could determine how many teams the SEC gets in the tournament. Lunardi has predicted four, but that’s fluid before the conference tournament games.

He currently has Tennessee No. 11, also a play-in game entrant in Dayton.

So it appears the winner of Tennessee-Arkansas would definitely be in, although the Volunteers, with an RPI of 46, still might be in even if they lose, giving the SEC, the No. 7 ranked conference by RPI, the hope of four invites.

Lunardi currently has the Big 12 with 7 teams in, the Pac-12, Big Ten and Atlantic 10 with 6 - although Cal (Pac-12) and Minnesota (Big Ten) could improve their positions this week.

The American Athletic Conference (AAC) and ACC are at five each, the Big East with three, although St. John’s and Providence could move up, and the Mountain West and West Coast with two each.

That takes care of all 38 atlarge berths.

So enjoy today because ESPN guru Joe Lunardi still believes in the Arkansas Razorbacks, but just barely.

Sports, Pages 17 on 03/11/2014