Arkansas doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Arkansas' Mike Anderson coaches from the bench Saturday, March 1, 2014, during the second half of the game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville
Photo by Samantha Baker
Arkansas' Mike Anderson coaches from the bench Saturday, March 1, 2014, during the second half of the game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville

The last time the Arkansas Razorbacks made the NCAA Tournament was 2008, the same year UALR hosted an opening weekend of the tournament in North Little Rock.

Lots of visitors left central Arkansas with a new and improved view of the area.

The Razorbacks, playing in Raleigh, N.C., beat Indiana, which had fired its coach, Kelvin Sampson, days before the tournament for making illegal phone calls to recruits.

The once basketball proud school had declined under the watch of Mike Davis and Sampson, who led the Hoosiers to a three-year NCAA probation period.

Indiana basketball didn’t get as far off course as Arkansas’ program had before Mike Anderson was hired, but Tom Crean survived the probation and in his fourth and fifth seasons led the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. They are a little down this season, but rebuilding a basketball program takes longer than most people understand.

The Razorbacks lost soundly to North Carolina, 108-77, in the second round. That Tar Heels team advanced to the Final Four, where it lost to Kansas, the school North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said he would never leave but did to become a Tar Heel.

Also in that tournament No. 12 seed Western Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 with victories over Drake and San Diego before losing to UCLA.

UCLA lost in the Final Four, and like Texas-Arlington, Mississippi State, Michigan State and Texas, the loss stands forever even though the team they lost to, Memphis, didn’t get the victories.

Memphis had to vacate its NCAA Tournament appearance instead of forfeiting games. Seems like a dumb NCAA rule, and it’s the same with football games. Arkansas lost to Southern California 70-17, but the Trojans didn’t win or lose following sanctions by the NCAA.

If Memphis had not been forced to vacate its appearance, it would have been a Final Four of all No. 1 seeds.

Kansas won the championship, but it trailed by nine with 2:12 to play.

Bill Self had the Jayhawks fouling and the Tigers, who struggled from the free-throw line all season, made only 1 of 5 down the stretch and Kansas scored 12 points in the final two minutes - it did not miss a shot - to send it to overtime.

Kansas scored the first six points in the extra period and went on to win 75-68.

Another reason the 2008 season was interesting was Arizona received an invite and was seeded No. 10 despite having a 19-14 record.The Wildcats’ RPI dropped from 33 to 50 after they lost to Stanford in the Pac-10 Tournament.

The Razorbacks are hopeful of a tournament bid, and most of the experts are predicting they will get one with an RPI rating of 62.

Four teams with higher RPIs have received at-large bids since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985: No. 67 USC and No. 64 Marquette in 2011, No. 63 Stanford in 2007 and No. 63 North Carolina State in 2005.

Southern Cal was an 11 seed and lost the play-in game to Virginia Commonwealth, which advanced to the Final Four. No. 11 seed Marquette was the 11th and final Big East team invited and made the Sweet 16. Stanford was an11 seed and lost by 20 to Louisville in the opening game. North Carolina State was a 10 seed and advanced to the Sweet 16.

No doubt this Sunday when the bracket is announced there will be some pleasant surprises, some heartbreak - mostly among the midlevel conferences - and some yelling by Dick Vitale.

If Arkansas positively wants to be part of March Madness, it needs to win four games in four days. Otherwise, it will be left up to a committee that mostly gets it right.

Sports, Pages 19 on 03/12/2014