Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Hogs need to crush a dream in opener
Arkansas forward Coty Clarke knocks the ball out of the hands of South Carolina defender Brenton Williams during the second half of a Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Even Rick Schaeffer, longtime Arkansas basketball analyst and still unflappable King of the Optimists Club when the Razorbacks trail by 30 with five minutes left, would be hard put to find a silver lining from Arkansas closing the regular SEC season with an 83-58 loss at Alabama.
Well, from a near-infinitely more skeptical source - and even Mother Teresa would have ranked to the skeptical side of Rick at the mike - here is perhaps a plus from the Hogs’ troubles at Tuscaloosa heading into the SEC Tournament.
Presumably after their six-game winning streak abruptly ended in embarrassment at the hands of the Crimson Tide, who were defeated by the Hogs previously in Fayetteville, fifth-seeded Arkansas (21-10,1 0-8 SEC) won’t be cavalier in its opening game at the SEC Tournament on Thursday in Atlanta against tonight’s winner between 12th-seeded Auburn and 13th-seeded South Carolina.
Arkansas defeated Auburn and South Carolina at Walton Arena during the regular season. Thursday’s winner will face No. 4 seed Tennessee (21-11, 11-7) on Friday
Like Arkansas, Tennessee is perched on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Surely the Arkansas-Tennessee winner would join SEC champion and top-ranked Florida and Kentucky, the preseason national No. 1 team who was ranked throughout the season but not in the latest Top 25, as NCAA Tournament teams regardless who wins the SEC Tournament and the automatic NCAA Tournament bid accompanying it.
Here’s the catch. Arkansas gets no crack at Tennessee - and likely the NCAA Tournament - if the Hogs exit in the first round, as they have in every SEC Tournament since 2009.
If the Tide (13-18, 7-11) rising in Alabama doesn’t remind the Razorbacks to respect their opponent Thursday, then nothing will.
Arkansas seniors Mardracus Wade and Fred Gulley say it was a lesson learned.
“The first thing is that we beat them, so they are going to come out even hungrier and ready for revenge,” Wade told reporters Monday.
Actually, Thursday’s opponent will have far more than revenge going for it. The Auburn-South Carolina winner will go into Thursday’s game fresh off SEC Tournament success these Hogs have never tasted.
Auburn and South Carolina know they aren’t on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and their only hope of advancing to the Big Dance is by winning five games in five days to capture the SEC Tournament title and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it. But that pipe dream will suddenly seem feasible come Thursday.
“They are going to come out with just as much energy and just as much focus as we are,” Gulley said. “So we know that we need to bring it.”
Sports, Pages 14 on 03/12/2014